Born in Detroit, MI, NCU alum Dr. Paul Sanders joined the U.S. Army right out of high school serving from 1985-2009. The Army provided discipline and structure similar to his upbringing. Dr. Sanders travelled and lived in different parts of the world which provided great experiences for a young person. Eventually, he saw the light and the importance of an education.
After six years as an enlisted soldier in the Army, he applied for and received a Green-to-Gold scholarship. He married that same year and entered college for the first time at the age of 25. A non-traditional student, for the first time in his life Dr. Sanders was a model student who earned a degree in Business Administration from Campbell University, NC graduating Summa Cum Laude. He later was assigned to Fort Lewis, WA where he completed a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Chapman University, CA.
In addition to earning his Green Beret in 1990, Dr. Sanders’ proudest military career moment was when he deployed to Iraq in 2007 as the Support Operations Officer (SPO). This was during “the surge” and distribution of supplies in combat around Baghdad was a very important mission. As the SPO he led the daily planning effort. He felt as if he was the quarterback at the Super bowl.
Dr. Sanders graduated from NCU with a Doctor of Philosophy in Education with a specialization in eLearning in July 2017. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor, Advanced Operations Course with the Department of Distance Education, U. S. Army Command and General Staff College. He has published several papers including his dissertation ; Online Army Instructor’s Competencies and Student Completion: A Multiple Linear Regression Study, Mission Command in Education in the Army Press Online Journal, and CGSC constructive credit: Today’s waiver, tomorrow’s discriminator available here.
During the month of November, Northcentral University is honoring alumni who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Read on to learn more about Dr. Sanders’ educational pursuit, his advice for prospective students, and his biggest source of inspiration during his doctoral journey.
1. Why did you decide to go back to school; what drew you to NCU?
In 2002, representing the Army, I was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where I joined the faculty at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). Although I was qualified to teach with just my Master’s degree I quickly realized that in a true academic environment having a PhD was essential. I had never been exposed to the academic rank structure before (instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor). I quickly realized that even if you had your PhD you were just beginning your journey as an academic. Due to my flexible teaching schedule, I had the opportunity to pursue my PhD while working at AFIT, but I focused my intellectual capital on Army related functional area qualifications instead and I joined a golf league. In 2006, the Army reassigned me and as I departed AFIT, I realized that I had missed or passed up a great opportunity to pursue my PhD and so I vowed to pursue my PhD if I ever had the opportunity again. Fast forward to my retirement from the Army in 2009, I joined the faculty at U. S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) as a civilian. My flexible work schedule again permitted me to pursue additional professional development options and I remembered the promise I had made to myself back at AFIT. I did some research into the various Ph.D. programs being offered by colleges and universities at the time and NCU stuck out because it was the only one at that time which was 100% online with no resident course requirements. The tuition at NCU was also very competitive.
2. What is the best lesson you learned as an online student at NCU?
It’s your journey and your life. Don’t settle for less than your personal best. Passing a course or getting an “A” is nice, but this should not be the only yardstick to measure your success and progress at becoming a scholar. As you progress in the program you will realize how awful your writing was during your first few courses. This will also help you realize that you have made progress as a scholar; which is a good thing. At the same time, you will realize you know so very little about so many things in life. Even within your topic area, you will be discovering things you didn’t know on a weekly basis. For example, the difference between the original Likert scale and a Likert-type scale (mind-blowing).
3. How did your family or friends support you during your educational journey? Have you inspired any of them to pursue a higher degree?
Actually, my experience was punctuated by a lack of support initially from my wife which was understandable because my Army career had taken me away from her weeks, months and years at a time. So, she wanted me to be with her in the present and not studying at night and on the weekends. Support from my family was also muted a bit because they didn’t really understand what a PhD was all about. The process is very different and confusing from an outsider’s perspective. Most people do not understand the difference between a concept proposal, a dissertation proposal, and the dissertation manuscript. They just want to know when you will be joining them again in real life. That said, once I completed all my coursework, passed my comprehensive exams and got into my dissertation sequence there was a noticeable change and the support from both my wife and family were much more positive. The support from people at work was the opposite, initially strong but then short lived. They were enthusiastic for me, but quickly withdrew that support when I missed several lunches in a row with them because I was reading or writing for my coursework. Once I finished they all accepted me back into the group. Being a scholar can be a bit lonely at times.
4. What advice do you have for prospective students interested in enrolling in your same program at NCU?
You absolutely must have a passion for your research area. You will be spending countless hours, days, weeks, months, and years reading, thinking, and writing about it. The journey toward completion of your research is a long one and if you lack passion then I would say it might be a miserable journey. I thought the program offered by NCU was very good, but that’s not a given. You must apply yourself to maximize the effectiveness of the program to you. I personally liked the autonomy the program provided me as an adult learner, but I can see how some people who like more personal interaction might feel a bit isolated. NCU does provide a discussion board and forums and that’s one way you could communicate with other students making a similar journey. Sometimes those areas are helpful to read, so you realize you aren’t the only one out there experiencing the various challenges.
5. If you had an extra three hours in your day, what would you do with them?
Watch more YouTube videos. I know that sounds silly, but YouTube offers an incredible array of self-directed learning opportunities. It allows me the ability to asynchronously interact with people from all over the world. I’m a big do it yourselfer (DIY) and there are videos on everything you can think of on YouTube. Academically, I supplemented both of my NCU statistics courses heavily with videos on YouTube. I was introduced to many statistical concepts during my NCU courses and then I would expand my knowledge on each concept by watching YouTube videos or by taking an EdX course for free. At the end of this process, I was able to better apply those concepts during my dissertation sequence.