January 2010

How I Did It

Degree earned: Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in K–12 Educational Leadership.

What inspired me to pursue a Ph.D.: I was the first in my family to receive a college degree, and I’ve had a lifelong goal of doing everything I can do in education.

How I paid for it: A combination of student loans and personal funds.

How long it took: Four years, two months, and 22 days.

When I studied: When I started the Ph.D. program, I made a promise to my family that I would do everything in my power to keep life normal. So, after our nightly activities were concluded, I would study until 3 or 4 a.m., two to three times per week. Additionally, after Saturday family time, I would study throughout the night.

Where I studied: We have a home office—when the door’s open, others can come in; when the door’s closed, it’s off limits.

Best advice I got from a Walden faculty member: My dissertation advisor, Dr. Deanna Boddie, encouraged me to take the dissertation one chapter at a time. The human reaction is to look at the totality of it all, but she always brought me back to focusing on small pieces of the bigger pie.

Best thing my family did to help me: My wife would often take the kids somewhere when I needed quiet time, and the kids came to understand that they had to leave dad alone so he could “write his book.”

Most challenging part: In year two of my Ph.D. studies, my father was diagnosed with cancer. When it became apparent that he would not survive, I faced a critical decision—withdraw from the program to spend more time with Dad or do everything in my power to complete the program prior to his passing. I chose the latter, as he would not have had it any other way. There was nothing more challenging than trying to maintain a focus at such a high level and grieve at the same time.

What kept me motivated: My mission became doing whatever was necessary to provide my father with “proof of completion” prior to his transition. It was his spirit really pushing me to work through it.

Lowest point: The passing of my father and the realization that, for the first time, he would not be present at a significant event in my life.

Highest point: Two days before my father’s passing (which was also my 40th birthday), I was able to present him with a framed copy of my dissertation cover page—proof of completion!

My next big challenge: After taking a few months to relax, I plan to begin the process of getting my work published in a few peer-reviewed journals. I also plan to write a book focusing on urban education reform.

Watch Dr. Jessie Kilgore Jr.'s Graduate Panel presentation.