Dr. Phillip Neely ’11 was at a residency in England, wondering if he’d be able to complete his PhD in Public Policy and Administration, when a faculty member approached him. “He said I looked down,” Neely recalls, “So I told him the difficulties I’d been having. He said he would help me, gave me his phone number, and said to call.” That faculty member was Dr. Walter McCollum.

With encouragement from McCollum and other faculty members, Neely not only completed his Ph.D., he’s published journal articles and is co-authoring a guide to dissertation research with McCollum. Neely’s also an active Alumni Ambassador in the Atlanta area where he lives.

A former sheriff major in the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, Neely initially pursued his degree with the goal of becoming a police chief. Once in the program, however, his passion was redirected to teaching. Today, he’s an associate professor at Saint Leo University.

Walden’s residencies make students’ educational experiences “real,” he says. Once a loyal attendee of residency breakout sessions—“You can sit down and talk with anyone,” he says—Neely now speaks during these sessions as an ambassador. His goal is to encourage others by using his experience as an example. He also started a group that meets monthly. There, students work on their dissertations, offer each other encouragement and help, and attend talks given by alumni.

“It’s my obligation to pull others up,” he says. “I was told a long time ago that I wouldn’t go further in my education. Now that I have a Ph.D., I return to Walden to make sure students have the same support I found.”

The keys to staying connected, he adds, are to remain “open-minded and give some of your time. If you’re willing to do community service, consider reaching out to help others at Walden.”

Connect with fellow alumni at www.myWaldenAlumni.com.

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