Five alumni recall a simple stroke of genius they had as students—and how they’re still using it today

An aha moment can happen anywhere—waiting in line for coffee, riding the bus, or even when discussing coursework with students. The key is to act on that revelation, as these five alumni have done, and continue to nurture it to change the way you work for the better.

Do It Now

Dr. Mattie Roig-Watnik.

Dr. Mattie Roig-Watnik.

Dr. Mattie Roig-Watnik ’08, EdD

My mother always said, “Why put off until tomorrow what you could do today?” I was the biology department chair at Miami Dade College when I enrolled in the EdD program at Walden with a specialization in Teacher Leadership. During my first seminar, the professor asked, “What’s your passion?” As I thought about it, I realized it was motivating my students.

I decided to write a proseminar paper about how to incorporate classroom tools to ensure students understood what was being taught in real time. I was already using clickers, which enabled students to answer multiple-choice questions throughout the class so I could see who didn’t grasp a concept before moving forward in the lesson.

Suddenly, I realized there was no reason to wait to finish my degree—or to even finish that paper—before sharing this idea and making a positive change. I set up faculty lunches to discuss best practices and faculty members immediately began implementing these ideas in the classroom. I believe that moving forward and making positive teaching experiences allowed me to move upward in my career. I continue to use my “do it now” philosophy as campus president. My approach is always, “What can we accomplish today and how can that make a positive change?” I know my mother would approve.

Push for Results

Dr. Raymond Marbury.

Dr. Raymond Marbury.

Dr. Raymond Marbury ’12, DBA

I was already working at the Internal Revenue Service as a management analyst when I started my DBA at Walden. I wanted to choose a dissertation topic that applied to my work, and began reading articles about the fiscal state of the federal government. I came across an interesting study written by the Partnership for Public Service that said more than 760,000 federal employees were eligible to retire in 2016—this “workforce tsunami” could negatively impact government operations and national security.

That was my lightbulb moment: I realized that without solid succession planning—where the senior employees train the incoming younger ones, institutional knowledge would be lost, which could cost the federal government billions of dollars in human capital expenses and pose a significant threat to national security. I decided to research the importance of succession planning for the federal government to help avert this looming disaster.

In the midst of my dissertation research, I was promoted to program manager at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Post-dissertation, I continued to write about emerging issues related to knowledge management and succession planning. In one article, “Connecting the Dots Between People, Budgets, and Missions,” co-authored with professor Dr. Roger Mayer, we found that it costs two to three times more to utilize government service contracts to meet mission requirements versus hiring federal employees. A solid succession plan could save taxpayers between $10 billion and $100 billion over the next 10 years. I shared these research findings with the Federal Managers Association (FMA). The FMA agreed with the research findings and adopted succession planning as part of their 2014 legislative issue briefs presented to the U.S. Congress.

Never Give Up

Jill Yvonne Reed.

Jill Yvonne Reed.

Jill Yvonne Reed ’13, MPA

I was a single mother working two jobs when I decided to go back to school to earn my MPA. I wanted a better life for myself and my daughters. But adding school to my workload meant catching a bus at 5:28 a.m. for my first job, doing my homework on my lunch break, going to my second job at 3:30 p.m., and studying during my dinner break. I’d catch up on reading on the bus home.

I realized then that self-discipline was the only way to succeed. But I loved my classes so much that when I graduated, I said, “What now?” I was living in Kansas City and didn’t feel like there was enough diversity in the local government to represent people like me. I started volunteering with the Democratic Party—and saw I could apply the same self-discipline that got me through my MPA toward running for local office. I ran for town clerk. My 23-year-old daughter was my campaign manager and my 20-year-old daughter went door to door with me and helped with phone banks. I didn’t win, but my hard work and determination got me 13% of the vote.

Recently, I moved to Michigan for a new job—and I’m getting ready to run for public office again. I won’t give up; I want to be a voice for single moms. And I know self-discipline and determination will get me there.

Find—and Use—Your Voice

Jenny Wolpert

Jenny Wolpert.

Jenny Wolpert ’12, BS in Communications

I woke up the day after my daughter Grayson died by suicide and said, “I cannot be silent.” I had put the pursuit of my communications degree on hold to start a family, but losing my oldest daughter made me realize that life was too short, and I needed to finish what I had started. At Walden, I found a school that believed in the power of communication—and social change.

Around the same time, I shared my personal story at a local suicide prevention event. The gentleman running it said he was impressed that I was able to talk so eloquently about something so painful. He encouraged me to pursue public speaking. At first, I wasn’t sure I could—it’s hard to get up in front of a crowd to share such a personal story. But every time I did it, I was overcome with a peaceful determination. I didn’t even get teary-eyed. It’s bigger than that.

Now, in addition to speaking about suicide prevention, I also coach people on public speaking through a company called Own the Room. I feel like the universe set me on a path to use my voice for good. I wish I could change what brought me to that path with all my heart—but I do feel like beautiful things have come out of it.

Ask the Customer

Tori Newby-Gonzalez.

Tori Newby-Gonzalez.

Tori Newby-Gonzalez ’12, MSN

I travel nationwide as an informatics specialist, which means I work with doctors to help them learn how to use technology to better serve their patients. One day as I waited for a latte, I was thinking about the importance of healthy eating for people who don’t have access to healthy ingredients. I decided to ask the people around me for their opinions: a man in a three-piece suit in front of me, a lady with a screaming kid behind me, and a woman in a tie-dyed shirt beside me. The guy said, “It’s all about food access.” The older woman said, “Schools should teach these things.” And the mother chimed in, “I barely have time to eat, let alone think about it.” It was an instant community response.

Seeing them all working together to solve these real-life problems made me realize how valuable it is to think outside the box and find new “experts.” Instead of asking doctors—“What do you need? What do you want?”—I realized that I needed to start asking patients those questions. It’s a common thread in my life that people I encounter in line help me realize I’m thinking too much about some of the problems I’m trying to solve. The best way to solve complex problems is to ask the very people who you’re trying to help.

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