As a single mother working two jobs, Walden doctoral graduate Dr. Nancy Runton felt obligated to wait until her daughter completed her studies at the University of Virginia to finally begin to undertake her goal of nearly 40 years—earning a Ph.D.

“In the 1960s, before dyslexia was named, my teachers often labeled me as unteachable and not caring to learn,” she says. They were mistaken—Nancy did have a keen interest in education. Despite rarely scoring greater than the 25th percentile in any standardized test, she persevered throughout the years as a student, going on to earn an associate degree in applied science, a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in nursing, a post-master’s nurse practitioner certificate, a certificate in public health, and, finally, her PhD in Health Services.

Nancy has worked with children and adolescents for three decades in promoting health and is currently a pediatric nurse practitioner in the public school system and in primary care practice in Alexandra, Virginia. Her career has influenced her dissertation, which examines school-based health centers and their relationships to youth risk behaviors.

She is excited to walk across the stage at the July 12 commencement ceremony and be publicly acknowledged as Dr. Runton. “Walden has an array of talented staff who are there to assist you every step of the way. The Writing Center, library, research center, and Career Services teams are all available whenever you need them. Walden supports students’ academic goals at every step of the way, helping them go on to graduate,” she says.

As she prepares for commencement, Nancy reflects on her journey at Walden and goals for the future with Spotlight on Walden.

Why, despite the obstacles you faced, did you make it your goal to earn your PhD?

It has been my goal for nearly 40 years to attain my PhD. In high school, I was told I would not get beyond a two-year college degree because of dyslexia. I knew I could learn, but in my own way and at my own pace. Being accepted and then moving through the program at Walden has been an incredible journey, which I truly enjoyed.

What advice would you give to students who are working through their dissertations?

I received great advice from my mentor and dissertation chair, Dr. Ronald Hudak, who said that each Knowledge Area Module (KAM) should take one quarter to complete, and within each quarter, each of the three KAM components—Breadth, Depth, and Application—should take a third of the time. That was an amazing way to think about time management and how long to spend on sections.

For my dissertation, while there were no clear boundaries as there were for the KAMs, I found that my time management helped me be disciplined and make continuous progress. What I could not control, however, was the time that my committee might take to review each section. However, I think they understood I was determined to write, revise, and move on at a continuous pace, and they were willing to work with me towards my goal of graduation. I think it’s important for all students to be in constant communication with their committee members.

Now that you have graduated, what’s next?

Two months prior to finishing my dissertation, I was asked to fill in as acting health services coordinator for the Alexandria City Public Schools for a one-year term. This is a leadership role that will allow me to show my capabilities. It is a dream for me. I am hoping to use my position to show that I could move forward into a research or academic position.

How has your education at Walden prepared you for the future?

It is important not only to demonstrate educational competencies, but also to be proud of the university from which one has graduated. Walden has offered me a unique lens to view the future and a chance to support social change in my community.

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