Dawn Worley

As she walks across the stage at commencement, Dr. Worley won’t be thinking about a specific course or even her doctoral study—hearing her name will be a golden seal that confirms she’s earned a Doctor of Education (EdD). “My title and work will be with me for the rest of my life,” she says.

This is a moment she’s waited for since earning her Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Walden in 2007, when she watched doctoral graduates cross the stage. “Sitting in the audience, I thought to myself, ‘I want that,’” Dr. Worley shares. “I love Walden’s mission of social change. When I was earning my MBA, social change was built into everything we did. I’ve always wanted to have a doctorate. It made sense to return to Walden.”

This important moment also marks the formal beginning of the next stage in her career: She plans to invest a lot of energy into her work as a business technologies instructor at Surry Community College in Dobson, North Carolina, and ultimately continue to pursue research that effects positive social change throughout her community. She presented her research in October 2015 at the North Carolina Community College Association of Distance Learning, and intends to publish research in the future that adds to the body of literature on forming connections within online courses.

Here, Dr. Worley shares a few hard-earned pieces of wisdom to encourage others:

Form a network of students to support you—and who you can support. She was regularly in touch with her classmates. Her group hosted weekly calls to problem-solve and share successes. “Every Sunday, we had a conference call, which created a support system. It was nice to get someone’s perspective verbally, not just through the discussion boards,” Dr. Worley says. She also coordinated one-on-one calls with students she grew close to when she needed extra support—and made herself available to offer support in return.

Rely on your family and friends. Dr. Worley was extraordinarily grateful when her husband showed how much he valued that she was pursuing her degree: “He cooked supper to allow me to write. I wouldn’t have been able to finish if it hadn’t been for him.”

Plan your schedule wisely. Set aside hours throughout the week to complete your coursework and research. She wrote on the weekends, but was also attentive to her schedule during the week. “If my husband was teaching a night class, I would write my coursework. I used every spare minute,” Dr. Worley says.

Perseverance is key. “I tried to serve as a motivator for other students. Everybody needs someone in their corner,” she explains. “If I can do this, you can do this. It’s truly all about having the desire. You have to have a mindset that you want this degree.” —As told to Claire Blome

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