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Walden Magazine // Jan 27, 2016

Connections: A Legacy of Connecting Scholars

Dr. Walter McCollum nurtures relationships well beyond graduation to impact social change

Last summer began with a family reunion. None of Dr. Shana Webster-Trotman’s blood relations were there, but the ties that bind her intellectual community are just as strong. “I felt like I was connecting with folks I’d known for years, but many of them I only knew by name,” the 2010 graduate says.

Webster-Trotman, a PhD in Applied Management and Decision Sciences (now PhD in Management) graduate, had gathered with College of Management and Technology (CMT) colleagues in the living room of alumnus and Walden faculty member Dr. Walter McCollum ’04. He had brought the group together not just to celebrate the success of his most recent graduates and to continue the mentoring relationships he’d started with each of them, but also to encourage them to take action to prolong their scholarship and dedication to social change.

The common thread of successfully completing dissertations under McCollum’s guidance brings them together, but his call to community action is what keeps these graduates connected. “Dr. McCollum had students contact me to get my insights and learn about my experience in hopes that it would motivate them,” Webster-Trotman says.

And there is no doubt that his past students will continue to motivate others just the way he motivated—and continues to motivate—them. McCollum considers Dr. Cernata C. Morse ’14, ’09 his “legacy student”: He mentored her from undergrad to her MBA and straight through the completion of her PhD in Management program. “No matter the circumstance, Dr. McCollum consistently encouraged me to soar to my greatest potential,” Morse says. And that encouragement does not end upon graduation for McCollum.

“One of my mentees, Dr. Dereje Tessema ’10, is co-chairing the International Conference on Interdisciplinary Research Studies (ICIRS) with me,” McCollum says. They held the inaugural ICIRS conference in August 2015, with scholars from 30 countries attending and presenting; Webster-Trotman and Morse have both volunteered to participate in next year’s conference. “Those are the students I love to work with because I learn as much from them as they do from me. It’s a true partnership,” he says.

“Once you have a PhD, people look to you for answers,” Webster-Trotman says. “But you don’t have to know all of the answers. Thanks to Walden, you have a backroom full of folks who have more years of experience and different areas of expertise, whom you can just pick up the phone and call when you need help.”

Webster-Trotman, Morse, and another of McCollum’s mentees, Dr. Jodi Burchell, are co-chairing the Walter McCollum Scholars’ Gala to honor his philosophy of achieving academic excellence and impacting social change. The first gala, slated for fall 2017, will include as many as 40 of McCollum’s scholars to highlight their successes and achievements, while also offering scholarships to students.

It’s a collaborative, intellectual group by all accounts, which is partly why Webster-Trotman holds Walden in such high regard. “Dr. McCollum is a phenomenal faculty mentor because he’s so student-centered. I look up to him and have the utmost respect for him,” she says. “I get so excited to guide students to Walden because I know they’ll get a quality education from the high-caliber faculty.”

While classes are delivered in an online environment, students and graduates have ample opportunity to connect to their colleagues and faculty members through events such as residencies and commencements. Keeping those connections strong can lead to a world of opportunity, just like it has for McCollum’s community.

“My relationship with Dr. McCollum has shifted from mentor and friend to colleague and friend for life,” Morse says. “And now, I am mentoring three young ladies. He always requires mentees to reach back and mentor others to impact social change.”