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Walden Magazine // Jan 27, 2016

Why I Refer: Finding Order in Chaos

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Danette O’Neal still gives back to the university that helped her start over.

NAME: Dr. Danette O’Neal ’11

DEGREES EARNED: Master of Public Administration (MPA) and PhD in Public Policy and Administration

CURRENT JOB: Owner of Danette O’Neal Realtors and professor and curriculum developer for Strayer University, Argosy University, Realtor University, and Homberg University

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO COME TO WALDEN? Before Hurricane Katrina hit, I had a successful company, I was active in politics, I was well known. In Katrina’s aftermath, I was left with nothing because the population I had served was now scattered all over the United States. I had evacuated to Atlanta, Georgia, to start over. I had dreamed of becoming Dr. O’Neal since I was a little girl. My sister had just finished her master’s degree at Walden, and I knew a few others who had good experiences. The PhD in Public Policy and Administration was just 10 months old at the time, so I took a leap of faith. Hurricane Katrina presented the perfect opportunity to redefine myself. Everyone was feeling their way through their new lives. Many encounters while rebuilding were not so pleasant, but pursuing my PhD was so challenging, I couldn’t focus on the negativity surrounding me. That kept me sane. Only after I graduated was I really able to see the mess around me. I’m grateful I entered Walden at that time.

WHO HAVE YOU REFERRED? I’ve referred so many people, I can’t even count them all. It’s got to be upward of 30 people, and about 20 have entered a PhD program. Walden even gave me my own enrollment representative!

THAT’S IMPRESSIVE! WHY HAVE YOU RECOMMENDED WALDEN TO SO MANY PEOPLE? First of all, my Christian values have taught me to give back. Second, I’m exposed to students every day when I am teaching, so I have the ability to reach a captive audience that understands the value of education. They want to know how I did it, and how I survived Hurricane Katrina—and that’s the perfect platform to tell them about Walden.

WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN THOSE YOU'VE REFERRED? Meaningful change takes place from the inside out. People look for the external signs of success: job promotions or an increase in pay. Yes, that’s the goal. But the first change is on the inside. My sister-in-law is finishing up her Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) at Walden and she works at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). So she’s already in her field, but she wanted to add to her credibility. When she enrolled at Walden, she was already smart and passionate, but now she’s better at articulating that passion and is becoming a better policy writer. She is growing in her field and effecting change.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO OTHER WALDEN ALUMNI ABOUT REFERRING? I would challenge graduates to reach back and refer new students. I don’t wait for people to ask. For instance, while renting a car recently, I asked the clerks behind the counter if they were in school or considering an advanced degree. I talked about Walden and gave them my card. I do it because somebody did it for me.

Thank you, Dr. O’Neal, for referring so many friends, family members, and colleagues to Walden!

Now it’s your turn! As one of Walden’s more than 95,000 alumni, you have the power to effect change in the lives of countless others who are looking to further their education. Share your story with them and refer them to Walden today!

  • Go beyond mentioning Walden in conversation—share the website:
  • Send names of future students to us via /refer so we can thank you.
  • Make sure to highlight your Walden education in your LinkedIn profile, and be on the lookout for contacts who are seeking opportunities to advance their careers.