Masters of Their Own Destiny
by Jay Salter '19 | External Communications Coordinator - July 13, 2023
An aspiring high school teacher and softball coach. A grandmother-of-two with an established career in human resources. A returning alumna climbing the ladder at UPS. A pastor, professor and college administrator. A defensive lineman on the verge of going pro. A collegiate cheer coach. A young alumna working in the nonprofit sector.
These seven individuals come from backgrounds diverse in every way: age, race, education, gender, industry, family, aspirations. But they all hold at least one thing in common: They are the first to earn master’s degrees from Newberry College in nearly a century.
A year after they enrolled, they each received their respective graduate diplomas in organizational development & leadership. The online program was designed not only for leaders of organizations — of every kind — but for anyone for whom personal and professional growth is a worthy goal. The curriculum covers organizational behavior, change and talent management, performance optimization, leadership, and communication. Its students (and now alumni) are as diverse as the program is versatile.
Since the flagship program’s launch in 2021, the College has christened a second graduate degree, a Master of Science in sport management & leadership. The newest program comes amid the College’s emergence as an impactful force in the online and graduate space, taking its signature passion, purpose and personal attention beyond the traditional, in-person, undergraduate realm. Starting this fall, the College will also offer an online bachelor’s degree in business administration alongside existing offerings in criminal justice, psychology, respiratory therapy, and RN-to-BSN. Plans are in the works for the College to add graduate programs in criminal justice, public administration, and education in coming years.
The SML program will incorporate many of the themes covered in the ODL program, along with coursework in sport business, finance, marketing, public relations, and research. Both programs are offered completely online. Students of each program can earn their degree within 12 months of the Aug. 21 course launch, and applications are still being accepted for the upcoming term.
We caught up with several ODL graduates, the College’s first graduate-level alumni, who earned their degrees in August and December 2022. So far, none of them have limited their praise for the program to the professional sphere, but testified to holistic growth since logging on for their first class.
“The MSODL was a life-changing experience,” said Justina Teale, who earned her degree three years into her career as head Wolves cheerleading coach. “In a year of my program, Dr. [Jacki] Wisler poured so much into my life both professionally and personally. This institution has given me more than just a higher education. It has given me friends, family, and future growing professionals that I get to help mold.”
Since earning her degree, Teale has begun teaching College 101 courses to first-year students, on top of her role as cheer coach.
The inaugural class’ members also span generations and stages in career. Chaunel Johnson (right) has worked in human resources for 15 years, recently became a new grandmother, and started a new job three months into the program.
“I was slightly anxious because I had not been in school since 2005,” she said. “What I didn't expect was for it to produce such growth and development in a personal way that I experienced.”
Johnson said her degree has not only allowed her to expand the contributions of her professional role. The program also gave her confidence to take on work and speaking opportunities as a consultant, helping other organizations. In March, she outlined the importance of competencies in job descriptions before the Charlotte chapter of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources. She has also led similar talks and workshops across the country.
“I was able to use content from my studies to for that presentation. Public speaking is a place in which I feel very comfortable. I desire to do much, much more of that, to teach in universities, to acquire many facilitation opportunities,” she said.
“I believe that the program will impact many lives, not just the lives of the students that participate and acquire their degrees, but the people who will benefit from their presence in their organizations,” Johnson added. “I appreciate Newberry affording opportunities that have greatly impacted my life in a positive way and armed me to be successful in my future pursuits.”
The Rev. Dr. Christina Wendland joined the Newberry College faculty in 2007, and she now also serves as associate dean of academic affairs. Her daughter, Kayla, earned her bachelor’s from Newberry in 2021. As a professor and administrator, Wendland “jumped at the chance” not only to switch roles and experience the program from the ground up, but to continue her own education.
“As a professor who regularly teaches online courses, it was quite a different experience being a student,” she said. “I experienced both the joys and the trials of student life. … Absolutely the biggest takeaway for me is the ability to see the larger picture … I believe I am a better leader because of what I learned in this program.”
Caroline Addison ’20 had long planned to take her Newberry bachelor’s in communications to work for a nonprofit. With this program, her alma mater offered yet another way to help chase her dreams. She now serves as a community outreach coordinator for Agape of Central Alabama, a faith-based foster care and adoption agency.
Another undergraduate communications alumna, Megan Horton ’06, put her degree to work for UPS after graduation, progressing from sales to HR project management. For her, the program represented a “new Newberry,” and now she is taking her new degree back to her company. Left: Addison and Horton pose before fall 2022 commencement.
“My professors took a vested interest in me, my success and challenged me to dig deeper when solving complex problems,” she said. “The program is challenging and takes a lot of commitment and discipline to achieve. … I found opportunities to dig into business challenges at my organization and use the time in my courses to try new approaches, bringing it back to my professional role to test the methods and find new solutions.”
The program has made such a difference in her life that Horton is “invested in the success of the program long-term.” She makes a point of “spreading the good news” to prospective students, especially fellow undergraduate alumni in whom any potential remains untapped.
Top: The August 2022 master's program graduates: Teale, Ty'Ran Dixon '21, M'22, Wendland, Johnson, and Hannah Towery '21, M'22.
A previous version of this article appeared in the spring 2023 issue of Dimensions, the magazine for alumni and friends of Newberry College. Access the digital version here.