‘The Golden Key’

From left to right: Brad Duckworth, July Coleman and Curtis Coleman are among the first graduating members of UWL’s Student Affairs Administration and Leadership doctoral program.From left to right: Brad Duckworth, July Coleman and Curtis Coleman are among the first graduating members of UWL’s Student Affairs Administration and Leadership doctoral program.

Student affairs doctoral program helps professionals unlock their future

Brad Duckworth isn’t just graduating — he’s unlocking the door to his future.

“Having a doctoral degree is, in many ways, ‘The Golden Key’ in higher education, because it allows for much further advancement opportunities,” says Duckworth, who is graduating from UW-La Crosse this spring with a doctorate in Student Affairs Administration and Leadership.

Not only that: Duckworth is also a member of the SAAL program’s inaugural graduating class.

“I have always had the goal of obtaining a doctoral degree, and when I saw UWL was starting this program, I was very interested,” he says. “This program has absolutely prepared me for a big future.”

The program, designed for mid- and senior-level administrators at colleges and universities, was built upon UWL’s existing Student Affairs Administration master’s program a few years ago. And it has already drawn a diverse and multi-talented group of students. Of the 10 or so students in this year’s graduating class, several are people of color, a handful are parents, and all are working professionals.

The program is also diverse geographically. Duckworth is a UWL alum and the current director of athletics at UW-Stevens Point. Others in the first cohort come from Georgia, South Carolina and Rhode Island.

Assistant Professor Becki Elkins, who oversees the program, says her team initially recruited among people they knew, including former colleagues and former graduates of UWL’s Student Affairs master’s program. From there, word only spread.

“As these students began taking classes and interacting with faculty and other students, they became our best recruiters,” she explains. “Word of mouth … has helped the program’s reputation grow nationally in a brief amount of time.”

Curtis and July Coleman are two of the out-of-state students in the inaugural cohort. After scouring the country for a student affairs doctoral program, the Georgia-based couple fell in love with UWL’s.

“We have three programs here in Georgia, and we could have gone there,” says Curtis, assistant director of admissions operations at Life University in Marietta. “But UWL’s program is exactly what we wanted in a curriculum. The focus on social justice, innovation and inclusion — we knew that this is the type of training we needed to go to the next level.”

July, a program manager for the United Negro College Fund, says the couple’s three years in the program have been everything they hoped for.
“It’s exceeded our expectations,” she says. “Every class has impacted us educationally, personally and professionally. And even though this has been 100% online, we’ve really gotten to know our cohort members and the faculty. It’s amazing how an online program can feel so personable.”

The Colemans say faculty were challenging, yet adaptable and supportive — a sentiment echoed by Duckworth.

“Admittedly, before I started the program, I was very fearful of my abilities to complete a dissertation,” Duckworth says. “I wasn’t sure if I had the writing abilities necessary. Because of the support I received from everyone at UWL, the dedication from my dissertation committee, and a lot of hard work, I accomplished something I once thought might be unachievable.”

While every SAAL student in this year’s graduating class is looking ahead, Duckworth has had the unique opportunity to reconnect with his roots.

When he receives his doctorate, Duckworth will hold three degrees from UWL, including a Bachelor of Science in sport management (2000) and a Master of Science in sport administration (2002).

For him, the SAAL program has been a chance to invest in his future, while reflecting on his past.

“I am who I am, in many ways, because of my experience at UWL and in the La Crosse community,” Duckworth says. “The relationships, friendships, mentors and experiences I have had at UW-La Crosse have been life-changing and irreplaceable. Every step along the way, my UWL education has positioned me to be successful.”

To learn more about the Student Affairs Administration and Leadership program, visit www.uwlax.edu/student-affairs-admin.