Broken Arrow, OK
"Every time I get a chance to talk about this program, I recommend it because you can go anywhere you want with it. It’s completely open, and it’s a flexible structure. No matter what you want to study, you can do it with this program."
Lisa Johnson knew she had picked the right online doctoral program when she met her professors and fellow students on campus during new student orientation.
“From day one, I had a team behind me,” Johnson said.
With the support of fellow doctoral students and professors and a lot of self-discipline, Johnson plans to earn her Doctor of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning degree in 2023. The degree applies to her current job and the one she hopes to have in the future.
“There were 17 people in my cohort at the start, and here we are three semesters later, and there are still 17 of us,” Johnson said. “None of us have dropped out of it yet. I think that speaks volumes for the way the online ADLL doctoral program is structured and how it pulls you in for engagement.”
Students in the doctoral program share learning strategies and help one another when they meet face to face a few Saturdays each spring and fall semester, except when all U of A courses were taught remotely during the COVID pandemic.
“It’s sort of a hybrid because we do have some face-to-face (study), but it is not very often,” Johnson said.
The cohort – a group of students that stay together as they move through a degree program – meets in Fayetteville to learn together, network and discuss how they apply their new knowledge in their working careers.
Johnson, who has a master’s degree in criminal justice, is the director of Upward Bound at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She also serves as the secretary for the Southwestern Association of Student Assistance Programs, which is a professional association that supports TRIO Program grants for Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
TRIO Program grants, provided by the Office of Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education, are used to identify and provide services for individuals with disadvantaged backgrounds.
“In order to do what I want to do professionally, I need to expand my knowledge and get the credentials,” Johnson said. “An online degree will let me get there.”
She plans to become an independent professional consultant who creates or improves assistance programs for adults, including those who are incarcerated or who come from disadvantaged situations.
“This program gives me the flexibility to pursue education of this caliber without it interrupting my life,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter where I’m living or what I’m doing, I can study without any interruption. If my life were to change and I moved 1,000 miles away, it’s not going to impact this degree. … I’m in a really great program, and it’s online.”
The program also allows students to tailor their studies to whatever adult learning settings or situations that fit their career goals, Johnson said.
“No matter what you want to study, you can do it with this program,” she said.
Staying engaged and finding a work-study-life balance is important, she said.
“As an online student, you do have to be committed to the program to be successful in it,” Johnson said. “It’s really easy to get disconnected when you’re ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ That’s the biggest thing with online programs. Find a routine that works for you. Find that structure, that work-life balance where you can do two things at once.
“I choose to use technology,” she said. “I commute daily from Broken Arrow to Tulsa to Tahlequah and back again. During that time, I use my iPad and phone to listen to electronic books and articles. That way, when I go back and read the text, it makes more sense.”
Johnson also depends on university resources, she said.
“Another thing that we did during our orientation was go to the library,” Johnson said. “They walked us through the library resources. That is so great, especially when you’re doing research and pulling articles. They walk you through the best ways not just to search but how to successfully search. I also plan to utilize more university resources moving forward, especially once I get into my dissertation. I will be using the Writing Center, tutoring and things like that.”
Johnson was one of 25 people to receive the W.E. Manning Memorial Scholarship for online U of A students for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“I am incredibly excited about receiving the scholarship,” Johnson said. “It encourages me to stay in school. It also lifts a heavy financial burden. When I applied for the scholarship, it was one of my really bad days. When I learned that I’d received it, this success reminded me that you just have to keep fighting, keep pushing forward.”