Student Experience

Stormy Speaks

Nashville, TN
Ed.D. in HRWD

Stormy Speaks

"The great thing about this degree program is it’s perfect for those wanting to move into leadership roles one day. If I want to move into an HR leadership role, I’ll have the skill set to do that."

Student Experiences

For Stormy Speaks, getting her doctoral degree is both personal and professional. Personally, she sought a challenge and wanted to be the first person in her family’s history to earn a doctoral degree. Professionally, she wanted to advance her career and ultimately move to teaching at a college or university level. To meet both goals, Speaks enrolled in the Doctor of Education in Human Resource and Workforce Development Education degree program offered by the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas.

“While I enjoy what I do and I like working in the different environments I work in, I don't want to stay in my current HR (human resources) position for the rest of my career,” Speaks said. “While in my master’s degree program, I enjoyed being a graduate assistant, helping teach classes, grade assignments, and having office hours with students. However, I need a doctorate to teach at that level.”

Speaks, 31, obtained both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology before accepting a full-time job. Although other family members have since followed her example, Speaks was the first in her family to complete a college education. She enrolled part time in the doctoral program at the U of A in May 2017 and plans to graduate by May 2024.

“The great thing about this degree program is it’s perfect for those wanting to move into leadership roles one day,” she said. “If I want to move into an HR leadership role, I’ll have the skill set to do that.”

She now works in the engineering and material-handling industry, overseeing human resources for a company that employs 75 engineers, project managers and support staff."

“I’m the HR business partner for an engineering company that designs and programs a variety of controls systems, primarily conveyor systems,” Speaks said. “I’m responsible for the day-to-day HR duties, performing tasks that range from updating my company’s human resource information system all the way to conflict resolution.”

Unable to locate a viable, in-person doctoral HR program near Nashville, Speaks investigated various online options. The U of A best suited her needs, she said.

“I didn’t want to cut my early career off at the knees and couldn’t financially or personally afford to go back to school full time,” she said. “I found the Global Campus program during a Google search for a doctorate in human resources. I wanted to go somewhere that had some weight in the world, somewhere that had a lot of respect behind the degree name."

“The faculty and staff are working professionals,” she said. “The degree plan is geared towards working professionals. This really spoke to me. Clearly, they have my interests and needs in mind, and the curriculum mirrors what I do today and will do tomorrow, next week, next year, and in 10 years. The program is very applicable to what I do and in tune with the real world.”

Support from her faculty advisors helps Speaks to progress in the HRWD program. She describes her primary advisor, Yuanlu Niu, as being responsive and helpful, easy to communicate with, and someone who gives Speaks the leeway and creativity to grow as both a student and a person. Her co-chair, Claretha Hughes, provides a great amount of wisdom and guidance, Speaks said.

“Dr. Hughes has been here for a long time,” she said. “She has lots of experience, so she adds that knowledge base and some more structure to what we do, so I’m lucky, I get two advisors, basically. She’s tough, though, I won’t lie. Dr. Hughes has high expectations, but she does because she wants her students to succeed. They have our future in mind and want us to represent the university well. The fact that I am supported both intellectually and personally has been fantastic.”

Speaks has begun work on her dissertation topic. She is examining the Agriculture Apprenticeship Program, a collaboration between the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food (CAFF) and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Research and Extension. This apprenticeship program was intended to “provide experiential learning for the next generation of Arkansas farmers and to support specialty crop production in the state,” according to the CAFF website.

Speaks believes alternatives to higher education are often undervalued or overlooked.

“I am looking at whether, as a result of participating in the agriculture apprenticeship, two things happen,” Speaks said. “One, participants experience something called vocational self-concept crystallization, which goes from ‘I don't necessarily identify with being a farmer’ to ‘Yes, I identify as a farmer.’ Two, whether occupational commitment occurs, beginning as, ‘I'm not sure if this is what I want to do as a career,’ and ending as, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do as a career.’ Whether one, both or neither of these things happen – identifying as a farmer and feeling certain farming is what they want to do for a living – that is the topic of my dissertation.”

Speaks plans to take the knowledge and leadership skills learned in this program and apply them either in private industry or in higher education. For Speaks, it has always been a matter of, “I know this is something I can do, and I want to challenge myself to keep going. I always keep the Razorbacks athletics motto, ‘Never yield,’ front of mind.” For Speaks, the challenge is a reward in and of itself, she said.

As for where her career might take her once she has earned her degree, Speaks sees the entire world as a possibility.

“The fact that I have options is very liberating,” Speaks said. “I do not feel constrained in what is out there for me. Ideally, I would like to either teach or work in an international human resource capacity. I would love to live and work overseas one day.”

Speaks 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. In addition to saving her from taking out loans, she said receiving the award also validates her efforts toward a doctoral degree.

“I feel like it sounds cliché and probably everybody says this,” Speaks said, “but I really do feel grateful and fortunate to have received this award. Somebody saw the potential in me as a representative of the university, an embodiment as an online student and a working professional. I feel very fortunate that we have such generous benefactors of the university, because it is difficult working full time and going to school at the same time. For me, getting the award reinforces that I'm doing the right thing by pursuing this degree.”