Ready to Blaze New Trails:
NCU’s 2015 Graduates

Written by Judy Tierney

On July 18, 2015, trustees, professors, staff, students, friends and families gathered to celebrate Northcentral University’s 2015 commencement ceremony. More than 20 percent of this year’s graduates attended the event in person, and for many, the occasion marked their first opportunity to meet face-to-face the faculty and other students with whom they had communicated online for so many years. Numerous others, who were unable to travel to Phoenix for the celebration, joined via live webcast.

NCU President George Burnett kicked off the ceremony with a quote from South African leader Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” He then recited NCU’s mission to provide professionals throughout the world with a rich, engaging, professionally relevant, and academically rigorous education.

“Each of the graduates being recognized today is a shining example of the fulfillment of this mission,” Burnett told the crowd. He also acknowledged the University’s highly credentialed and experienced professors who help students become agents of change and valuable contributors to their communities.

Having professors who all hold doctoral degrees made all the difference to Graduate Kaitlyn Andrews (Master of Education, ’15). “It really elevates you to that next level because you have somebody who has studied so hard for so long," she said. "You know that you're going to be brought up to that level.”

Graduate Karin Ford-Torres, a Doctor of Business Administration with an Advanced Accounting and Financial Management specialization, agrees. “Having someone who actually opens those doors and continues to help you down the path really motivates you.”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

The 1,476 graduates of the Class of 2015, 58 percent of whom are female, is comprised of an elite and diverse group of students from all 50 states and 19 countries including Australia, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. The oldest graduate, 76-year-old Arthur LaNata, received his Doctor of Business Administration degree. Of the seven youngest students, all 24 years of age, four earned a Master of Business Administration, two earned a Master of Education and one received an Education Specialist degree.

Dr. Rebecca Collins, a 2013 graduate of Northcentral University and Dissertation of the Year winner, served as this year’s commencement speaker. Continuing the theme of change and blazing new trails, she remarked that many graduating students want to hear that they can change the world. “This group is maybe a little different,” she proposed. “I think you already know you can change the world. You already believe you have the power, the tenacity, the capacity, the wherewithal, and the drive to leave the world a much better place than you found it.”

Collins imparted words of wisdom from lessons she learned at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin where she has been boating with her family for more than a decade. Citing the sea cave formations on the lake, Collins told graduates to remember the power of persistence. “Some incredible transformations can occur, if you just keep working at it.”

She challenged them to take the plunge, to try something intimidating and to face their fears. “Know that smooth seas do not make a skillful mariner,” she advised. “Be sure to look beneath the surface. Venture to places you might not otherwise go—for new discoveries await that may open whole new worlds.”

Collins reminded the students to always take time to reflect and to use their experiences to guide them to new and greater paths. “And finally, take deliberate and dedicated time to keep yourself healthful and happy,” she said. “Let your dreams be limitless, and write whatever ending to your story you want.”

“Be sure to look beneath the surface. Venture to places you might not otherwise go—for new discoveries await that may open whole new worlds.”

Dr. Rebecca Collins

Before Burnett presented the candidates for each of the degrees, he cited a 2010 study from Harvard and the Asian Development Bank that revealed that only 6.7 percent of the world’s population has a college degree. Remarkably, 89 percent of the NCU Class of 2015 has completed a graduate or doctoral degree. Forty-four percent finished a degree in education, 41 percent a degree in business administration, 12 percent a degree in psychology, and 3 percent finished a degree in marriage and family therapy.

In addition to professors who all hold doctoral degrees, as well as NCU’s unique mentoring approach, graduates pointed to the unparalleled flexibility of NCU’s online learning as one of the most important aspects of the program.

“As a military member, not only did my supervisor need to be adaptable and flexible to my schedule, but I needed to be adaptable and flexible to the Northcentral schedule,” said Edwin Martin, Doctor of Philosophy in Education, of his dissertation journey. “I learned how to manage my time with the program. And it turned out to be excellent.”

Scott Simpson came to NCU for a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy because of the mentoring relationship. “To me, the mentor relationship is about trust, and I was surprised by how easy it was for me to develop trust relationships online with people I didn’t even know, with professors who are experts in their field. They opened my mind and heart to many different areas of marriage and family therapy that I could have never dreamed of by myself.”

During the ceremony, Provost Dr. Scott Burrus (now retired) presented awards to two other members of the NCU community. The first, Dr. Dale Spurlin, who completed his PhD in Education with a specialization in Curriculum and Teaching, received the honor of outstanding dissertation. His work, titled “When Learning Could Hurt: A Case Study of Student-Veterans and their Combat Experiences in the Classroom,” was one of 40 submissions and was selected based on its significance of “the research to society, the discipline, and the student’s profession.” Additionally, Board of Trustees member Karen Rizk was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.

Northcentral University congratulates all the 2015 graduates and wishes them personal and professional success now and into the future.