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Hardworking Graduate Earned Her Doctorate at a Distance

Belltower from a distance framed by trees and clouds.

Head shot of Andrea ThomasVocational consultant Andrea Sutton Thomas began pursuing her Ed.D. in Adult and Community College Education in the fall of 2009. Since then, she has experienced plenty of changes but has never stopped working toward her goal. 

The distance education program met for face-to-face classes in Charlotte on a weekly basis. In the process, Assistant Teaching Professor in Adult and Community College Education Dr. Carrol Warren witnessed Thomas’s commitment first hand. 

“She is incredible! She has approached her doctoral journey with grace and resilience.”

Ahead of Thomas’s graduation from NC State in May, she’s reflecting on the years of hard work and dedication that have led up to this moment. 

Why did you pursue your Ed.D. in Adult and Community College Education from NC State Online and Distance Education? 

I pursued this program of study to further my education and skills in helping adults learn, specifically with a focus on the community college system. At the time, I was working in the NC Community College System and needed a program that would be flexible to accommodate my work schedule. I chose NC State’s program for many reasons, including the wonderful reputation of the college and program, the flexible schedule, the cohort-style of learning, and the timeline to complete coursework.

Describe your experience in the Ed.D. program. 

I am thankful that I completed the Ed.D. in Adult and Community College Education. It was challenging and rigorous, but also flexible for working adults. I enjoyed being able to focus on my specific professional interests in completing assignments. The teamwork and camaraderie in the cohort made the work much more enjoyable, and I learned tremendously from the experiences and diverse viewpoints of the other cohort members and faculty.

How did you balance working and completing your degree?

Personally, this was one of the more challenging aspects of the program. During the program, I underwent significant personal challenges that significantly slowed my progress in completing my dissertation. I also changed jobs several times and became a stay-at-home mother for a while. During my coursework, it was imperative to have time during the week that was set aside for schoolwork, often after the kids were in bed. I sometimes hired babysitters or had friends watch them so I could do schoolwork. 

I believe that for many students, it isn’t just the work/school balance, but work/life/school balance that is important. Access to support and encouragement from others, including cohort-members and faculty, was crucial to my completion. I also had supervisors who allowed me to leave early for work when my cohort had in-person meetings. My mindset was initially that I can do anything for three and a half years, and I did, but it is important to remember that once the coursework is done, the same dedication is required to complete the dissertation.

How do you see your Ed.D. impacting your career?

At this time in my life, I think the Ed.D. opens up doors professionally and provides a sense of legitimacy to others when interacting with me. I believe that it will assist in furthering my career, allowing me to extend my professional reach into areas that I may not have been able to without the degree and title.

Did you have any faculty members who stood out to you?

Dr. James Bartlett, who is also [the chair of my doctoral cohort]. He is an amazingly busy faculty member, but makes time for student questions and mentoring and encourages students to get involved in the field. Dr. Michelle Bartlett was also inspirational, as she could relate to being a busy working professional, mom and wife while also pursuing her degree.

What is your advice for other working professionals who are thinking about continuing their education or are currently enrolled in an advanced degree program?

I would certainly encourage others to pursue an online/distance program for working professionals. It has been a great way to pursue my doctorate degree while also working full-time and developing my professional life. I would recommend speaking with previous students who have completed the specific program of study for an honest perspective of the program. I would also recommend having a partner, close friend, and/or ally in the program who can provide support and encouragement, particularly for long programs.

Congratulations to Dr. Andrea Thomas!

Are you interested in advancing your career with NC State’s education doctorate (Ed.D.) in Community College Leadership? Visit the program page or for a full list of degree and certificate programs.