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Online PhD earner proves professionals can benefit from education

Kevin Gazzara, PhD, worked at two Fortune 100 companies (Transamerica and Intel) for 28 years. Four years ago, at the age of 51, he took voluntary early retirement from a stable and prestigious position at Intel as a program manager for its worldwide management and leadership residential programs. He left with two of his Intel colleagues to create an exceptionally successful management and leadership consulting firm, Magna Leadership Solutions. Since Gazzara left corporate America, he's consulted for many Fortune 500 companies, landed on the faculty at four universities--both online and on campus, and published a book on leadership, "The Leader of OZ." Gazzara believes earning his doctoral degree online in October 2001 was a big key to his recent success.

Q: Why did you choose to earn your doctorate online?

A: I earned my doctorate of management in organizational leadership. I was working full-time at Intel when I enrolled. My job required a lot of traveling and a lot of it was international. I could have gone to the state university that was close to my house, or another that was a two-hour drive from where I live in Arizona, but most of the programs were not geared to working adults. I didn't have enough flexibility in my work schedule to complete an on-campus program, and I knew from my learning style that I would be able to study online and would be able to finish my dissertation once I completed my coursework.

When I looked at more traditional programs, there were many courses that, while interesting, were not what I wanted to take. My online program focused on management and leadership--there wasn't a single course I didn't want to take … Earning a doctorate degree online was a great solution for me.

Q: What were the challenges and benefits of earning a doctoral degree online?

A: The best part was that everything was under my control, from a time management perspective. It allowed me to do that work online and fit it around my work schedule and travel. I didn't have to be online the same time everyday. My school posts the entire syllabus for each eight-week session at the beginning so you know exactly what you have to do for those eight weeks. My then teen-age daughters played competitive softball and so in addition to traveling for work, my wife and I were taking them to playoff games, and I needed even more flexibility, which studying online allowed.

Another advantage to earning an online doctorate is that you have tremendous resources available to you. Online resources are not an afterthought. The online resources from the libraries and what they make available to you are just astronomical. It's way beyond what you can get elsewhere.

With online learning, you don't get the face-to-face interactions you do in a classroom, but the doctoral program had a residency requirement for that. For two weeks every year, we got together and developed a face-to-face relationship with other students and faculty. When I went through the program, I did it from start to finish in two-and-a-half years. They have since redesigned it so it's now three-and-a-half to four years. It was a little insane to do the 60 credits of coursework and my dissertation in that short of a time, but my boss at Intel allowed me to work four 10-hour days. I had Fridays off so I could use that time to do writing and research and everything else that goes along with earning a doctoral degree online.

Q: What advice would you give those considering an online doctorate degree?

A: Don't believe for a second that an online doctoral degree is easier or less work than an on-campus program. I can tell you from a student's and from a professor's perspective that online programs are significantly more work, which I wouldn't have expected when I started taking courses or teaching in the program. It's not just a little bit more work, it's a lot. But you learn a lot quickly. It hones your critical thinking skills in a way that is much different from in-person classroom exchanges.

Also, you have to want to earn a degree not just so you can put initials after your name or get a promotion. Your degree may get you in the door, but it's your ability to demonstrate knowledge and apply that knowledge that will keep you there and allow you to be successful.