Putting in the Work While at Work: Pursuing a Late-Career Doctorate

One look at the résumé of current Bradley graduate student Rick Smith and it’s hard not to be impressed: a four-decade career that spans broadcast journalism, public relations, healthcare and non-profit administration, and higher education — mostly in senior roles. Yet, Smith has made the decision to return to postgraduate studies and pursue his doctorate in education.

“I guess I’m one of those adult learners that didn’t take a traditional route to a doctorate,” he said. “It took me a little time to experience life and business and the various careers.”

He currently serves as associate vice president for workforce and economic development at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Smith’s role is to harmonize employers’ needs with higher education.

However, Smith realized to reach the pinnacle in this field he needed to do even more. “Working in the higher education space, especially at the senior leadership level, to influence and contribute the most — that post-secondary credential, the terminal degree — is what is needed.”

What attracted Smith to the online Ed.D. program is its flexibility, as well as being able to conduct research that has real-time applicability.

“It’s important for me, especially where I am at my career, age and profession, to focus my area of research on something that I can apply every day,” said Smith. “I think that Bradley's unique style of action research model dissertation allows me to do that.”

What interests him most? The U.S. community college system, which Smith said he fell in love with after serving as vice president of advancement and community engagement at Northern Pennsylvania Regional College.

“These postsecondary institutions are providing a path to higher education and workforce training to people who might not otherwise have access to such training.”

He finds the Leadership in Higher Education and Community College class where they examine specific case studies most useful. “I use the material almost every day in my career, and it is preparing me for what may come next in my higher education leadership journey,” he said.

Smith plans to focus his doctoral dissertation on retention rates for first- and second-year students with an eventual goal of improving retention rates among African American students.

A dedicated family man, Smith focused on his children while they grew up. Now an empty nester, he still calls balancing everything a challenge. “I would not be honest if I said it was easy. It’s not easy. It’s hard,” he said. “If you want it bad enough, you figure out a way.”

His goal is to finish his coursework and dissertation this year, but his dream is to take a leadership position in higher education, especially in the community college environment.

“Experience is a very great teacher,” said Smith. “I am glad to take this educational journey, and I am anxious to put the skills I acquire to use in my current and future roles.”

-Mel Huang