By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
How did an Air Force chaplain from Abilene, Texas, wind up at the second Atlanta residency for Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies? He was linked in by LinkedIn – but not in the way you might expect.
Bryan Cottrell had just changed Air Force bases, from Davis-Monthan in Tucson to Dyess in Abilene, when he decided to start looking for a doctoral program in the hope of improving his job security. “Part of the thing with the military in the last few years is that they’ve been cutting, cutting, cutting, and you never know where you stand until they tell you they don’t want you anymore,” he said.
Cottrell was in the process of asking around when, completely unrelated, he got an email asking him to connect with someone on LinkedIn. When Cottrell went to the LinkedIn site, there was the banner ad for GCU’s doctoral program.
“What hit home was that it was online, which works for me with my schedule, and that it’s a doctorate of education in organizational leadership,” Cottrell said. “The leadership part is crucial in the military. I thought, ‘Well, that really brings it all together.’”
Fast forward a few weeks, and Cottrell joined 144 other doctoral learners at the March 10-14 residency in Atlanta. The first residency drew 55 attendees last April.
“I liked the setup,” he said. “I really liked having it at a hotel. It was intense. It was spring break, but it wasn’t spring break for me – it was hard work. … It wasn’t like a business conference where you go to a meeting and then go play golf.”
Cottrell appreciated the one-on-one time he got in helping to formulate a plan for his dissertation, “Leadership in the Air Force Chaplain Corps.” It also helped him feel more at home when one of the speakers there was Dr. Robert Krell, a retired general who is a CDS faculty member and dissertation chair.
“Now the class makes more sense to me,” Cottrell said. “It might work the other way around for other people – they might prefer to go through some coursework first and then go to the residency to have some things explained to them.”
Cottrell has a good reason for his dissertation subject: He said the Air Force is planning to make some fairly major changes in how its chaplains do their jobs, and he wants to be better prepared for them by interviewing other chaplains. “The Air Force won’t ask us what we think (before deciding). That’s not how they do it. But we have to figure out how to implement the changes,” he said.
While Cottrell liked what he saw in his first GCU residency, even more telling was the perspective of Mary Trickel, who also attended the first-ever Atlanta event a year ago. Trickel, who’s 73 but talks with youthful enthusiasm, loved the 2013 event but had two suggestions for improvements and was thrilled that both were heeded.
When she went to Atlanta the first time, Trickel wore a GCU sweatshirt and was asked by several people where she got it. But no GCU paraphernalia was being sold. This year, Trickel said, “they came loaded – they had boxes and boxes and set up tables. By Thursday night (the event started on Monday), everybody had sweatshirts and coffee cups.”
Anissa Villegas, residency coordinator for CDS, said the on-site sales were made possible through a partnership with Georgia Tech.
Trickel’s other idea was to make sure that first-year students got hooked up with people in their second year to be able to glean insights, and that happened, too. It only confirmed to her why she’s such a GCU fan.
“I’ve heard nightmares about online programs and the lack of respect for online students,” she said. “But the integrity of the GCU program is just outstanding. I tell everybody I’m GCU’s ambassador on the East Coast.”
GCU also has an ambassador in Abilene after Cottrell’s experience, but he’s about to become an ambassador on the other side of the world. In three weeks, he starts a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, where he plans to use what little spare time he will have to continue his doctoral research. “You can’t exactly tell your boss, ‘Sorry, I’m not available right now. I have studying to do,’” he said.
Cottrell’s work there will be entirely on the base. The only time he will go outside the fences is when he is traveling between bases, but there is one challenge he will face in addition to the obvious dangers.
“I don’t know about computer access,” he said. “That could be a problem.”
The Atlanta residencies are proving wildly popular. Not only did GCU expand from one in 2013 to three this year; Villegas said the next one, scheduled for July 28-Aug. 1, is already at the 150-person capacity. The dates of the third residency are Nov. 10-14.
“The fact that we went from one pilot to three residencies this year shows that we responded to need and to learner feedback,” Villegas said.
Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.