Star cyclist put pedal to doctoral mettle
Story by Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Photos courtesy of Christian Heeb
Training to become a cyclist got Marianne Berglund a world championship and trips to two Olympics. It also was the perfect preparation for becoming a doctoral student at Grand Canyon University.
“One of the things you learn when you’re training for the Olympics is you have to be consistent and persistent,” said Berglund, who finished 25th in the individual road race while representing Sweden in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles and then was 44th in the ’88 Games in Seoul, South Korea. “You have to be focused every day. You have to show grit, but it’s also a matter of getting through it. There definitely are times you need to step away and absorb information, just like athletes need time to rest and recover.”
Berglund was a professional cyclist for 14 years and won the 1983 World Cycling Championship for road racing, but it meant a lot more to her than mere accolades.
“What I really appreciate from that experience was that I could push my body to its capacity,” she said. “It’s really an honor. I’m grateful to God that I could have that dimension to my life. I traveled all over the world, lived with some wonderful families and met so many great people. It’s a key part of the fabric of my life. And now I’ve taken what I learned and applied it to education.”
Not long after her cycling career ended, Berglund was living in San Diego and became curious about the teachings of another local celebrity, so she just called him out of the blue. His name: Dr. Ken Blanchard, whose name has been on GCU’s College of Business for the last 10 years. He came to the phone right away.
“I was one of those people who thought I could just pick up the phone and talk with him,” she said. “But Ken was so generous with his time. That tells you quite a bit about his leadership style.”
The two stayed in touch over the years, and when Berglund decided she wanted to ascend from management consulting to full professor in that field, he influenced her decision. “One of the reasons I decided to go with GCU was its relationship with Ken,” she said.
Berglund, 50, has lived for the last 3½ years in Bend, Ore., located smack dab in the center of the state, 89 miles east of Eugene. She and her husband, Dr. Osvaldo Schirripa, a geneticist, had been living in Sweden, and Berglund remembered Bend from her training days as a cyclist. She wanted four distinct seasons and a family-oriented place.
“When I trained there, I thought then I wanted to come back someday,” she said. “I absolutely love it here.”
Soon after they got to town, Berglund decided to check off one of the items on her bucket list and get her doctorate. Her dissertation is on one of Blanchard’s favorite topics – why a healthier work culture helps people do better work, and why some organizations are able to maintain healthy work environments and some aren’t.
A few months ago, toward the end of the three-year process, it came time for the academic quality reviewer, Dr. Trudy Kuo, to assess Berglund’s work. Kuo found flaws with the research design, but what happened next stunned her.
“What was unusual about it was that she was completely positive and motivated about it,” Kuo said. “Usually, learners are defensive, but she didn’t take it personally.
“It’s typical of doctoral students to feel hopeless. I’ve seen that so many times. But her spirit and her motivation were incredible. She did exactly what a doctoral student should be doing.”
After hitting it off during their initial phone conversation, the two exchanged a series of emails over the next few weeks as Berglund collected more data and Kuo showed her how to review the data.
“She gave me a lot of support,” Berglund said.
Berglund also spoke highly of one of her instructors, Dr. James Bankston: “He’s so knowledgeable. He’s phenomenal.” But that almost pales in comparison to how Bankston talks about her.
“If you asked me to remember a student I’ve taught, there are some names I would draw a blank on, but not her,” he said. “Even though this is online, I could see how determined she was, how committed she was. She turned out work I would’ve been proud to submit. By the time the course ended, she was doing flawless work.
“This is just so thrilling that she has responded to the input I’ve given her. If I told her she needed to tweak this or tweak that, I can never recall a time when it wasn’t fixed the next day. She just responded and never challenged it. Grand Canyon, as far as I’m concerned, we’re honored just to have her title on our school.”
Berglund has equally strong feelings about the experience as she awaits the final signatures on her dissertation in the next few weeks.
“I feel like I ended up at a school that walked the talk and provided support to help me succeed,” she said. “It’s just like training for the Olympics – you have to find the right coaches.”
Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or [email protected].