Doctoral network really connected with this alum
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
A maxim of the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University is to “talk to the humans.”
One of its recently graduated humans, Dr. Theodus “Theo” Luckett III, calls it “the main reason why I was able to complete the doctoral program.”
That maxim led to the creation of the Doctoral Community Network six years ago, and it’s also why Luckett was a guest speaker at a recent on-campus residency and urged learners to “utilize the resources that GCU affords because most universities don’t afford these types of resources.”
You won’t find a more passionate, authoritative and eloquent advocate for GCU in general and the doctoral program in particular than the 33-year-old director of instrumental music for the Mount Pleasant, Texas, school district.
Luckett hasn’t just done his homework on GCU, he has attacked it with such fervor and given the University such high marks, he estimates that he has influenced about 40 people – including his wife, Karen – to enroll in the doctoral program. A 1-hour, 15-minute interview session with him is as energizing as it is illuminating, so much so that you just want to get out of the way and let him expound on that seemingly boundless enthusiasm.
“I keep up with colleges very well,” he said. “When I was looking at doctoral programs, there was something about Grand Canyon. It was a little more personable and it had better resources, such as the DC Network.
“Generally, once you get through the course work you become very isolated because you have to do your independent research. But the DC Network serves as a collaboration and connects the learners back to the University. Faculty and staff and students are commenting on your research, commenting on any questions that you have, and it’s pretty quick.
“You pose a question and you might get 10 answers on it and they give you different perspectives on the answers, so it gives a real in-depth response. One person would answer, ‘Have you tried this?’ And another person, piggybacking off it, would say, ‘You should do this and this.’ Then a third person would say, ‘Have you tried this assessment?’
“You’re going to get an answer from the chair of your dissertation committee, of course, but when you get an answer from 10 additional people, it supports what the chair is saying and also gives you different perspectives. It’s really neat. It’s way better than Facebook because it’s relevant and it’s feedback from skilled professionals.”
Focus on communication
Luckett’s enthusiasm for the Doctoral Network is matched, as you might guess, by Dr. Michael Berger, the CDS dean. The fact that Luckett is so pleased is no accident. That’s what Berger and his faculty and staff are aiming for.
“We collect a lot of data at CDS. One of the things that we have picked up one through years of end-of-course surveys, conversations with dissertation students, focus groups and phone calls with struggling learners is that in the dissertation process strong communication is essential, whether it is between the learner and his committee or the learner and the University,” Berger said.
“Many of the college’s initiatives have been based on improving and facilitating communication.”
Dr. Michael Berger, dean of College of Doctoral Studies
“Many of the college’s initiatives have been based on improving and facilitating communication. We set up specialized dissertation-focused Student Service Advisors so they could spend more time working with learners in that final phase. We created a dedicated online research workspace in the DC Network where the learners can post messages to all members of their committee. We secured video-conferencing software for all of our dissertation chairs so they could use that to speak with learners.
“‘Talk to the humans’ reminds us of two things. One, that while survey data and indirect performance information like posts or grades is helpful, you can learn so much from just talking with folks on the phone. The other is to try to avoid 10 emails when one phone call will work.”
But Luckett didn’t wait for a phone call to learn more about GCU. Name any University initiative, new facility or other development – Students Inspiring Students, the newly renovated golf course, the emphasis on the STEM curriculum or about 10 others – and he has an informed opinion about it.
He came to his opinions by staying in touch online but also by seeking more information on campus visits during his three years in the doctoral program. His recent visit was his fourth, and he has seen new features on campus every time. He urges people considering the University to take advantage of the Destination GCU program, which offers extensive campus tours and information.
“You have to come here to really understand it,” he said. “I think Destination GCU is a wonderful idea because if you get them here they’re going to be sold. They’re going to be so impressed with the facilities and with the customer service.”
He applied that same spirit to his role as a band director in the Mount Pleasant school district.
“I like it because the moves are aggressive,” he said. “When I first came to Mount Pleasant, I was told that the community and the board wanted a good band program. It was too small. ‘We’re looking for someone to build it up. If you can’t do that, you’re fired,’ they told me.
“We had 80 members when I started. Now I’m in my second year and we have 200 members. They couldn’t believe how it’s grown, but it’s all about the relationships.”
Family’s ties to education
Passion for education runs through his family relationships, too. He has seven sisters and a brother and credits his oldest sister with inspiring him to go for a doctorate. Dr. Pamela Luckett is an assistant dean at Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla.
Home for the family is Pine Bluff, Ark., and Theo met Karen at a ninth-grade choir competition in Monticello, Ark., not far from her hometown. They both ended up going to the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and Karen is a minister of music and an ordained minister in Mount Pleasant, about two hours east of Dallas, and is an assistant band director in the school district. She also got her master’s degree from GCU.
“GCU sparks that intrinsic motivation – I call it grit – to be able to get through and to push through.”
Theo said that convincing friends and family to look at GCU is an easy sell, but not because it’s an easily obtainable degree. It’s not. He’s the kind of guy who wants to be challenged, and he challenges anyone to find another program that better combines academics and support.
“It’s a rigorous program, but it’s a doable program,” he said. “See, that’s the key, because you can be too rigorous to where it’s not even doable. I think Grand Canyon found a good balance between giving the learners what they need and holding them accountable.
“It starts with you. You’re going to have to put in the effort. GCU is not going to hold your hand, but they’re understanding, too. We’re adults, and they’re going to hold you to a high educational standard, and the resources are going to help you out.
“The support is still there even after you get your degree. They still want to be connected to the learners. They don’t just send you on your way. They’re really interested in how well you’re doing, and if you need some support or advice, academically or professionally. Since I’ve completed the degree program, I’ve gotten a lot of advice from the faculty here at Grand Canyon.”
Luckett is so passionate about GCU, he said he already finds himself hoping that his 2-year-old son, Theodus IV, will attend the University. You can picture little Theo telling his preschool chums about the wonders of a Christian university in Phoenix. And you can be sure that anyone who talks with Dad will hear about which university they should strongly consider.
“GCU sparks that intrinsic motivation – I call it grit – to be able to get through and to push through,” he said. “The Lord sent GCU to me to improve the quality of my life, and that’s really what it did.”
That’s more than just a maxim – it’s maximum. The Doctoral Community Network gives GCU learners something far better than Facebook friends, and Theo Luckett III certainly has hit the “Like” button.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.