Doctoral degree had major impact on her career
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
It wouldn’t be long after taking to the Grand Canyon University Commencement stage and receiving her Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership in Higher Education that Dr. Charlotte Wheeless would take the next step in her career at Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Ark.
After being a member of the university’s teacher education faculty for 11 years, four of which were spent as a chair of the department, Wheeless was not only advanced from assistant professor to associate professor, but she was also granted tenure and endowment for her chair position, as well.
“The career advancement was a blessing,” Wheeless said, “I have definitely seen God’s hand on my teaching career.”
Wheeless, who graduated with her master’s degree in 2006 and doctoral degree in 2019 from GCU, never could have imagined, as a little girl growing up in Arkansas, that she would grow up to have the opportunity to train teachers in three continents or complete all three levels of academia. Yet by the end of 2019, she had done just that, having trained educators in Japan, Africa and North America over the last 15 years and finish her doctorate after nearly five years.
What brought her to GCU?
She said it was the spiritual aspect, as well as the dissertation template, that helped her better understand the process of writing her dissertation.
“I teach at a Christian institution, I am a Christ follower and so it was very important to me to be at a Christian institution. That was a huge part of my decision to attend GCU, even for my master’s,” she said. “I can remember my very first class at GCU, there was a Chapel forum in an online class and I remember thinking, ‘That’s incredible,’ because my undergrad was at a Christian institution. I was used to attending chapel every week. So to have that in an online forum was unique and impactful for me.”
But like many doctoral learners, the journey was not without its share of struggles, some of which would be life changing. Her first College of Doctoral Studies residency would help her persevere. She was in class when Dr. Nicholas Markette, who teaches in the College of Doctoral Studies, shared a personal story.
“He told a story in residency about losing his wife during the process (of pursuing his doctorate) and I listened, and of course you have an understanding, as much as you can, that that would be a really hard thing,” she said. “So, that residency, I was there in the summer of 2015, and that November I lost my husband.
“That was very impactful, and that was during residency one. Then a few months later, I lived that same story and had to make the decision to persevere.”
Even though she lost her husband, Gene, to a heart attack, she completed her degree.
“It was a blessing, I think, that I was in the middle of that doctoral journey, because I worked all day here (WBU) teaching and then I went home at night and my focus was my dissertation and my research,” she said. “I had something to put my energy into, and that was a good thing.”
Once she completed her program, she reached out to Markette to thank him for the strength he exhibited by sharing his story, as well as the impact it had on her.
“He sent me the nicest email about graduation. … It was just a really meaningful moment in my journey of just remembering his story and remembering that he made it through that hardest of imaginable things, losing his spouse during that and making the decision to continue on,” she said. “It was something that no one ever wants to live through, but I feel like God has purpose for everything in our lives and I don’t think there’s any suffering that’s ever lost.
“I think that God will use it for good at some point, and we may not see that for a while. But I definitely know that God held onto my family, my kids and me throughout that process and really provided the strength and endurance and stamina to make it through all that we did.”
Wheeless attended her first GCU Commencement ceremony for her doctoral degree in October, since she was unable to travel to Phoenix for her master’s. There she would celebrate by taking graduation photos with her daughter, Jessica, who graduated with her Master’s in Psychology from GCU in 2018 but also was unable to attend her master’s Commencement ceremony.
As for what’s next, she said she plans to use the gift that God has given her for His kingdom and for His glory.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]