Guitarist tuned up for doctoral degree at GCU

Retired Air Force veteran Bruce McKenzie is an accomplished gospel guitarist who has his sights on a doctoral degree at GCU.

Bruce McKenzie’s guitar-playing talents scored him and the quartet he played with opening-act gigs with such renowned gospel artists as 11-time Grammy-winner Shirley Caesar and three-time Grammy winner the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and he has released his own smooth jazz albums.

But the soundtrack of the his life doesn't stop there.

He also served in the Air Force for 30 years, is a nationally certified health care professional, and is a doctoral learner at Grand Canyon University, on target to graduate in October with his doctorate in general psychology with a specialization in industrial/organizational psychology.

After dropping out of college to enlist in the military – much to his mom's displeasure – McKenzie went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees as he entered his final months stationed at Luke Air Force Base, where he was the command chief of the 56th Medical Group, an outpatient-only medical treatment facility.

Then he heard about GCU's doctoral program from friends and colleagues, and after visiting the campus, decided it would be his next move.

GCU doctoral candidate Bruce McKenzie with daughter Jazlyn, who will be a high school senior in the fall.

“It’s just overwhelming what they do for you to be successful,” McKenzie said. “I have enjoyed every class and met a lot of great people along the way. ... I will turn 60 this year. It’s a challenge trying to work, have a teenage daughter at the house while my wife works. GCU works around that. It’s almost like having an extended family.”

His Air Force background taught him discipline. It's why he believes he's able to juggle his academic and family duties.

Dr. Nancy Bridier, professor in the College of Doctoral Studies, sensed McKenzie would become an excellent doctoral learner when he brought a copy of Andrew Hayes’ "Introduction to Mediation, Moderation, and Conditional Process Analysis" to her class.

“He was the first learner I worked with who brought such an advanced statistical book to residency,” said Bridier, who would become McKenzie's doctoral chair.

McKenzie grew up in Laurinburg, North Carolina, where he was someone who was all about “going with the flow” until a cousin gave him a guitar when he was 12 years old.

A group of kids formed a band at his junior high, which is how he met local guitarist Fulton Smith, who became impressed at how quickly McKenzie mastered the basics.

His introduction to gospel music a few years later accelerated his talents and fortified his faith.

“When you’re in the military, you’re far away and dealing with stuff,” McKenzie said. “I’ve seen stuff I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

"I know that God has given me things with my music as strengths. ... I’m a musician to the core. It’s a blessing. When I started playing gospel music, that’s when things started happening. I knew then and there, this is what God wants me to do with my life.”

Cover of Bruce McKenzie's recently released album

McKenzie started his own band before joining a local gospel quartet group that traveled around the Southeast and performed as an opening act for renowned gospel artists such as 11-time Grammy-winner Shirley Caesar, three-time Grammy-winner the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Gospel Keynotes, and Slim and the Supreme Angels.

Enlisting in the Air Force in 1988 meant he no longer could perform with the quartet, but he eventually embarked on a solo career as a jazz artist and produced a demo album in England 11 years later with friend Darryl McEachin, who was in the same quartet.

Those experiences gave McKenzie his fondest moments.

“Traveling with the gospel group, meeting all types of people from different races and all walks of life, and what that music and singing in that group did for them was actually doing more for me than it was doing for them,” McKenzie said. “And in times of difficulty, being in the Air Force when I couldn’t play my guitar, I always had that to fall back on. That was my way of talking to God all the time through the music. It’s been an important time in my life.”

Bruce McKenzie said he's a musician "to the core."

McKenzie said all of his performances stand out, from touring the Southeast for the quartet, to playing for a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser in the Netherlands when he was stationed there (and raising more than $100,000 for families in need), to opening for comedian/impersonator Rich Little in an USO-sponsored event for military personnel and families stationed in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

After retiring from the Air Force, McKenzie became a health care accreditation and compliance specialist with the Defense Health Agency. He is part of a team that supervises the accreditation and compliance certification for 131 military treatment facilities across the Department of Defense and is a nationally certified professional in health care quality and risk management.

The title of McKenzie’s dissertation is “Does Self-Affirmation Moderate the Relation Between Perceived Workplace Racial Prejudice or Racial Discrimination, and Employee Engagement.”

“Detail and structure help Bruce maintain focus in everything he does,” Bridier said of McKenzie. “I can tell from working with him that detail and structure are part of his everyday life.

“He is dedicated to his faith, family, music and research. Bruce still has great contributions to make to music and the field of psychology.”

GCU Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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