Successfully juggling the demands of being a mother of four teenagers, a wife, and a full-time employee — all at the same time — is quite a feat. But when you add on yet another role: being a full-time student in an advanced degree program, you’ve reached a whole other level. And that’s precisely where Stephanie Teel found herself when she decided to enroll in National University’s Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program in 2016. “I wanted to be a better leader at home and at work,” she says. “I also wanted to learn more about myself and understand how to fix things when they were going badly.” As an organizational leadership master’s student, Teel accomplished that and so much more.
A Dream Postponed — But Not Forgotten
Teel has never been one to let the proverbial grass grow under her feet. She had her oldest child at 17, qualified for her insurance license at 18, had two more children by the time she was 21 and, when her youngest was two years old, she became the stepmom to her husband’s son. What came next for Teel? Pursuing her education, as she puts it, “full throttle.” The first step involved earning an associate degree at Southwestern College. Then, she transferred to San Diego State to get her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, while also working and parenting. Finally, she graduated in 2009, right in the middle of the Great Recession. “I had wanted to be a forensic psychologist,” says Teel, “but no one was hiring.”
Because she had her insurance license, Teel was able to sell policies and generate an income. However, she wasn’t receiving retirement benefits and was only able to self-fund her retirement account when she could afford to. But she did create a vision board and one of the things on it was the goal of pursuing her master’s degree. However, with four small children, there didn’t seem to be a path forward at that point. “I just didn’t see how I could succeed if I had to be on campus for school, manage my work schedule, and take care of my four young kids,” says Teel.
But, despite the setbacks, Teel’s dream of earning a master’s degree was resilient. In 2016, she started working for the City of San Diego. As part of her new employee orientation, she attended a benefits fair where she saw information about National University’s online degree programs and the discounts that were available through her employer. “It was like it was just meant to be,” says Teel. “This was something I had wanted to do for so long and then the opportunity to move forward with it appeared right in front of me.”
Teel didn’t waste time getting started. She enrolled in the online master in organizational leadership program at National in August 2016 and began classes in October 2016. With that, she was on her way to fulfilling her long-held dream.
National’s Master in Organizational Leadership: A Perfect Fit
For Teel, having the ability to earn her master’s degree completely online was a perfect fit for her schedule — which now included being the traffic director of the lives of her four teenagers and working full time at a new job. “I couldn’t have done this any other way [other than online],” says Teel. “It just wasn’t possible for me to take classes on campus. There wasn’t time.”
The experience of taking classes online was something Teel says she really enjoyed. “You get to interact with your classmates online and see how they work,” she explains. She also enjoyed the opportunity to engage with people in other parts of the country and other parts of the world. “We were often in different time zones,” says Teel of her classmates. “This included members of the military stationed in Afghanistan and other places who were pursuing their education while also protecting us.”
Another aspect of the online classroom experience Teel enjoyed was her interaction with teachers. She found them to be understanding, flexible and very knowledgeable. She also found the immediate feedback she received from her teachers during live class meetings (held online) extremely helpful.
The structure of the master in organizational leadership program fit into Teel’s life almost seamlessly. Students only take one class at a time and each class lasts four weeks. This gives students the time they need to focus on their studies and to take a deeper dive into the subject matter of a specific course. Also, because classes are taught asynchronously — meaning you can access the lecture videos and other class material at times that are convenient for you — Teel enjoyed the ability to approach assignments at her own pace. “You could turn in [assignments] whenever you wanted, as long as it was by the deadline,” says Teel.
Other elements of the online classroom experience Teel enjoyed included the books and tools used during the courses. “I really liked the content we had to read,” she says. “And I also learned how to do Excel, which I use for my job.”
In addition to the convenience of online learning, Teel’s decision to pursue a master in organizational leadership was also a perfect fit for her professional and personal life. “I’m so interested in how businesses run and how each person can make or break the process,” explains Teel. “This is true whether the company is public or private.” She also says she found the organizational leadership master’s degree to be one that enhanced her self-awareness. “It really helped me to see the things that were going on with me and to also see more about other people and how to interact with them more effectively,” she explains.
There were, a few challenges Teel encountered while in the program. “In the very beginning, the technology part was challenging,” she says. “I hate issues with computers. But, overcoming those challenges has helped me in my current job, including understanding how to use video, audio, and wikis to communicate.” She also had some scheduling conflicts that didn’t allow her to attend the live online sessions, which were the ones she preferred since they allowed for instantaneous feedback from teachers. But, because those live sessions are captured on video, she was able to watch them afterward.
How about the financial challenges related to tuition? Teel dismisses those. “I’ve never been concerned about the cost of education,” she says. “It’s an important thing. And financial aid is an option.”
Bridging the Classroom With the Real World
Despite having to take a few months off due to life events, Teel successfully completed the program, graduating in March 2018. She now works as the executive assistant to the executive director of the Commission of Arts and Culture for the City of San Diego. “I love where I’m at right now,” says Teel. “I wouldn’t have this job if I hadn’t pursued my degree because I wouldn’t be qualified for it.”
Viewed by others as an individual with significant potential to advance in her career, Teel is currently focused on building her experience in her current position. Among the skills she developed in the organizational leadership master’s program, there are several that Teel puts into practice on an almost daily basis. “A big part of organizational leadership is understanding how to communicate with people,” says Teel. “It’s about knowing the best way to connect with each person individually and how to communicate the vision of an organization or a department in a way that employees understand and can get excited about.” And it’s also about coaching. “It’s really important to identify and understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses,” she explains. “Part of the work I do involves helping employees learn how to shine on their strengths and build on their weaknesses.”
Teel mentions the importance of having a firm grasp on how conflict resolution works and having the skills needed for it to be successful. “When conflicts arise, I believe they need to be nipped in the bud fast,” she says. “To allow them to go on creates a toxic environment. What I learned in the organizational leadership master’s program has helped me to make sure morale and harmony are maintained within the workplace.”
Delegation, which is something Teel has struggled with over the years, is also an important skill she learned during her studies at National. “I used to believe I had to do everything,” she says. “I had to be in control of everything and was trying to be five people when I’m only one. But I’ve learned to be a delegator. Anything someone else can do better should be delegated to them. I’ve learned to let go. That’s a new skill for me.”
Having the opportunity to enhance her already extensive problem-solving skills was also something Teel valued about National’s organizational leadership program. “I can see problems coming before they happen and help prepare for them,” she says. “Being able to see the big picture of what’s going on with everybody plays a big role in that.”
The Not-So-Secret Secrets to Success
Teel recognizes and acknowledges the challenges that she had to overcome in order to earn her master’s online degree. And she realizes that others will also face challenges of their own when trying to make the decision about whether to pursue an advanced degree.
“There are always challenges,” says Teel. “But, what are the true challenges going on? And do they leave time for school?” In her case, there wasn’t time until her children were older. “I had four little kids that made it almost impossible for me to pursue a master’s degree [right after earning my bachelor’s degree],” she says. But, a few years later when the opportunity presented itself and her children were older, she grabbed it. “It’s important to remember that the timing is never going to be perfect because things change. You just have to have the drive to do it.”
Teel appreciates the fact that she wasn’t alone during the journey to earn her degree. “You need a support system,” she says. “My [National University] advisor was there for me, my teachers were there for me, my husband was there for me.” Earning an advanced degree while working or parenting or managing any other part of your life requires a team approach.
One of the main concerns many potential advanced degree students have is fitting school into their life. “You definitely have to be organized,” says Teel. “Set up your time schedule, set weekly goals, and make your free time your study time. After family and work, make school your priority.” She also stresses the importance of staying on task and knowing your limits.
Earning a Master in Organizational Leadership: A Dream Come True
For Teel, it took a lot of hard work and dedication, but her dream of earning a master’s online degree really did come true. “I’m 100% glad I did it,” she says. “And, by pursuing my master’s when my kids were in high school, they actually saw me in school. During my first year at National, my daughter was in her first year of college. I’m showing my children how important college really is.”
Teel is thriving in her career and attributes much of her success to what she learned during her studies. The value of education is something that Teel recognized at an early age and it’s something she still champions. “No one can take my education away from me,” she says. “The degrees are mine, I earned them, and they can’t go anywhere.”
Interested in learning more about how you can earn your organizational leadership master’s online — regardless of how busy your schedule is? Explore the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program page. There, you can ask for additional information or arrange to speak with one of our admission advisors who can answer your questions and guide you through the application process. You can also read more about National University, the degrees and programs we offer, and Veteran opportunities by searching our blog.