Dao's Story: Making an Impact
Determined, driven and prepared for success, one student incorporates family and personal goals to add meaning to her education.
Dao is a full-time working mom in the Master of Organizational Leadership program, who also earned her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern as an adult student. She continues a family tradition, however, and has two sisters who graduated from Northwestern's traditional undergraduate program.
Dao chose Northwestern for the flexibility and convenience of the program structure. "Because I was a working mom and a wife with so many other roles, I needed something that would fit my lifestyle," she said. "Northwestern's one-night-a-week program just hit me; I knew I had to do this." She also values the supportive envirnoment and faith-based education.
"I love that we're so open about talking about faith," Dao noted. "Coming here, we pray before we start and professors share their faith—faith is incorporated into our programs, our syllabus, and our textbooks. It's great we can talk about God here and feel safe about it."
Not long after she began her first degree program, she found out her two-year-old son had autism. “I was ready to just quit,” Dao remembered, “It was a really hard decision and my professors even prayed for me. I decided, ‘If I don’t do this, I’m never going to do this.’”
She persevered. Now her son is a driving force for her to reach for her goals. With the leadership skills she is gaining she hopes to start a support network for Hmong families who have children on the autism spectrum. “I really want to be a great example for my kids—especially my son,” Dao said. “If I learn as much as I possibly can, I can set my kids up to be successful or do even more than what I do. That’s when I will look back and say, ‘This was all worth it.’”
When Al Johnson wanted to transition from his 12-year sales career into new ventures, he earned his degree through Northwestern's adult undergraduate program. “I had heard a call from God, that there were some things I needed to do,” Al explained. “For me, after I prayed, part of that commitment was to go back to school and first get a degree in ministries…then I could get another degree in whatever I want.” So after earning his bachelor's degree in ministries, Al chose the Master of Organizational Leadership (MOL) through the Center for Graduate Studies.
Moving in new directions has been an invigorating challenge for Al and his post-sales path has found him in education, where he is an equity and integration specialist for the Hopkins (MN) school district. He speaks highly of what he's gained through his master's program. “The learning environment is really great, really supportive,” he said of his coursework. “I haven't gotten perfect grades, but all the criticism I've gotten has been criticism that's helped me be a better writer, a better student of the Word.”
Leadership in action
The proof in Al's success and development as a leader is clearly seen as he interacts with roomfuls of middle school students. “There are so many kids in education right now who are hurting,” Al reflected, “whose families are hurting. I believe Jesus wants us to be where the people are hurting.”
A Christ-centered leadership model was solidified for Al through his grad studies. “Being a servant leader is something I learned while at Northwestern,” he said. “Really what it means, is modeling Christ’s example of caring for others more than you care for yourself.”
Al is now pursuing his doctorate in education, a fact that surprises no one more than him—a former high-school dropout. “I can’t tell you the feeling of walking and getting your diploma when you you’ve been told, ‘It’s not possible,’ he said. “I’m in my mid-40s. To say that I can go back to get my master’s, and then go beyond—that my future is now limitless—I cannot put into words. Those are the opportunities I found at Northwestern that are God-given.”
Raising nine children would be a significant task on its own. Add homeschooling, soccer practices, football games, and church volunteer work into the mix and you’ve got yourself a full plate. Really want a challenge? Go back to school to get your Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS). Tired yet? Melissa is sometimes, but from her point of view, “If God calls you to something, it’s now. God provides away if He calls you to something and you obey.”
After returning to college five years ago and finishing her undergraduate degree in Christian Ministries, Melissa waited in faithful prayer for God to guide her toward her next steps in education. She found that next step in Northwestern’s Center for Graduate Studies.
Something good for something better
“I’m juggling a lot—the kids, the commute [40 minutes from Afton to Roseville in rush hour], work in my church and homeschooling my children,” Melissa said. “Graduate school is at least 20 hours a week at home, but if I sit here and think ‘How am I ever going to fit this into my schedule?’ I’ll never find a way; but He always does. I say it’s giving up something good for something better.”
The support of her family and her Northwestern classmates has been pivotal for Melissa. “I’ve gotten connected. There are so many walks of life here. I learn from different people’s perspectives,” she reflected. Her professors have inspired her too. “They’re so intelligent and humble,” she said. “They love the Lord and they love us. It’s like they’ve taken a class in grace. They’re very much for us and go out of their way to help us.”
Melissa will soon receive her MATS degree with an emphasis in Bible Exposition and plans to continue her schooling. With a passion for teaching, she sees her future in adult education but says following God’s leading is the most important thing. “I have so much still to learn and grow, but I love to teach. As a mother, I’m always planning for something. I’m learning to be obedient. It’s okay to say I don’t understand this, but I’m going to do it anyway.”