It's been a little more than a decade since Dr. Cory Los Schumacher was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
"The doctor told me I was going to be lucky if I ever graduated with an associate degree," he said. "The brain tumor affected part of my temporal lobe, which deals with a lot of vocabulary, memory and some hand-eye coordination and motor skills. There were a lot of issues that came with it."
Dr. Los Schumacher has made a habit out of beating the odds ever since. In May 2020, he graduated from the online Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation program at St. Thomas University.
"On the five-year anniversary follow-up visit, my neurologist asked, 'What's next on your list of things to do?'" I said, 'The next time that you see me for my 10-year appointment, I want to come in here with a big old Ph.D. Watch me do it,'" said Dr. Los Schumacher.
One semester after he enrolled in the program, he hit another bump in the road when he and his fiancée parted ways.
"That put things on hold," he said. "At that point, I started to collect myself and did a lot of reflecting. I decided, 'I'm single. I'm childless. And the Ph.D. will still be my lifetime achievement.'"
The flexibility of the online format worked well for Dr. Los Schumacher, who is the middle school union director for Hernando County School District in Brooksville, Florida. He taught middle school math full time while enrolled in the program and took numerous online courses in his previous stops.
"I got into a steady rhythm of using Wednesdays and Saturday evenings and Sunday evenings to do the work and the research that I had to do," he said. "It worked with my schedule and with my formed habit of doing online courses."
Dr. Los Schumacher grew up in Buffalo, New York, where one of his first teachers, Rebecca Dobek, made an impression when he was 5 years old.
"She was a woman of power," he said. "It was so great how she came in every day with a smile on her face and an iron fist. I admired this woman. I said, 'When I grow up, I want to be her.'"
The desire to become an educator intensified as Dr. Los Schumacher witnessed the impact teachers made on him and his classmates.
"In middle school, I saw the more personal side of teachers, like staying late and grading papers and making copies," he said. "In high school, I saw what teachers did outside of the classroom — coaching, serving as mentors, making a difference in a kid's life and trying to provide equal education for everybody. Teaching became my life goal."
In November 2009, Dr. Los Schumacher underwent brain surgery, but it took some time for him to get back on track with his educational endeavors.
"I went back to my undergraduate program about seven-and-a-half weeks after surgery — walking, talking, kicking and defying odds," he said. "My GPA going into the surgery was about a 3.5. It dropped to a 2.1, so they kicked me out of the education program. I had to go an alternative route for my teaching certificate."
But Dr. Los Schumacher returned to St. Leo University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences in 2012. The following year, he completed a master's degree in higher education administration from Northeastern University.
"One of my college professors where I got my undergrad degree recommended the Ed.D. program at St. Thomas University," he said. "I explored the program and saw that it had a face-to-face option and an online option, so I decided to pursue it."
The Finish Line
Dr. Los Schumacher chose the Ed.D. program for the versatility of career options he would have after graduation.
"I can take that experience and apply it to a different field, which attracted me to the program the most," he said. "I would be graduating with my doctorate with eight years of full-time teaching experience.
"With the degree, I can pursue either of my long-term goals. I could go into the building administrative level or into corporate training in data analysis and statistics."
ELI 807: Ethics and Governance was Dr. Los Schumacher's favorite course in the online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program.
"That course drove me to think more holistically about what's right and what's wrong," he said. "It made me look at myself as a leader.
"When I was doing the research papers and answering those course questions in assignments like 'How do the decisions that we make today apply to our organizations tomorrow or the tomorrow of the people we supervise? It opened my mind up to how one little thing we do today has a butterfly effect."
Dr. Los Schumacher appreciates the support he received from the faculty at St. Thomas University — especially from dissertation chair Dr. Timothy Michael Stafford.
"Dr. Stafford was nothing short of amazing," he said. "Governor Ron DeSantis announced an executive order in April 2019 that effectively threw out chapters three, four and five of my dissertation.
"I called Dr. Stafford on the brink of tears. He told me, 'If you want this, keep going. We'll salvage this somehow. We'll get to the other end of the tunnel.'"
Sure enough, Dr. Los Schumacher battled through and came out on the other side with a lifetime goal completed.
"Dr. Stafford told me to stick the course," he said. "I had a cohort that became a close-knit group. We stayed in touch as people went on throughout the program. We worked with each other and supported each other."
With such an inspiring story, Dr. Los Schumacher could have a second career as a motivational speaker. No matter which direction he goes in his career, nobody can take away his higher education accomplishments.
"What made me keep going? A lot of determination and self-motivation.," he said. "I was the youngest graduate in my cohort at St. Thomas University at 29, and I achieved my lifetime goal before I was 30. Life is challenging and things get in the way. If you stick the course, you will get it done."
Learn more about the St. Thomas University online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program.
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