Although Dr. Irene Okwang has built a career in human resources, education remains her passion.
So much so that the Accra, Ghana, native graduated from the online Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation program at St. Thomas University in May 2020.
Dr. Okwang was teaching English as a Second Language when she enrolled in the program. Now, she is an associate director of employment at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
"My father, Emmanuel Bortey, was an educator who had his own school," she said. "I have been teaching since my high school years. I'd like to teach human resources at the college level. I am already in a college setting, so I have the option to teach here in an extra service capacity."
The return on investment on the Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation was immediate for Dr. Okwang. She started a new position less than one month before graduating from STU in a virtual commencement ceremony.
"The degree has already opened an opportunity for me," she said. "When I was doing the program, I was a benefits-and-leave manager. In April, I received a promotion and started my new role. It was a surprise and a blessing."
The flexibility of the online format helped Dr. Okwang maintain a full-time position while enhancing her higher education. She and her husband, Edgar, have three children — Adrian (13), Collette-Kate (12) and Emmanuel (5).
"Earning a doctoral degree was my goal for a long time after I did my master's program, but I didn't make time for it," she said. "I got a recruitment email from St. Thomas University while I was teaching part time. It sounded interesting. It was all online and looked like it fit what I was looking for in an Ed.D. program."
Out of Africa
Dr. Okwang graduated with a bachelor's degree in linguistics from the University of Ghana in 2004. One of 12 siblings, she got married and moved to the United States two years later.
"When I got certified as a teacher, there were a lot of layoffs going on in the education sector — especially at the elementary level," she said. "I decided to branch out."
While teaching and working for a nonprofit organization, Dr. Okwang graduated with an online master's degree in human resources management from Stony Brook University in 2012.
"I secured a position in HR, and I have stayed there ever since," she said. "I was lucky to have worked for a good nonprofit organization, Greystone Programs. They got me grounded in HR, and I will be forever indebted to them.
"They were very supportive of me as an immigrant and of my education at Stony Brook. They gave me the flexibility to pursue my degree, which led to other things."
The online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program at STU drew Dr. Okwang in because she could complete the courses quickly and earn a degree without breaking the bank.
"It was a condensed program, which was appealing," she said. "The courses are also back to back. I don't like having gaps in between my studies, so that worked well for me. It was also one of the most affordable options out there. I also liked the flexibility."
The research and communications courses were among Dr. Okwang's favorites in the curriculum, but she benefitted from all of the knowledge that she gained in the program.
"Because I am looking to possibly go into teaching, the research background courses helped me," she said. "But the leadership topics — how to manage, deal with conflicts, communicate effectively and build teams — were all applicable. I got great value from the program, and I am thankful that I did it."
Into the Classroom
Dr. Okwang enrolled in the online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program not long after she had her second son.
"My family and friends are very excited for me," she said. "I had a young baby when I started, so most of them thought I was crazy. There was a lot going on."
At the time, Dr. Okwang's mother, Faustina Boye, came to live with her to help her take care of the children while she pursued the degree.
"She passed away while I was in the middle of the program," she said. "That's when the flexibility really helped. We had her funeral, and the professors I had were understanding about the work that I was producing at that time. I had a lot of support from the faculty."
Dr. Okwang, who enjoys playing soccer, working out and reading, hopes to walk the graduation stage in the December 2020 commencement ceremony in Miami. She has some advice for others considering the online Ed.D. in Innovation and Leadership program.
"They need to prepare mentally for it to be demanding and put in their work," she said. "It's not a cookie-cutter program. But you will have a lot of support from the professors and teachers.
"Dr. Vernon Czelusniak, who leads the Ed.D. program, is very supportive. He will tell you about his story, which will keep you going."
No matter where Dr. Okwang's career takes her, she will be able to tell her story and inspire others to dream big. She is grateful to be where she is in her career — and especially to hold a doctorate. She intends to stay in HR leadership while contributing to higher education as a teacher, be it online or in person.
"I have a supportive HR department where I work," she said. "My husband is very accommodating, too. With all of that help, I was able to do it. It meant I had to work on school assignments most Saturdays and some Sundays. That life could go on while I pursued my educational goals was the best part."
Learn more about the St. Thomas University online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program.
- What Can Educational Leaders Do About the Teacher Shortage?
- Become an Educational Leader in the Corporate World
- Gain an Advanced Understanding of Social Media in Organizations
- Scott Gill-Jacobson Finds What He Was Looking For in Ed.D. Program
- Joe Hogan to Become Educator of Future Educators With Ed.D.
- Jose Quezada Gives His All and Then Some Earning Ed.D.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.