While Shirley Sims earned a doctoral degree over the course of 36 months, she also helped run a college, had a baby and started a business.
She continued to blaze trails in her family by completing the online Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation – Administration program at St. Thomas University in August 2020 with a 3.93 GPA.
"My friends and family are excited and overjoyed," she said. "When I finished my defense, I called them. It was rewarding to be the first in my family to have a doctorate. My mom calls me 'Dr. Sims.' She says, 'I love calling you that.'"
Dr. Sims is the vice president of operations at Azure College in Fort Lauderdale. She volunteers at several community organizations and is a member of Zeta Phi Beta, Inc. As if that didn't keep her busy enough, she also launched an online professional training business, iTrainNow, seven months before she completed the online Ed.D. program.
"I wanted to solidify my position as an educator and attain an additional skill set so I could continue to lead at a higher education institution," she said.
"I decided on St. Thomas University because a lot of the curriculum had to do with a background in management, as well as innovative ways the world is working now in business and education."
The online format helped Dr. Sims plan out time to work on school around her hectic schedule as a college administrator, entrepreneur and mother. She and her partner, Albert, have two children — Maurice (15) and Kali (2).
"I have a lot going on," she said. "It worked out perfectly. When I had my daughter, I had class one day, the birth the next day, then an assignment due the day after. The online format offered me the flexibility to continue to work and have that balance."
Blue Skies Ahead
Dr. Sims grew up in Sebring, Florida, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in criminology and political science from the University of South Florida in 2003. Three years later, she completed a Master of Public Administration from Troy University.
"Prior to my education career, I was a program manager working with juvenile offenders," she said. "I wanted to change the world that way, through the criminal justice system. I did a year of law school, but I didn't go back because it wasn't for me.
"I am a first-generation college graduate, so after I got my bachelor's degree, education came to the forefront for my family. Now my mother, my brother and my two sisters have some level of higher education."
A desire to pay it forward had Dr. Sims applying to positions in the field of education. She got her start in the admissions department at Azure College eight years ago and worked her way up to administration.
"I wanted to continue to stay in education," she said. "I love being in administration and making policies and decisions that affect the lives of others. I also love to teach, so I do that part time, as well. Education is where I want to stay."
That perspective gave Dr. Sims additional insight as a student in the online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation, but she also broadened her horizons in courses like ELI 817: Managing Social Media in Organizations and ELI 803: Information Management.
"The program at St. Thomas helped me so much and exposed me to a lot of helpful tools that I integrated into my job as a college administrator," she said. "It helped me understand how effective social media is for your personal brand and for institutions and how to engage with people. Now, I require all of my students to build a professional LinkedIn profile for networking and possible job opportunities."
Leave Nothing Behind
The knowledge that Dr. Sims gained carried over to her entrepreneurial endeavors, as well — especially insights from the ELI 816: Consulting Practices course.
"I learned a lot about setting up my own consulting practice, which is one of the services my company iTrainNow offers," she said. "I learned how to keep open communication with clients, how to manage contracts, and what techniques to use when working with multiple clients at the same time. That helped out a lot because I took that knowledge into my own business."
Especially because Dr. Sims had never taken any online courses prior to enrolling in the Ed.D. program, she appreciated the communication with the STU faculty members, who were always quick to respond to her questions.
"I liked that our instructors are required to host at least one weekly meeting with us, which is not always traditional with distance learning," she said. "Having that 30-minute interaction with the instructor made a difference in each of the courses, even though it was a doctoral program."
Dr. Sims plans to walk the graduation stage at the May 2021 commencement ceremony in Miami to put the exclamation point on her major accomplishment.
"I absolutely have to walk," she said. "This has been some journey. My family has been supportive of me throughout the way. Having your schedule and support system in place is important."
Now that Dr. Sims has completed her higher education journey as a student, she is proof that STU's online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation is attainable for the busiest of professionals.
"You have to be open-minded and ready for a full experience in gaining practical skills that will help you elevate as a professional," she said. "You also have to dedicate yourself to the process. We had benchmarks to meet throughout.
"The program checked all of the boxes I was looking for in that it was well-rounded and practical. My dissertation committee was awesome. They provided feedback to help me get through. My chair, Dr. Kennedy Maranga and committee members Dr. Junior Gentles and Dr. Jill Bonds were very motivating. It was a great experience."
Learn more about STU's online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation – Administration program.
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