Some people are born to lead.
Captain Jose Quezada, USMC (Ret.), has dedicated his life to service with 20 years of military experience leading in combat and in peace time and as a military instructor for various institutions.
Quezada enrolled in the St. Thomas University Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation online program with four different master's degrees — in leadership, political science, business management and international relations — already under his belt.
"I honestly wanted to set an example for my kids and reach the highest level of education, so they can see that they can achieve that," said Quezada, who expects to graduate in the summer of 2020. "I was a first generation college graduate. My dad only made it to the third grade, so for me, education was key."
The Senior Marine Instructor and Director of the Marine Corps Leadership Academy at Lake Region High School in Eagle Lake, Florida, took his time to find an online program that would lead him to the pinnacle of his academic achievements without too much overlap in his broad education.
"St. Thomas University was the one that really offered the program I was looking for," Quezada said. "It's tough finding classes that I haven't taken before at the graduate level when it comes to leadership, but St. Thomas University offered that."
Quezada is responsible for running the JROTC program, coaching juniors and seniors on leadership ability.
"I walk them through the whole application process," he explains. "I am currently helping seven students prepare for interviews [as they apply for military scholarships worth more than $250,000 combined], making sure that they're ready because they get graded on these interviews. It's to ensure that these kids have a good next step."
As Quezada helps students in his care prepare for the future, he is looking forward to the next step in his own career, thanks to his coursework at St. Thomas.
Full Speed Ahead
Earning a doctorate while working meant Quezada would be looking for classes that enrich his career and give him an idea of his future options. At St. Thomas, he found both.
In ELI 817: Managing Social Media in Organizations, Quezada learned how to improve the online presence of the Marine Corps Junior ROTC website for Lake Region High School.
"I didn't realize how powerful a tool social media was until I actually took that course," he said. "I took everything that I learned there and applied it to our school's Facebook page, Twitter and a couple other social media channels. I also revamped our website and made it more appealing after soliciting information from our followers, parents and members of the community."
It was in ELI 816: Consulting Practices that Quezada saw just where his career of service was heading.
"That class convinced me that after I get my doctorate, and after I send my kids off to college, I want to get into consulting," he said. "I think that the experience I've gained over my years makes me ideal to be a consultant for any company, whether that's business, a political entity or a government branch."
Though these classes have helped shape Quezada's present and future, his favorite experience in the program has involved working on his dissertation on the perceptions of parents and non-participant students in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (MCJROTC) program.
Working with his dissertation committee, Quezada has been writing about the perceptions of parents and non-participant students in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (MCJROTC) program.
"I chose this topic because the MCJROTC program has the ability to change a young man/woman's life through leadership education," he said. "What I've learned so far is that the administration often uses our program as a last resort for troubled students, which is not the program's intent, but the lessons we teach them here have transcended the classroom and are being seen in every aspect of their lives — higher attendance rates, higher GPAs, more respectful, fewer infractions. They're held to a higher standard."
Quezada credits Dr. Maria Orlando and the rest of his committee for their comprehensive feedback as he completes his dissertation at his own pace.
"Writing the dissertation is not easy, but they allow you to do it with ease," he explained. "I'm not stuck. A lot of universities want to put you on a timeline, but St. Thomas University allows you to move very quickly.
"If I wanted to be done in six months they'd accommodate that," he paused and let out a light chuckle. "I'm not going to, but I could."
What has kept Quezada going is the community spirit he has felt throughout the dissertation process. The professors expect top quality work, but they know that he is also working full time with a family.
"The professors at St. Thomas are very understanding," Quezada said. "There have been times where I haven't been able to turn in an assignment because I'm either working, or doing something, or I'm given a last-minute task, and they've been great."
But there's more to Quezada than school.
On top of being a teacher and a student, Quezada is a devoted husband to his wife Ayarilis, a loving father to his children Laisha and Joshua, and president and CEO of his family-run charity.
"I have a nonprofit organization that we created about 20 years ago called Quezada Family Charities Incorporated, which helps impoverished families in the Dominican Republic," he said. "We have a host of events that we hold for the community at Christmas where we give out several hundred pounds of rice, beans, oils and other foodstuffs in addition to toys to needy kids.
"We usually give out academic scholarships to kids and encourage them in school in countries that are struggling when it comes to academics and need a little bit of inspiration. We give out monetary awards to ensure that they have the money it takes to go back to their studies."
Quezada does not have a lot of free time these days, but he is thankful for every moment he gets to spend with his family, whether it's falling asleep on the couch with his wife watching movies or driving his son hours away to play a baseball game.
"I consider my free time as sitting at the ballpark of watching my son play," he said. "That is honestly what relaxes me, because when I go to these games, my wife is sitting right next to me."
There is nothing easy about dedicating one's life to the service of others, but for Quezada, it is what gives his life real value.
"It just takes a little bit of self-sacrifice," he explained. "One thing that I learned in the consulting course is that you can always make another dollar, but you can never buy another minute. That's the quote I live by."
Learn more about the St. Thomas University online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program.
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