While enrolled in the online Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation program at St. Thomas University, the military member and father of nine moved across the United States twice, completed a fellowship and wrote a book. His degree was conferred in May 2020.
“Eventually, your time in the service ends,” he said. “My wife and I were talking about what we want to do next. I have taught a couple of times in the military and always enjoyed it. I also spent some time at Stanford University as a fellow, where I did some guest lecturing.”
Dr. Coughlin, who works in a leadership position in a large military organization, is always ready to pack up and move. Before recently relocating to Georgia, he lived in Sumter, South Carolina.
“In the military, I never know where I’m going to be,” he said. “We just made our 15th move in 20 years. I had to find a program that could offer a Doctor of Education degree at a reputable institution that did not have a residency requirement.
“The added benefit at St. Thomas is that the university gives a small scholarship for veterans. That’s helpful because we have to pay for advanced training.”
The fully online format was essential for Dr. Coughlin, who made frequent trips overseas during his two-and-a-half years in the online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program.
He and his wife, Erin, stay plenty busy with their children — Zachary (18), Caleb (16), Joshua (14), Eli (11), Thomas (8), Andrew (7), Lily Grace (5), Rachel Mae (3) and Sarah Anne (16 mos.).
“The online program allowed me to come home from long days at work, get the kids in bed and then do schoolwork,” he said. “Or, I could get up early and do school. I rarely traded family time for furthering my education.
“I was also doing classes and additional military education. I wrote a book on cyberspace strategy. The online Ed.D. program allowed me the flexibility to do my professional work and be busy at the Hoover Institution and at Stanford, but also to say, ‘Okay, I need a deep dive.’ The flexibility was huge.”
Here, There, Everywhere
Dr. Coughlin grew up in a military family and moved frequently before settling in Bossier City, Louisiana, when he was in fourth grade.
“I was born in the city to which we just moved, Warner Robins, Georgia,” he said. “Then, we moved to Michigan. When I was going into kindergarten, we moved to North Dakota. I have lived in 14 states, including four of them twice.”
In the year 2000, Dr. Coughlin joined the military after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in management information systems from Louisiana State University.
He added a Master of Arts in special operations and low intensity conflict from the American Military Institute in 2007, along with a Master of Military Arts and Sciences in strategic studies from Army Command and General Staff College five years later.
“I did some research on Ph.D. vs. Ed.D.,” Dr. Coughlin said. “My educational and leadership experiences guided my program choice.
“I am now in a unit where the organizational culture and all of the class dynamics of the coursework are applicable to my current position.”
ELI 817: Managing Social Media in Organizations and ELI 813: Leading a Learning Organization were his two favorite courses in the program curriculum.
“While I was in the doctoral program, the organizational challenges I faced at work aligned nicely with my coursework,” he said.
Dr. Coughlin has applied the information he learned in the online Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation program in multiple areas.
“I have used some of the books and papers I wrote in specific classes and rolled them into projects that I do professionally,” he said. “I used the materials in forums and while writing a book on cyberspace strategy, as well.”
Ready, Set, Go
Dr. Coughlin has at least two more years remaining in the military. He believes the career choices available with an Ed.D. will help him transition into teaching after he retires from active duty.
“An Ed.D. gives me a range of options when I leave the service,” he said. “With a Ph.D., the focus is likely on teaching. With an Ed.D., one can lead educational institutions or teach.”
Dr. Coughlin and Erin had planned to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary and his graduation from St. Thomas University in May 2020. Postponement of the ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic means he will walk in the university’s December commencement.
His achievement of earning a doctorate is a source of pride for his children too.
“As soon as I finished the program, our son, Caleb, said, ‘What’s up, Doc?’ My kids call me Dr. Dad,” he said.
“Our oldest son is a sophomore at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. When his friends tell him, ‘This undergrad work is too challenging and takes too much time,’ he says, ‘Really? My dad just finished his fourth degree and works 60-plus hours a week. You’re taking three classes.'”
In addition to preparing for a second career, Dr. Coughlin enjoyed learning from the experiences of his online classmates.
His cohort included elementary school teachers, school district superintendents, a band director, a minister, deans, and an ESL teacher in Korea.
“Because you are with people in different stages of their professional lives, you get different perspectives and day-to-day experiences brought straight into the virtual environment,” he said.
“You pick a topic like an organizational issue, and everybody in your cohort will have had a professional application of that in their space. It’s a rich, diverse cultural environment. You don’t always get that level of familiarity in the work space. That’s one of the true benefits of online education.”