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Student Spotlight: Marc Smithers

A deep love for learning and “an abiding curiosity in the world” are two reasons Marc Smithers entered ACU Online’s Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program last summer. The Higher Education concentration is a perfect fit for this passionate learner, who for the last 10 years has served as Assistant Dean of Students for Residence Life and Programs at Houghton College in New York.

Marc earned his undergraduate degree from Houghton in 2008, majoring in Political Science with minors in History, Writing, and Theology. He followed that up in 2013 with a Master in Higher Education from Geneva College in Pennsylvania.

Discovering His Calling in Organizational Leadership

An “interesting journey” led Marc to ACU’s program. “I graduated from college thinking I was going to be in youth ministry for a while, get a master’s of divinity, and go the pastoral route,” Marc recounts. But a year into ministry, “I realized that wasn’t really a great fit. I didn’t feel necessarily a calling to continue pursuing that.”

Marc knew that he liked working with college students, having spent two years as a Resident Assistant while at Houghton. So, he returned to his alma mater and took a position as Resident Director. One of the job perks was the ability to earn his master’s in higher education. Marc says, “I figured that I would then fulfill that ministry niche by being maybe a dean of the chapel or professor of theology. So, I entered into student affairs thinking that I wasn’t going to stay there that long. But I’ve been here for 10 years now. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve deepened my love for student affairs.”

Marc’s zeal for learning made returning to school inevitable. He just wasn’t exactly sure what he’d be studying. “I had been introduced to the concept of leadership studies in my master’s program at Geneva, through a class called leadership and change. And that gave a very broad overview on different leadership theories and how it might apply to higher education.” After graduation, Marc continued to do a lot of academic reading and realized his heightened interest in leadership could not be ignored.

Choosing ACU Online for His Ed.D. Degree

The asynchronous learning environment offered by ACU’s online Organizational Leadership program was right for Marc. “I had been looking for an organizational leadership program that would allow me to maintain my role as a student affairs practitioner.”

A former Resident Director who’d worked for Marc at Houghton had graduated from ACU’s Master of Education in Higher Education program.“She spoke really, really highly of it and said it was a very good program focused on assessment, and provided a good background on higher education.”

Marc was so impressed with not only what he was learning about ACU but also the knowledge, skills, and character of his former colleague that he looked more earnestly into ACU. He was especially attracted to the educational leadership program’s intense focus on assessment. “The student learning outcomes for each class are connected to the program learning outcomes. I actually find that really exciting.”

Along with the ability to take one class at a time, Marc credits ACU’s very organized and deliberate focus with helping him make the commitment. “They know exactly what they want to develop in students, and they want to make sure that they’re doing everything they possibly can to ensure that they are developing those things within their students.”

Marc’s Experience as an ACU Online Student

One of the things that’s been most meaningful to Marc so far in his program “is how ACU does such a good job in making sure that students have all the resources that they can possibly use to ensure they start off on the right foot. They wanted me to know exactly what was expected of me, and they surrounded me with a team of people that tried to make sure I was setting myself up for success.”

Marc had familiarity with online learning thanks to his Geneva hybrid master’s program, but he loves ACU’s 100 percent online program. The flexibility lets him stay involved in his work at Houghton. Marc especially enjoys applying the concepts that he’s learning in his doctorate program into his current student affairs role. “I think it’s just a format that really works well for me. I like the ability to still be a student, and also a practitioner at the same time.”

What Comes After the Doctor of Education in Organizational Development degree?

Marc feels a special call to be involved in the future of higher education. “I really appreciate the integration of faith in learning. That’s one of the things that really drove me to consider ACU is just their strong focus on vocation and organizational leadership.”

He also likes the broad scope of ACU’s Ed.D. program. Marc feels his degree can serve in a variety of contexts. He might end up teaching at Houghton, or “I could easily go into some sort of management position in the public or private sector.”

When asked about his personal sources of support, Marc credits wife Ailie, another Houghton alum and a current student herself. “She’s decided to go back to school for a nursing degree. So that’s really fun because we’re able to talk to each other about what we’re doing in our classes, and we’ll study together at night and things like that.”

Marc and Ailie are mutually supported by their children, Greta 7 and Foster 3. Houghton College has also been a strong supporter of Marc’s return to school, “both in terms of resourcing and financially.” He believes his employer values his participation in the Ed.D. program “because I think they see the benefits that it has both in terms of my leadership among the student life staff and also in modeling for students here that you need to be a lifelong learner.”

Do you aspire to lead with purpose based upon the foundation of Christian vocation? If you’re ready to be a part of a rigorous, convenient, and flexible online program that allows you to take your leadership skills to a new level, consider ACU’s online degree programs.