Dawn Parker serves as office manager for ACU Online, working out of Addison, Texas, a position she’s held since June 2015. She’s also just finished her second course in ACU Online’s B.S. in Psychology program. But Dawn’s close relationship with ACU goes back decades.
From 1979 to 1981, Dawn was studying at ACU’s Abilene campus, majoring in business. She struggled with her computer programming and economics courses. Dawn dropped out of school and started making good money in the corporate world. She married her husband Clint 35 years ago, had a son, Forest, now 22, and “life happens.”
But Dawn had always wanted to finish her bachelor’s, and a series of fortuitous happenings eventually made that a possibility for her.
Finding her professional home at ACU
Toward the end of her corporate career, Dawn was working for IBM in project management. British Petroleum (BP) was a key client, but after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, BP changed its business model. That resulted in about 200 IBM employees, including Dawn, losing their jobs.
Dawn recalls, “I had to take a job with Oklahoma Christian University (OC), which is a sister school to ACU, making about half of what I was making at IBM. They had a Dallas office, and although they were based in Edmond, Oklahoma, OC decided to shut down their Dallas office. After working there for about a year, I was laid off again.” Dawn could’ve relocated to Oklahoma, but moving wasn’t appealing to her.
She continues, “Through that association with OC, I met some people from ACU who knew that they were launching an online program, and so they gave my resume to the guys that were starting up the program. I had another person that recommended me as well, so they had gotten the resume from two different people, and they really weren’t even hiring for my position. But they felt like it was a Godly sign that they should talk to me. I interviewed with them, and they ended up hiring me.”
Re-finding her educational home at ACU
When asked what made her choose ACU for her undergraduate studies 40 years ago, Dawn shares, “I grew up going to the Church of Christ, and ACU is rooted in the Church of Christ. I had gone on a campus visit, and several of the kids in the youth group were going to ACU. It wasn’t like I looked at other schools. It was like, that was where I was going.”
Fast-forward to 2015, and Dawn was working for ACU Online, hoping that one day the school would add undergraduate degree programs to its online portfolio. “Every time it would come up, I would say, ‘I’m student number one.’ It was four years in the making, and finally, they added undergraduate coursework,” she says. Now at age 58, Dawn has returned to school.
Dawn continues, “It’s landed right here in my lap. It’s 100% online, and there’s no excuse for me not to finish my undergraduate journey. ”
Dawn’s experience as an online student at ACU
Admittedly a bit intimidated by the online school model “because I’m an older person,” Dawn started feeling confident by the second or third week of class. She explains, “ACU does a good job of giving you an advisor that walks you through the enrollment process, and another advisor to work with you from your second class through graduation. They do what they call a ‘walk to class’ over Zoom, and they guide you through what a course looks like, how you’ll be able to view your grades, and how you’ll be able to see your books. They just go through it step-by-step. That was super-helpful.”
Dawn appreciates how easy it is to navigate the online coursework, the ability to set her own schedule, and the flexibility of being able to juggle work and personal obligations. “That really fits with my lifestyle better because I work full-time..”
When asked how important it is for her to be involved in a program that comes from a Christian perspective, Dawn shares, “It’s been life-altering. I mentioned that I grew up in the Church of Christ and have been associated with a church all of my life, but ACU has a focus on vocational formation, which asserts that the work we do matters. It matters to the world and it matters to God..”
What does the future hold for Dawn and her B.S. degree?
Despite the nature of her degree program, Dawn says, “I don’t anticipate necessarily going off and being a psychologist. You can use a psychology degree in many aspects … just in your daily walk, you can always use psychology tips, but I don’t anticipate changing careers.”
For Dawn, the satisfaction of earning her degree comes from “the sense of accomplishment for finishing what I started so long ago.” When graduation comes, she’ll make the three-hour drive to Abilene to participate in commencement activities. “I’m definitely walking — definitely.”
When asked for any closing thoughts, Dawn shares, “What I want to get across is how life-changing this experience has been. Not that my schedule has changed or that my work schedule has altered—life-changing in the sense that it’s changing me and helping me grow and become a better person. Even at the age of 58, there’s always room for improvement and always things you can learn. I think I’m a better learner at this age than I was at 20 or 21. This opportunity is presenting itself at the right time for me.”