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Faculty Spotlight: Dana McMichael

In the early hours before students log on for their courses and the online chatter begins,  Dana McMichael, the dissertation manager for ACU Online’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership program, has already started her day with coffee in hand. Dana’s commitment to supporting students goes beyond just helping them defend their dissertations. Dr. McMichael takes an intentional approach throughout her student’s academic journey to ensure their overall success and growth. Learn how her position as dissertation manager plays a pivotal role in the lives of our Ed.D. students.

The Impact of Education

Dana has loved reading and literature since she was a child, which led her to pursue an undergraduate degree at Oklahoma Christian University and study teaching English as a second language. After graduating in 1983, Dana and a few of her college friends put their bachelor’s degrees to the test by moving to Portugal and working with a church where they taught others how to speak English for a year. After returning from overseas, Dana earned her master’s degree in English at Wake Forest University where she graduated in 1986. Shortly after, she became a part of the faculty in ACU’s English department. 

After a stint of working on campus, Dana left to seek her English from Oklahoma State University in 2002 and then returned to Abilene where she continued to teach and direct the graduate program in English for seven years. Now heading into her 26th year as an ACU faculty member, Dana is the dissertation manager for the Ed.D. program at ACU Online. Dana transitioned to virtual teaching in 2015 and helped build this program from the ground up. 

Cultivating a Community

While Dana was acclimated to being physically on campus, she transitioned into online learning seamlessly. A thesis and dissertation advisor plays such a critical part in the student’s success in their program. Dana was curious how her role as a mentor would transfer online and was determined to build strategies to keep her students engaged and build community virtually. Even though she can no longer sit face-to-face with her students, she’s found that meeting over Zoom allows for more insight into their worlds. One of the biggest improvements she’s seen from online learning is the number of students ACU can now serve all over the world. “Traditionally, a lot of our students wouldn’t have the opportunities to pause their jobs and move to Abilene for a degree,” she remarked, but “now we’re able to connect with more people.”

More than anything, the most impactful part of her job has been the strong friendships and supportive relationships Dana has built with faculty members throughout her years at ACU. “I respect their work, commitment to Christ and their vision for the university so much,” she said. And the connections don’t just stop with her peers. Dana has a distinct role compared to most faculty members in that she gets to start and finish the program with her students. “I get to watch them mature and have a relationship with them for 18 months to two years typically,” Dana reflected. She explained how special it is to witness students researching and exploring problems and questions that they feel are important and then find answers that subsequently make a difference for them in their fields down the road. “The unique opportunity ACU has is allowing students to do that in a context that will honor Christ,” Dana remarked.

Learning To Lead

For most of Dana’s students, they are already in positions of leadership. From principals to HR directors to curriculum directors and more, students are able to build on organizational leadership skills that allow them to think deeply about the health of their organization and how they can contribute to improving it. ACU’s faculty and curriculum emphasizes not only how students can become leaders, but leaders who follow Christ and impact their own communities. “I think ACU has a unique and bold vision for what Christian education can look like in this century,” she said. “They have made bold steps in the past 10 years with all of their new offerings and programming.” 

Dana enjoys seeing how the university continues to grow and expand their online offerings to more students. She’s excited to see students succeed while growing relationships with them on a deeper level by praying with them during their times of struggles as well as celebrating their wins. 

Looking to grow your leadership skills alongside mentors like Dana who invest in their students? Visit or contact us at 855-219-7300 to learn more about our Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program. 

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