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Student Spotlight: Deandra Porter

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We recently chatted with Deandra Porter, who graduated from ACU Online’s Master of Science in Organizational Development program in May 2020. After graduation, she found herself working in Austin at the Texas Capitol in Senator Charles Schwertner’s office.

Deandra has worked in politics for five-and-a-half years. She holds two titles in Sen. Schwertner’s office: administrative director for the office and executive assistant to the Senator. Senate District 5 is a 10-county area, and Deandra’s graduate degree has already been a great asset for the large amount of constituent work she performs.

Parental “pushing” and a coworker’s endorsement lead Deandra to ACU

After earning her undergrad degree in English with a minor in communications at Texas Tech, Deandra felt, “Yeah, I’m done with school. I’m never coming back.” But as is usually the case, life had other plans. “It’s kind of a funny and long story,” she begins.

“The summer before I graduated, I had an internship in the Governor’s press office, and I really loved it. And I was graduating early, and they told me, ‘If you really want to pursue this since you’re graduating in December, the next legislative session will begin in January, and we’ll help you find a job once you’ve graduated.’ And so I graduated, and a few weeks later I moved to Austin and started this new job. I started in the House, and a year later ended up in the Senate. But I was feeling kind of stuck, and my parents were pushing me to go to grad school pretty much as soon as I graduated with my undergrad.”

Two-and-a-half years later, Deandra saw the wisdom in her parents’ advice, admitting, “They’re right. I needed to pursue something else so that I can do more in whatever field I end up in.” She looked at organizational development programs at St. Edward’s, the University of North Texas, and Texas Tech. When coworker and ACU alum Joey Halbert learned of her school search, he encouraged her to consider ACU Online’s program.

ACU’s stellar student support system seals the deal

Deandra recalls that none of the other degree programs she explored felt quite right. However, “When I reached out to ACU, I think I had a call back from them maybe that day or even the very next day. I met with one of their counselors over the phone. He was wonderful.”

The counselor shared the approximate costs and projected duration of the master’s program with Deandra. “He told me how to do FAFSA and all these things—even things that I hadn’t even thought of. And he’s a big reason why I chose ACU. He answered my questions about working online, working full-time, and doing school online … I just felt like he had all the answers, all the information I was looking for—plus some—and I felt automatically supported. At the other schools, I didn’t have that, and I knew I was going to need some additional support because I was going to work full-time throughout my degree.”

Deandra’s experience as an ACU Online student

Although she had taken a few self-guided online courses in her bachelor’s program, Deandra didn’t have any interaction with her professors or classmates in that setting. But the ACU Online format, “was completely different … Because through our discussion posts, I was communicating with classmates on a regular basis, and so I did feel like I was still part of a class. And most of my professors had set up Zoom meetings once a week, and most of the class would come to those. So, again, it was still like being in class, just in a different way. I could still ask the professor questions, she could still see me and answer my questions in person if that’s what I needed.”

Deandra has some nice things to say about the Canvas virtual classroom system: “The way ACU has it set up, it’s pretty seamless. You’re connected to everybody, there’s a lot of information available to you, and ACU is really good about checking in on students as well. During my first two classes, I had a student advisor who checked on me once a week, and we could talk about how to better navigate Canvas if I was having problems. I think they really want you to succeed.”

While Deandra admits she was a little nervous about taking on a 100%-online degree program, “This was awesome and changed my opinion about things.” When asked if COVID-19 had affected her program she replies, “No, not at all. I actually did my final semester and my final project over that period.”

Putting her degree to work for the people she serves

Even before she graduated, Deandra was applying what she was learning in her Organizational Development coursework to her public service career. “I’ve actually used a lot of the skills and tools that I’ve been taught at ACU already on the job,” she shares. “My office has been really supportive, and we’ve created different trainings and approaches to working with constituents. I created a training program in one of my classes—a guide to communicating with your elected officials—that I’ve used at work.”

Deandra has also found that she’s more open-minded now when working with constituents thanks to ACU’s overall Christian approach that emphasizes treating people with dignity and respect. She explains, “I think through the degree, because they’re constantly emphasizing how to treat others or how to understand where people are coming from—or maybe why people think that way—that has been really helpful when working with constituents and hearing their ideas.”

Is there a political career in Deandra’s future?

“No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve worked a little too long in politics to want to be a politician,” Deandra says when asked if she has aspirations to sit in a senator’s seat.

While she doesn’t have the next step figured out just yet, Deandra will remain with her current office and may step into a new role that would let her use her master’s degree more fully. She finds helping people to be one of the most rewarding aspects of government work, adding, “ACU has really helped with that a lot because there was so much emphasis on what are your goals in mediating people or helping people become better communicators or fixing systems within organizations that maybe aren’t working. The goal is always to help the people who are part of those systems.”

Deandra has also been exploring options in the nonprofit world and entertaining the idea of getting a Ph.D. and teaching. “I don’t have a definitive plan, but I am excited about the doors that are open because of the master’s degree,” she adds.

The graduation ceremony for Deandra’s program was postponed until August, but she plans on participating. She looks forward to meeting her professors and classmates in person, and her father has already picked out the Abilene steakhouse where the family will share the celebratory meal.

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