Kristen Patterson didn’t set out to finish her college degree just to have a framed diploma for her office. “It’s not about having the degree,” she says. “It’s about what I’ve learned, and how I apply that knowledge to everyday life. I’ve always believed that by continuing to learn you’re able to help those around you also improve and grow.”
Patterson achieved her goal through the degree completion program—a time-tested part of Fresno Pacific University’s commitment to building professional expertise in the Valley. The net effect: a strengthened economy in the future and enhanced, hopeful lives.
A former degree completion student—Sharon Starcher, D.B.A. (MA ’07, BA ’99)—directs the program for business students. Starcher, an assistant professor of business, has revamped curriculum and instruction methods to increase academic rigor. “They now come to class to engage rather than just listen to a lecture,” she says. Degree completion students pursue either a business management or organizational leadership emphasis, and Starcher is adding a third emphasis: emergency management. It will be geared to personnel in police and fire departments as well as those in private business with responsibility for emergency disaster plans. “We continually look for unmet needs in the Valley and how we can respond to them,” Starcher says. Katie Fleener, Ph.D, dean of the School of Business, adds: “We have evolved with the times to meet changing needs, whether at the undergraduate, graduate or professional development level.”
Reconnecting to God
Degree completion courses aim to integrate faith with leadership, and Starcher has upgraded discussions to focus on books specific to that process, enabling students to consider God’s call on their lives as leaders. That faith component changed Heather Aceves (BA ‘20). Aceves, airports personnel manager for the City of Fresno, says she’s now a stronger writer and better communicator at work. And spiritually? “I came to Fresno Pacific appreciating the good vibe of the university, but I was not prepared for what happened. I reconnected with God,” she says. “I was not expecting to become vulnerable with the other students in my cohort or become a champion for others in their vulnerability. I had a front-row seat in the lives of others, and I learned that leading like Jesus is the only way to go.” Hearing such experiences has brought Starcher to tears. "It's exciting and emotional to see how students make applications to the real world from what they learn and experience in their courses,” she says.
Another program—the M.A. in Strategic and Organizational Leadership—has students analyze and propose solutions to systemic challenges in businesses and organizations, says Suzana Dobric´ Veiss, Ph.D. (MA ’02, BA ’99), assistant professor of business and director of the program. “The focus is on problem-solving, and the students almost serve as consultants to the organizations,” she says. Students often choose to analyze their workplaces, collaborating with organization managers. The program attracts a wide variety of professionals, including police officers, medical personnel and employees of nonprofits and for- profit businesses. “Because of such varied backgrounds, the sharing in class discussions is rich,” Dobric´ Veiss says.
The School of Business also offers a master’s degree in business administration that challenges students with projects applicable to their life goals. Aspiring business owners can write detailed plans about building an enterprise from the ground up. Others can conduct in-depth analysis of organizations where they plan to remain. “We want to make the learning relevant to individual students,” says Michelle Bradford, Pys.D., assistant professor of business and director of the program. MBA students also get global business perspectives. During the pandemic, for example, they virtually visited Malaysia, Morocco, Peru, Singapore and Spain to discuss global economic issues with entrepreneurs and business leaders.
All students in the School of Business brings stories to their educational journeys. Patterson— the degree completion student— says “life happened” after she graduated from high school in the late 1990s and started community college. “I got married and had kids and found myself too busy to go back full-time,” she says. Four years ago, she joined GC Roofing, a woman-owned construction firm, first as a dispatcher, later becoming a project manager, partner and chief operating officer.
Patterson started the degree completion program in 2017, choosing the all-online option, and is scheduled to graduate in May 2021. “Even though I’ve been an online student the entire time, engaging with my cohort has been constant. I know some of my classmates really well since we’ve gone through each class together.” Patterson says she benefitted from both the program’s faith (“I developed a closer relationship with the Lord”) and academic content. “The knowledge I’ve obtained has helped me grow as a person and has helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses, both professionally and personally. It’s been a constant journey of self-improvement,” she says.