The Importance of a Caring Professor/Faculty Advisor
On Christmas Eve 2017, I was driving on Interstate 64 near Charleston, West Va., when I passed the Dunbar exit. At that moment, I mentioned to my wife the impact of my former professor and how that individual affected me academically like no other in my life. She knew every time I would pass that exit, I would say the same thing. I told her I had recently sent a Christmas card like I always do to Dr. Jack Yeager. Dr. Yeager’s influence on me was profound.
When I arrived at my sister’s house that night, I was talking to my brother-in-law. I was not there 15 minutes when he gave me news that hit me like a ton of bricks: Dr. Yeager was laid to rest the day before my arrival. I immediately went to the Internet to find this information that was part of his obituary.
“Brigadier General Jack E. Yeager (Ret.) was born in Rivesville, West Va., in 1937. He served in the West Virginia Army National Guard for 39 years. He received a BS in Political Science from West Virginia State University, Mass., in political science from Marshall University and EdD from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Yeager was a professor of leadership studies at Marshall University.
He later became Mayor of Dunbar, West Va., served on the St. Albans, West Virginia City Council and Dean of Student Affairs at West Virginia State University. His hobby was growing Christmas trees on his farm in Roane County, West Va. He was a wonderful family role model.”
Let’s flash back to the mid-70s when I first met Dr. Yeager. I was a graduate assistant at the Marshall University Graduate College. Dr. Yeager immediately learned of my dream of obtaining a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate degree. He and I both knew this process would be very intense and time consuming. Ironically, I spent many hours in university libraries and in his office. He gave me advice and counseling, and kept me focused and motivated.
He constantly encouraged me to read, write and speak whenever possible. As I completed my master’s degree, I moved from West Virginia and could not immediately enroll in doctoral program. In fact, I considered obtaining an Educational Specialist Degree, which is a step below EdD. Dr. Yeager encouraged me to focus on obtaining my ultimate dream.
According to the article titled, “Census: More Americans Have College Degrees Than Ever Before,” only 2 percent of Americans have a doctoral degree. The Ph.D. Completion Project estimates that the 10-year doctoral completion rate is 49 percent in the humanities (the dissertation begins in year three or four). There are professional consequences and psychological ramifications to leaving graduate school without finishing. Such reasons for this include having faculty advisors who are absentee, excoriating and micro managerial. There are also faculty advisors who retire, leave and even die during one’s doctoral process due to the length of each individual process. Having a good and supportive faculty advisor is a major key to ultimate success!
A dissertation is an ultramarathon. In my case, I had to apply, take a very hard acceptance test, take courses, complete a written comprehensive test from my committee of five professors and then complete a published dissertation. My five official committee members represented the total spectrum. Some were never available, others seemed not to totally care and others made me feel like a number. The one that truly cared was Dr. Jack Yeager.
I had an unusual situation occur with respect to my doctoral defense. Amazingly, after each committee member said they would be present one did not show up. I had to drive several hundred miles for the defense. The president of the university attended. The group decided to go through with a “mock defense” that did not count. A month later, I had to complete the process again. Whenever I had a problem or issue, Dr. Yeager was there to support me. I could not have achieved the degree without him and repeatedly told him so through the years.
I continue to read, write and speak in part because of Dr. Yeager. I am proud of my degree, and my career goal has been to treat others in the same manner as Dr. Yeager treated me. I continue to teach as an adjunct professor at Olivet Nazarene University. I mentor students and have never said no to anyone because of the way I was treated. For me, receiving the terminal degree was one of my life’s important goal attainments. For many of us, when we stand on a stage and receive a degree we know many individuals made that moment possible.
I will always remember my friend and mentor, Dr. Jack Yeager. He was caring and compassionate. He was also an excellent teacher, manager, leader and consultant. I never really knew the military side of him, but I know he served the State of West Virginia and U.S. with distinction. May his memory be eternal, and I am certain hundreds of other students fortunate to have been touched by him feel the same way I do towards him.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.