FEBRUARY 20, 2009

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First Graduates Complete Adult Degree Program at ECU

Photo of  Danny Hooper and Shirley Mixon.
Danny Hooper (left) of Ada gets a final check of his cap and gown in December from Dr. Shirley Mixon, director of East Central University’s Adult Degree Completion Program. Hooper returned to ECU after 23 years to complete a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership. He and Melissa L. Layton of Stratford were the first two graduates of the ReachHigher program which allows adults to complete bachelor’s degrees while working full time.

After two years of college, Danny Hooper decided he was headed in the wrong direction.

He wanted a different type of degree, so he left East Central University in 1985 and moved to Irving, Texas, to complete a two-year program in electronics.

Today, he is one of ECU’s first two graduates in the ReachHigher program, Oklahoma’s flexible degree completion program for working adults who want to finish a college degree they may have started years ago.

The second graduate is Melissa Layton of Stratford. Both enrolled in the spring of 2007.

Hooper graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership while working full time as a building automation systems engineer for the Chickasaw Nation.

“My wife saw a ReachHigher ad in the newspaper,” he said. “I only had an associate degree. She asked me if I was interested in going back to school. I really hadn’t given it any thought.

“Over the next few days, I thought maybe I really do need a bachelor’s degree. A lot of companies require a bachelor’s degree,” he added. “I decided to go ahead and do it.”

Hooper had taken most of the required courses and lacked only 39 credit hours to graduate. But it took dedication and a commitment to stick with it to the end, he said.

“With the proper support and dedication, you can do it and feel good about yourself,” he said.

His classes were a mixture of leadership courses, ethics, statistics and accounting. Almost all were online.

“There was quite a bit of homework,” Hooper said. “You had to stay on it or you’d get behind. The teachers gave us deadlines, and you were on your own to get it done whenever you could, by the deadline. I kind of liked it. I only had time in the evenings, so that worked out well.”

His toughest semester came when he enrolled four classes, including statistics, while working full time.

“It was tough to keep up,” he admitted. “Statistics was extremely tough for me. It was a scramble to get the homework and everything done.”

When his courses were completed, “I was relieved it was over with,” he said. “I do feel a sense of accomplishment, especially that I was able to do it while working full time.”

Hooper said he had a lot of support from his family and from Dr. Shirley Mixon, director of ECU’s Adult Degree Completion Program.

“I really appreciated her,” he said. “If it was not for her support, I don’t know if I could have done it. She would always call and check on me. She got me through it.”

Mixon calls the ReachHigher program a “second chance to earn your degree. You keep your normal work hours and your routine and still have time for your family.” Some students can receive up to 30 college credits for prior learning, she said. Information is available from Mixon at 580-559-5279 or smixon@ecok.edu.