After two years of college, Rick Hooper decided he was headed in the wrong direction.
He wanted a different type of degree, so he left East Central University 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 Reach Higher 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 L. Layton of Stratford. She started the program in the summer of 2007.
In Hooper's case, his graduation this December came 25 years after he first enrolled at ECU in 1983. He now is the proud owner of a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership, a degree he completed while working full time.
Hooper and his wife Kelly, also an ECU graduate, were married in 1985 and moved to Texas. They returned to Ada in 1994. He is a building automation systems engineer for the Chickasaw Nation, engineering or designing access control and low voltage systems for Chickasaw properties.
"My wife saw a Reach Higher ad in the newspaper," he said. "I only had an associate's degree. She asked me if I was interested in going back to school. I really hadn't given it any thought.
Rick 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 program which allows adults to complete bachelor's degrees while working full time.
"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 enrolled at ECU two years ago in the spring of 2007. He already had taken most of the required courses and lacked only 39 credit hours to graduate. It took him two spring semesters, two fall semesters and one summer term to finish his degree.
It takes dedication and a commitment to stick with it to the end, though, 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 was when he enrolled in 12 hours, or 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. It was a very full semester for me."
When all 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."
"Once Rick made the commitment to pursue the program," Mixon said, "he developed a degree plan and stayed with it. He made it very easy for me to advise him."
Hooper said his experience set a good example for his children, Zach, a sophomore at ECU, and Kaitie, a sophomore at Ada High School.
"Zach knew what I was going through, doing homework every night. He saw that I came home with A's and B's. I think it was an inspiration to him."
Mixon calls the Reach Higher 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. Through Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), students will actively examine their own experiences in work, training and life experiences that may qualify as college-level learning for college credit.
Information is available from Mixon at 580-559-5279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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