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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Academic Goals

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

While I enjoy school, I have never been one of those people that take a class “just for the fun of it.” My academic goals have always been driven by a need for the degree and its associated benefits. I did not go to college immediately after high school. When I did attend eight years later, it was only because I wanted to teach and needed the degree to get a teaching license. I returned to school shortly thereafter to add a school principal license which required a graduate degree.

A few years ago, I planned to continue down the path of educational leadership and was accepted into a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) program which would lead to a superintendent license. However, I withdrew from that program before registering for classes. Around the same time, the Lord began to deal with me concerning His desire to establish a national system of Christian alternative schools serving young men who are currently on track to spend most of their lives in prison.

My academic goals in this program are related to preparing to implement this vision the Lord has revealed to me. While I have the willingness and the background in education to fulfill this call, I lack the business acumen for starting such a large-scale endeavor and a lot of very specific knowledge about the population I intend to serve.

I looked at various doctoral programs for several years trying to find the one that would best prepare me for this undertaking. Three programs, all at Liberty University, stood out from all the others: the Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL), Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, and the Doctor or Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Organizational Leadership. Ultimately, I chose the Ph.D as it combined a lot of the same business content as the DSL along with an educational focus and more individualized research which will benefit me in the future.

Once I was enrolled in the Ph.D program, I learned that I would need an Executive Certificate (ExecCert) in order to take advantage of the discounted tuition rate for veterans. Unfortunately, there is no ExecCert program that leads to the Ph.D in Organizational Leadership. However, there is a lot of overlap between the ExecCert in Strategic Leadership and the Ph.D, so I switched my degree program to the ExecCert in Strategic Leadership. My short-term academic goals in the ExecCert program are to acquire as much business knowledge as I can, perform well academically, and re-enroll in the Ph.D program upon completion of the ExecCert.

I have three long-term academic goals for the Ph.D program. First, I want to acquire the business skills necessary to start the first school in this network. This first step will be the most difficult, but once I start the first school, duplicating the process at subsequent locations will become easier over time.

Second, I want to know the root causes of why these young men are on their way to prison and what interventions are most effective at turning them around to become and do all that God has planned for them. Some of these causes and interventions are already known (e.g. replace fatherlessness with positive male interactions, replace gangs with extracurricular activities, replace the glorification of “street culture” with the glorification of God, etc.), but I think there is much more to learn about them.

Finally, I want to develop a marketable skill set. I do not need to be hired, but I will need to raise a lot of money. While I believe that God will provide for this network of schools, that does not excuse me from being able to clearly, professionally, and passionately explain the vision to potential donors. I want to inspire confidence that I am capable and ready to fulfill God’s call.


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