By most standards, Dick Kleine should have been ready to take it easy.
Now retired, he had worked 38 years at Deere & Co. and had already earned a master's degree.
But Kleine wasn't done learning yet.
So, the former vice president of quality went back to school.
"I have always believed in continuous learning," he said. "My goals were to challenge myself, to stimulate my thinking and to experience the challenge of learning."
In 2002, Kleine returned to the classroom to begin St. Ambrose University's doctor of business administration, or DBA, program. Taking one course a semester, he finished up his coursework this past spring.
Kleine is one of a small number - about 35 - who have taken on the challenge of pursuing doctoral degrees. The program has graduated 19 students.
Nearly one-third of the school's 3,700 students at St. Ambrose are involved in graduate studies.
Created in 1998, the DBA program was specifically created for the working professional, said director Monica Forret.
"We found there was no other opportunity beyond a master's degree in the area," she said. "For the size of the area, we wanted to give other opportunities to professionals."
Rather than concentrating on preparing the student for a career in education like other Ph.D. in business programs do, the DBA program cultivates the "scholarly practitioner," or someone who can apply the theory they learn in the classroom to real-world problems.
Classes are held evenings and Saturdays. The program includes 12 classes, written and oral exams and a dissertation.
With the average age of a student in the program in the mid-40s, the group is a diverse mix of professionals working in all types of industry including banking, manufacturing, sales, accounting, education and technology, Forret said.
They also are a very dedicated and persistent group, she said.
Since most have full-time jobs, the students attend classes on a part-time basis, often taking a minimum of four years - and often as many as eight - to complete the program, said Forret. Many students travel quite a distance to attend the program, coming from as far away as Des Moines, Dubuque, Minnesota and Milwaukee.
"It is a very, very challenging program but a very rewarding one as well," Forret said. "I am very proud of our students. I really admire them."
Students have a variety of reason for pursuing the degree, Forret said. Some seek personal development, some want a consulting career, some have always wanted a doctoral degree and others want to pursue a career in academics.
Keith Hechtel, director of business development at Curbell Plastics, said though the process was long and hard, it was very rewarding. Hechtel has completed his course work and is about a year away from finishing his dissertation.
He compares his academic journey to that of mastering karate.
When Hechtel started studying karate, he was an out-of-shape, uncoordinated 14-year-old. Despite the challenges, the teen worked and worked on the skills until he captured a black belt. Today, at 44, Hechtel is still practicing karate.
"Each level feels terrible, but it gets more challenging," he said.
Hechtel is happy he pursued the degree. He has earned promotions, monetary compensation and has affected the way he looks at his job.
"I am 110 percent satisfied that the time I invested has more than paid for itself," Hechtel said. "It far exceeded my expectations going in."
For DBA graduate Connie Thurman, director of human resources at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Ill., the program has helped her transition into a new career field.
"It helped prepare me to instruct at the college level," she said. "It turned an adversity into something positive."
Thurman, who worked for Maytag before the Galesburg plant was shuttered, had been searching locally for years for a DBA program.
Kleine has begun applying his newly acquired knowledge to the work he does on several nonprofit community boards.
"I have learned the importance of doing more research and gathering more information before making decisions," he said.
Always a lifelong learner, Kleine is looking for new challenges.
"I am looking for other things to learn now," he said.
Full article at: http://www.qcbusinessjournal.com/articles/2008/11/04/education/doc4910f957a6807566037837.txt