Student Stories

Jackie Ray Slater

Football Coach, NFL Hall of Famer

I never thought I would, nor did I plan to, finish the Master of Arts in Leadership program. I originally applied for admission to keep busy and challenge myself cognitively.

However, as time went by and I began to apply myself and interact with the classes, I started to come to grips with the very essence of what the program is really all about: This program is about positively impacting the world around us. We can do this as leaders and as conscientious followers.

The impact of the program on an individual’s life is far more encompassing than a person’s career objectives. Although these objectives are thoroughly explored, the bigger picture of a Christ-centered worldview is far more enticing to the forward-thinking individuals I encountered while in the program.

The professors were all very bright people with hearts of gold. They possess a unique passion for teaching and watching their students grow.

I chose to pursue a Master of Arts in Leadership degree because it was always an interest of mine. I had always had leadership attributed to me, and to get a better understanding of leadership would help me to do a better job of leading the young men to whom I am constantly being entrusted. I was also challenged to cognitively enrich myself to promote a better quality of life. My fears and challenges centered around my having not been in school since I graduated from college in 1976.

I chose APU because I believe it was just the place for me. It proved to be an environment that was challenging to its students as well as its employees. A stimulating and thorough curriculum always left me feeling that I was growing and really becoming relevant in the unique field of organizational leadership.

The professors were all very bright people with hearts of gold. They possess a unique passion for teaching and watching their students grow. This, for me, after only a few classes, proved to be stimulating. As an older student trying to get back into the swing of things after being out of school for three decades, the help and encouragement by my professors kept me challenged while not leaving me with feelings of abandonment. I always felt that I was growing.

The professors made the heart and soul of the subject matter very relevant to each individual. It was relevant regardless of the current work environment or station in life that the students found themselves. This was refreshing and it allowed for individual relevancy.

The largest takeaway for me was the fact that many of my past experiences, which had no theoretical legs to stand on, were now brought to life as I explored and learned these many new leadership theories. I can honestly say that because of my new learning, I now have new avenues of expression as I attempt to live a positive and impactful life.

I would recommend this program to any person who dares to impact our world as a leader. Not only will the program equip you with cutting-edge skills as it adheres to its competency-based philosophy of leadership, but it will also help you gain a deeper and more accurate picture of who you are as a person. This program dives into the very uniqueness of your created self and indicates countless ways that you were made to have the greatest positive impact on our world.

My experience at APU as a student in this program has been one of the truly rewarding and impactful encounters of my professional life.

Amanda Bell

Nonprofit Fundraising Professional

During the 11 years that followed my bachelor’s degree, I pondered what my next field of study would be and where it would occur. I desired to invest in a graduate program that not only challenged me academically, but also reflected my values. APU’s master’s in leadership contained the educational elements of business management, human resources, and social work I was looking for, and was encased in Christian principles—as a new Christian, that proved tremendously edifying and inspiring.

Having never attended a Christian school, I was concerned that the program might be overly spiritual or unprofessional, but that was not the case. The program was challenging, thought provoking, and has given me a new understanding of and approach to leadership. My understanding of leadership before my graduate coursework was narrow and antiquated. I now see that leadership is about listening, not talking; moving, not standing; and lifting others up, not pushing others out of the way.

I encountered a diverse group of emerging and accomplished leaders who inspired me to develop as a nonprofit professional, parent, and follower of Christ.

I exit the program having learned from and alongside incredibly intelligent and inspiring scholars and business professionals—it was the guided study of leadership scholars like Lois Zachary and Ken Sande that was my favorite aspect of the program. Each in their own unique style, the professors I encountered at APU served as Christian role models and continue to remind me of the kind of leader and parent I want to be. Unlike the arrogant, distant professors I encountered in my undergraduate work, the professors at APU truly cared about me. They took the time to get to know me, they valued my experience, and challenged me to think differently. I strive to emulate their example and become a truly transformative leader.

The literature I studied, the lectures I heard, and coursework I completed profoundly impacted my life. I found the reading often directly related to challenges I was experiencing and helped me to better navigate them, and for the first time in my academic career, my homework helped me to solve the conflicts I encountered at work. The program provided me with strategies to plan for my organization’s growth, helped to solidify my professional calling, and pushed me to articulate a personal philosophy of leadership. I have learned to be a more strategic leader who truly listens, asks good questions, and is able to effectively mobilize a team to achieve new levels of success.

Intellectual conversation, rewarding teamwork, and unexpected opportunity proved abundant in my graduate school experience at APU. I encountered a diverse group of emerging and accomplished leaders who inspired me to develop as a nonprofit professional, parent, and follower of Christ. God led me to APU and I leave the program transformed and grateful. APU has exceeded my expectations and has left me personally and professionally transformed—I cannot imagine finding a better personal fit in a graduate program.

Paige Piontkowsky

International Student Admissions

I discovered my love for leadership through my first resident advisor position; I saw how effective leadership could transform students’ lives, and I wanted to gain more knowledge about leadership—good and bad leadership. I chose the Master of Arts in Leadership program over any other program because I was able to see the transformation in the lives of my friends and see how they were applying things learned in this program to their daily lives. It has definitely helped me to become more like the leader I desire to be.

Deep change is exactly what happens throughout the course of this program. I wasn’t prepared to go through the changes that I have, but I am so happy to have had the transformational experience of this program.

The professors in this program have changed my life; they encouraged, challenged, changed, and accepted me as the being God created me to be. The professors in this program make an investment in each of the students, something that I appreciate more than I could put into words. I learned that I have much growing to do before I am whole; the professors in this program have accepted and loved me despite my flaws, and have shown me the way to grow in order to become a whole being.

Deep Change by Robert Quinn was the first book I read in the program, and my first “God moment” of the program. Deep change is exactly what happens throughout the course of this program. I wasn’t prepared to go through the changes that I have, but I am so happy to have had the transformational experience of this program. It is an introspective program, and students need to be ready to have their hearts, minds, and spirits changed for God.

I would recommend this program because it is applicable to all areas of life. It allows students to take an introspective look into themselves in order to be the perfect leader. Even those who don’t see themselves as “leaders” will benefit from this program because it is not only about the leader, but also about those being led.

Tatsiana Zakharchanka

International Student

During the last five years, I have been exposed to different types of leadership positions, and I have always had contradictory feelings about it. On one hand, I enjoyed being responsible and organizing the whole department’s work, as well as working with people and help them work as a good team. On the other hand, I knew that I could do a much better job as a leader and that I needed to acquire all the necessary knowledge and tools to do so. I also needed to really get to know myself, to explore my capabilities and turn them into skills that I can build my leadership style on. Above all, I felt that it was time for me to restore, strengthen, and develop my relationship with God, which ultimately led me to APU.

Leaders are different, can be different, and should be different.

The biggest fear I had was not being able to overcome my insecurities (past failures) and be authentic. As an international student, I was also very self-conscious (and still am) about my language capabilities. But I have learned to take things one step at a time and do the best I can. I have learned that becoming/being a good leader is a process instead of a magical insight that just happens and lasts forever.

I knew from my friends (APU students at that time) that APU could be the best environment for me to accomplish the spiritual and professional goals that I set for myself, and I am happy to say that I made the right choice. I have never known as much about myself—my personality type, my strengths and weaknesses, etc.—as I know now. I have learned to acknowledge and value not only my good traits but also the ones to be improved upon, to be turned into potential and contribute to my authenticity.

It is amazing how different the Master of Arts in Leadership professors are, and it has led me to a very enlightening idea: leaders are different, can be different, and should be different. I have found that there is no template to copy, and that I need to build up my leadership on what God has equipped me with—and it needs to be unique and diverse. I think that we all need to integrate our own experience, views, and ideas with what we read and learn about. It is not about repeating someone’s ideas but having your own and sharing it with peers.

I have also learned to work in groups, embrace cultural diversity, and celebrate conflicts as an opportunity for spiritual, personal, and professional growth. This program integrates many disciplines (psychology, public relations, cultural studies) and, therefore, educates more than might be expected.

Stephen Coppenrath

Pastor of Family Ministries

After graduating from APU with a bachelor’s degree in 2004, I jumped straight into full-time church ministry. Nearly 10 years later, with two kids in tow and another on the way, things had only gotten busier, but the time seemed right to go back to school. It was intimidating at first, and I felt very much out of practice, but I quickly realized that it was a great fit—I loved that I had to be gone from the family only one night a week and could choose when I did my reading and homework.

From the start, my intention in working toward the MA in Leadership was to learn and grow professionally—I really wanted a degree that would equip me as a more competent leader to those I am serving alongside at church. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the program’s additional focus on personal development, and I have been deeply challenged by the reading, discussions, and the personal stories of the others in class.

I wouldn’t have been ready for the challenges that faced me at church if it weren’t for what I was learning at APU.

Sarah Visser was my first professor, and she was a fantastic help to me in getting started in grad school. It was obvious that she thought deeply and intentionally about things, but her approachability and spiritual maturity endeared her to the whole class. There has been some modeling of healthy conflict and differing opinions in the classroom that has left a really positive impression on me. I like how the professors see the students as adults with worthwhile, thoughtful opinions.

I’ve learned that I enjoy the learning process much more than I thought; school has always been a necessity, but now in many ways I count it as a joy. As a pastor, I’ve also been struck by how many things have been helpful in local church ministry—It’s been a blessing to see the adage “All truth is God’s truth” really work out in my everyday experience.

The past year of grad school has in many ways amplified my experiences at church. I’ve been concurrently handed more influence and responsibility in the areas of leadership and staff development, as well as preaching and vision casting, and I know it’s no accident that God’s timing has played out the way it has. I wouldn’t have been ready for the challenges that faced me at church if it weren’t for what I was learning at APU.

Dianne Schlitt

Music Operations

Pursuing a master’s degree was a longtime personal goal. I wanted to improve my skills to enhance the ministry role I worked in, and then also be prepared for any future leadership responsibilities that God might entrust to me. I have always loved to learn, so I welcomed this new challenge, but there was some fear in returning to the academic environment, since it had been 26 years since I earned my bachelor’s degree—the changes in technology were probably the most intimidating thing. However, with the encouragement of my professors and fellow students, I quickly got over that and learned to not be shy about asking questions. I also quickly learned I had a lot to contribute with my life experiences.

APU was a natural choice for me. My undergraduate degree is from APU and my husband is an APU adjunct professor, and I have children who graduated from APU, and children who currently attend APU. Even more than that, though, I wanted to attend APU because the MA in Leadership program seemed to be a good fit and I highly valued integrating my faith into my leadership studies.

My experience in the program has been nothing but positive. I have felt appropriately challenged, and encouraged every step of the way. The professors see the value in what they are doing, and they are so willing to invest in the lives of the students. They truly want to equip and position leaders to be the best they can be.

This has been an incredible training process, and I am confident that it has prepared me for whatever my future holds.

One thing that stood out to me is the incredible way God consistently and specifically tied together courses I was taking, books I was reading, and papers I was writing to the exact things I was dealing with in my leadership responsibilities. I was able to immediately apply the knowledge, understanding, or skills from class to real-life circumstances, and I anticipate revisiting many of those ideas and thoughts.

Before entering the program, I anticipated receiving tools, skills, and insights that would be applicable to various leadership situations. What I didn’t anticipate was the life-changing, transformational process that I experienced. This truly has been a significant time that God has used to mold and shape me. It proved to be a time to reflect, a time of pruning, a time when I would be challenged, a time for some personal awareness and healing, and a time when my character would be reshaped. I more clearly defined my calling, clarified my passions, gained a deeper understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, and became equipped with many leadership insights. The program helped me think differently and see things differently. It stirred my passion to lead and make a difference in this world, and it built the leader in me from the inside out.

This has been an incredible training process, and I am confident that it has prepared me for whatever my future holds. As a result of this program, I will always be a student of leadership, and will encourage others who feel called as leaders to pursue this life-transforming experience.

Tia Joshua

Emerging Leader

My motivation in getting an MA in Leadership was simple: I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. Ever since I was a little kid I have always wanted to make a difference in this world and impact the lives of individuals I come in contact with. I wondered, however, if I could I be a leader, if I could do what I felt the passion to do, but this program gave me the leadership skills that I needed to empower individuals to reach their maximum potential in their personal and professional lives.

I recommend this program to anyone who has a passion for people and helping others achieve success.

I enjoyed the down-to-earth personalities of the professors and their realistic techniques in helping each student realize their gifts and talents and how they could be used in the world. They gave me plenty of advice on how to stay the course, and knowing they believed in me and my leadership abilities meant the world to me. It is always good to know and hear that there are people who believe in you.

When I presented my capstone project, I was able to hear and see how the program had transformed me in my leadership journey. This was my “ah ha!” moment; I was seeing the fruit of my personal and professional growth, speaking with confidence, knowing that God was showing me I had leadership skills and that every challenge and obstacle I'd ever faced was leading me to that point. That experience embodied the whole concept of the program.

I recommend this program to anyone who has a passion for people and helping others achieve success. It is for the game changers in the world, those who are striving to make it a better place in their own way, whether it is in their personal or professional lives, or in their communities.

Note: This information is current for the 2023-24 academic year; however, all stated academic information is subject to change. Please refer to the current Academic Catalog for more information.

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