Donald Palmer, 29, is a staff sergeant in the Law Enforcement Unit of the Federal Reserve in Texas. He is studying for an online MBA in Organizational Leadership at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa.
Donald Palmer is not your average law enforcement worker.
Donald currently works full-time in a Texas law enforcement unit while studying for his MBA at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa. He's a keen musician who loves hanging out with friends and family.
Most people wouldn't find enough hours in the day to achieve what Donald does, but he believes the secret to his efficiency is online study.
Donald read the Bear's Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning before he commenced his first degree, and he decided that studying online would allow him to accelerate his professional development. He completed a bachelor of science in criminal justice online at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, in 2006, and began working in the field right away.
Not content with the challenge of full-time work, Donald decided to pursue an online MBA.
"I chose to do an MBA because I knew it would help me to attain a higher-paying job at the executive or management level of law enforcement," he says.
"My MBA concentrates on organizational leadership, so I'm confident it will give me the skills I need to reach my professional goals."
As a child, Donald dreamed of being a policeman - but it was an interesting twist of fate that actually bought him into the law enforcement field.
"I was actually working as a network engineer at the time that the dot com bubble burst," he says.
"There weren't too many jobs around after that, so I had to decide what field I wanted to branch into next. As a kid I knew I always wanted to be a cop, and my father had spent most of my life working in law enforcement, so it seemed like a natural profession to enter. It just felt right.'
Donald's career goals now soar much higher than his childhood dream of "being a cop."
"My dream job?" he asks. "Oh, I don't know, how about chief of police, city manager or director of security for a fortune 500 company? Any of those would be fine with me!"
Donald thrives in the online study environment because it affords him the luxury of choosing his own study hours. It also allows him to map his study schedule around his work hours - and sneak some guitar time in the middle.
"My work hours vary, so I really need a flexible study schedule," he says.
"I study in short blocks of time - no more than an hour and a half at once. When I feel overwhelmed, I pick up my guitar. It relaxes me and I can return to study feeling more mentally alert."
With such a haphazard study schedule, wouldn't it be difficult to self-motivate?
"My secret is setting myself a realistic schedule, with small, achievable goals," Donald says.
"When I'm mired in work I just tell myself that I won't be a student forever and that I am working toward a larger goal. When you study online, you've got to keep your eye on the bigger picture."
He also builds in time for himself.
"I schedule in two days a week where I do nothing but hang out with my family and friends and play music. Those two days help me to keep my sanity and maintain relationships. They also act like a buffer should I run late on any assignments!"
Ashford University uses a version of Blackboard software to deliver its course content. The software consists of a discussion board, faculty contacts, assignments, readings and an online library.
"It's all pretty intuitive," Donald says.
"I'm able to access everything I need, and the discussion board, or 'café,' gives me an opportunity to discuss my questions with other students, just like I would if I was on campus."
"There is also a very impressive online library - it's easy to use and cuts down the time spent in regular libraries."
Before commencing his MBA at Ashford, Donald scanned America for a university that would meet his unique needs.
"I chose Ashford University because their price, semester length, and the fact that their course is accredited suited me down to the ground," he says.
"I just think it's wonderful that I can keep my job in Texas and still study at the university of my choice - which just so happens to be halfway across the country!"
Donald's years of online study have allowed him to allocate extra time to the subjects that are most relevant to him. Among his more factual subjects, he has also had the opportunity to take new-age courses such as Responsibility for the Future and The Holistic Professional.
"Both of these courses have been life changing for me," Donald says.
"I learned a lot about myself and how to achieve balance and wholeness in my personal, as well as my professional life. Courses like these have kept me going when I've had a lot going on."
Right now, Donald is heeding his own advice and focusing on the small study sessions that help him feel a sense of daily achievement.
"All these little goals help me reach my larger goal at the end, which is finishing my degree with a 4.0 GPA," he says.
"You earn your degree one day at a time."