None of Dwight L. Baker’s* family had ever before had the opportunity to attend college.
That fact inspired him to work hard to get his bachelor’s degree—and a love of learning compelled him to continue all the way through to a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree, which he earned from Capella University in December 2016. And he did it with his family’s support and love.
“My grandmother had money she stowed away in her bedroom,” he says. “And one day, she gave me that money to help pay for my undergraduate degree.”
First-Generation Students Look to Capella
Baker is not alone in being the first generation in his family to turn to Capella for advanced education. A 2016 Gallup research study found that 59% of Capella master’s alumni and 63% of Capella doctoral alumni are first-generation students, which is higher than Gallup’s benchmark at these degree levels.
SOURCE: Gallup Research Study, 2016.
That was certainly the case for Baker. He had completed his bachelor’s degree at Morris Brown College, thanks to a scholarship that covered half of his tuition. Although he started in accounting, he soon changed focus. “Debits and credits didn’t balance for me,” he says, laughing. “But a friend told me about a personnel management class, and I took it and told my counselor I thought this was where I belonged.”
Want to know more about Capella alumni? Download the full Gallup report.
A Wide-Ranging HR Career
After earning his bachelor’s from Morris Brown College, Baker landed a paid externship with GTECH, a gambling technology company in Rhode Island, where he spent three months learning about audits and compliance from an HR perspective. Then he moved back to Georgia, just in time to accept a role handling recruitment for the 1996 Olympic Games.
“That was very eye-opening,” he remembers. “It was high-volume recruitment, very fast-paced, changing every day.” That led to even more opportunities, and he became a director of HR at age 30 in the public sector. “There’s a big difference between being a manager and a director,” he points out. “As a manager, you’re transactional and responsible for giving directives to subordinates. As director, you’re a strategic partner for the organization. You work to offer support in developing the culture of the organization with integrity and confidence, by focusing on others and being open to new things and ideas.”
A Desire to Continue Learning
Later Baker worked for the city of College Park, GA, where he began considering advanced education. “I had staff working for me who had higher levels of education than I did,” he says. “Some had a master’s, even two master’s degrees. I’d never wanted to stop learning, and it seemed like the right time.”
In September 2010, Baker enrolled in the MS in Human Resource Management program at Capella. “I found the idea of an online school appealing,” he says. “I wanted to manage my work, my family life, and still excel at education, and the online format gave me the opportunity to do that.”
The degree got off to a rocky start for a student who had graduated as “Most Likely To Succeed” in his class in high school. “I got a 56 on my first paper!” he recalls. “It really threw me. Could I do this? I’d always excelled academically.” He discovered he was not alone; other students were struggling to manage the rigorous academic expectations. But there was also support: “I had great mentors, one of whom even worked with me over breaks,” he says. “They helped me figure out how to manage the work, and how to keep up with it, so it didn’t overwhelm me.”
The master’s opened doors for Baker right away. “The month I finished my master’s, I had an offer to become the director of HR and Risk Management for a county government in Georgia.** The title was the same as the city job, but the county is a much larger entity. It’s larger government, a large staff, more opportunities. Other staff in the department had advanced degrees, so having my master’s made a big difference.”
From there, it was an easy decision to pursue a DBA in Human Resource Management, both for the potential future career possibilities, but also to fully complete his educational journey. Baker would urge others to consider a similar path. “Stay committed to what you believe, and put in the time,” he says. “It’s harder than you’ll expect. Stay focused on the task at hand, not the big picture. You have to know within yourself that you can be committed.”
As for what’s ahead after his March 2017 commencement, Baker sees a lot of room for growth, thanks to his doctorate. “I want to stay in HR, but maybe I could become an adjunct instructor, too,” he says. Ideally, he’d like to do that at Capella. “Capella is a great school, and I support it wholeheartedly.”
Learn more about Capella’s online DBA in Human Resource Management.