Whether one lives in Nashville or around the world, a Lipscomb University education is accessible online. And it can be a lifeline to students who need it most, even when they are more than 5,600 miles away.
Just ask Courtney Garland, who is set to graduate in absentia with her Master of Professional Studies degree this Saturday at May commencement.
Garland says she was “running out of internal resources” in her work as CEO of a nonprofit called The Pearl House in rural Ghana, Africa, and needed additional support and tools for her work there. The Pearl House was founded in 2013 to protect girls in that area.
“By providing physical care, emotional support, spiritual development and life-changing academic and vocational opportunities, we empower our girls to discover their unique identities and purpose in Christ,” says Garland. “We are shaping a brighter future for these girls, their communities and their nation.”
A mission to make a difference
Garland worked with The Pearl House founders Steve and Courtney Bullard, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to find a location for this ministry. They settled on Winneba, a city of about 55,000 residents located in the central region of South Ghana.
In July 2013, The Pearl House opened with Garland as its CEO and became home to 20 young women ages 11 to 21. They come from rural villages in Ghana where resources are scarce and jobs are non-existent. Most are orphaned by one or both parents and have nine or more siblings. The girls are often unhealthy and malnourished. Their days are often filled with exhausting farm work and inconsistent education at their local schools.
At The Pearl House, residents are immersed in a family culture, receive nutritional meals, have comfortable beds, can access water and electricity, attend school, experience spiritual development opportunities and experience cultural activities and field trips. Garland says they also work with the women to develop a trade or skill to prepare them for work.
“I believe strongly in empowering women. It’s very important,” Garland affirms. “Being in Ghana and telling women that they have worth and value in the Kingdom of God and that they are special is a great way to spend your life. I know that my days have purpose. It helps me to be excited about each day.”
Less than three years later, the group moved into a larger house to better accommodate staff, allow for more girls and provide rooms like the Sara Walker Library, where the girls spend hours together reading and studying.
“It’s my responsibility to run this organization,” says Garland. “God is equipping me daily to do that and to carry out our vision. I also manage our staff, making sure everyone is equipped to do their work, as well as prepare volunteer teams. If we are to grow it’s up to me to lead us that way.”
A heart for youth ministry
Garland, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, graduated in December 2000 from Lipscomb University with an undergraduate degree in elementary education and followed her passion for youth ministry to the Church of Christ at White Station in Memphis, Tennessee. She worked as a youth minister there for 12 years before moving to Africa.
“My education degree and experience in youth ministry have been very helpful in what I do,” she says. “But when I was an undergraduate, I never really considered being a missionary. I grew up being an Impact and Winterfest kid. Youth ministry was always my lifetime plan.”
“In my work as a youth minister, every June we took a mission trip to Ghana, and I grew to love the kids we worked with there. It’s really fitting that I am now living in Ghana and working with young women. Youth ministry is still my passion. Some of my friends tell me that I’m still a youth minister — I’m just a youth minister in Ghana!”
In August 2016, Garland found herself exhausted and overwhelmed with the growth of the organization, planning for its future and the responsibilities of having “20 daughters” at home. She says the organization was faced with several challenges that Garland says she didn’t feel equipped to resolve.
“Honestly I didn’t know what to do. I just needed something to help me,” she admits. “I needed more resources. I needed more ideas. And Lipscomb is what I knew since it’s my alma mater. So, I got on the Lipscomb website and looked for a program that was completely online. By the grace of God I found the global leadership program. I needed help being a leader and in a global place, and this program just felt like what I needed. Lipscomb still feels like home and was a natural choice.”
Finding hope online
What Garland discovered was the Master of Professional Studies program with a concentration in global leadership housed in Lipscomb’s College of Professional Studies. The global leadership program is designed to prepare individuals to view their leadership role in a global context and help students develop a global perspective that will strategically benefit their organization. Students learn to look beyond their own borders for opportunities and threats, to set goals and cast vision based on that perspective and have the transnational skills needed to manage across those borders. The program is directed by Lipscomb’s Brad Gray, who developed the course content for the global leadership courses.
The program is completely online and offers a flexible pace, which Garland says fit her busy work schedule. It also includes a coaching component to meet her specific needs and goals.
Garland was not sure how she would pay for the program, but applied and was accepted to the program. Part of the financial solution was assistance from the Sarah S. Andrews Endowed Scholarship Fund for Missions. The Andrews Scholarship was established at Lipscomb by Dan and Roberta Andrews in memory of Dan Andrews' aunt, who devoted her life to mission work in Japan. The scholarship is particularly focused on encouraging women to devote their lives to missions.
“All of the doors kept opening, and I just kept running through them,” she recalls. “It was a gift from God to pull me out of the hard place that I was in. It all fell into place. I decided that I’d do it, and God would help me figure out how make it happen. I went to the place I knew, and God opened the door. And because I had a good experience with Lipscomb before I knew they would help me.”
When Garland began her first class, "Global Leadership" taught by Michael Cauley, director of Lipscomb’s performance coaching program, she knew the program was precisely what she needed.
“In the global leadership courses, I was finally getting the chance to process the many challenges going on in my work and life environments,” she says. “Through the courses I was also able to begin receiving coaching around the leadership competencies which was so valuable to me.”
Lipscomb's program was a 'lifeline'
“The program has been 100 percent what I needed. After one semester I went from a 9.5 on the burnout scale to a 3 on the scale,” she continues. “In the global leadership course we would be given a question to answer. Instead of just a paragraph, I’d write two pages. It was helping me process everything. This was my lifeline. This wasn’t for a grade — it was for survival. It was tremendously helpful. “
Not only did she benefit from Cauley’s lessons taught in the online classroom, but even more so from his coaching.
“He is also a competent and confident leader. He has been very encouraging to me and is a very empowering person. He continues to work with me and has helped our entire organization. He is a huge blessing,” says Garland.
Cauley says he witnessed the impact the program had on Garland.
“I met Courtney at a time when she had given everything she had as CEO of The Pearl House,” Cauley remembers. “Over the last two years I have seen her learn to give to herself, which has increased her capacity to give to the organization she leads. During this time The Pearl House has tripled its offerings adding an academic and vocational school.”
Garland says her experience with learning online was a good one.
“I loved that we all didn’t have to meet at a designated time. And, with the flexible schedule I was able to work ahead and get coursework done early at times,” she recalls. “I was desperate for the information and it was helpful for me to engage in that platform. Teachers were always available and responded quickly.”
“It is exciting that with our online programs we are able to literally impact the world,” says Nina Morel, dean of the College of Professional Studies. “And in the Global Leadership program, Courtney was able to bring her experiences to the online classroom to share with other students.As they learned about how to grow personally into the global leaders they want to be, Courtney and others were their peer role models.”
Garland is grateful for the renewed energy and additional resources she gained while working on her degree online. She has helped The Pearl House start a vocational school in west Ghana and in September she will help open Pearl House Academy, a school for the residents to attend.
“And, two years ago I would not have been able to lead us into any of this. But through school and coaching I’ve gained the confidence to lead through this season of change and growth,” she says.
“This process has transformed my work and leadership capabilities. Two years ago I was burnt out and at the end of my capabilities,” Garland continues “Now I have expanded capabilities, excitement for my work and tangible results in the growth of our organization. This degree has truly enriched and empowered my work in Ghana.”
Want to know more about Lipscomb’s online programs? Visit https://www.lipscomb.edu/professionalstudies/graduate-programs.