For several years now, I have served on the Board of Directors of Walden University, a unique international institution. Walden is a for-profit, accredited, university which — by virtue of offering all its courses online — is designed for the nontraditional student, typically a professional who is working full-time, has a family, is looking to improve his/her job opportunities, and needs the flexibility of attending lectures and studying on his/her own schedule.
From my position as a director and chair of the board’s financial affairs committee, I have marvelled at the accomplishments of Walden’s management team, the quality of the faculty, and state-of-the-art technology used to deliver courses throughout the world to some 40,000 doctoral, master’s, and undergraduate students in disciplines from engineering to education to nursing, and beyond.
Sitting on stages at commencements in Bloomington, Minneapolis, and Dallas, I have seen men and women my age receive their diplomas to the cries of “‘Way to go grandma!” from the audience. I’ve shed tears during touching scenes such as a quadraplegic man wheeled onto the stage by his mother, who had labored for years typing on a computer keyboard as he dictated his assignments, and a black daughter of a poor family receiving her master’s degree in education — the first person in her family to go past the eighth grade.
But, I never appreciated the innovative minds which conceived this revolutionary educational concept, nor the difficulty of getting such an institution off the ground and having it recognized and accredited by the conservative and self-preserving education community, until recently. A few weeks ago, I received in the mail a book titled, Aspire toward the Highest: Bernie and Rita Turner and the Founding of Walden University by Wade Keller.
The book was sent to me by one of the two co-stars of the book, Bernie Turner, a man I am very proud to call my friend. (As a personal aside, I discovered that Bernie, as a very young Army private, was one of our liberators when George Patton’s division routed the Germans and entered the western part of the Czech Republic in 1945.) Bernie and his beautiful wife, Rita, came up with the Walden concept in 1970, long before the advent of the Internet.Their story, and the tale of Walden University, make for a great read for anyone (like me) who gets excited by stories of American ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and enterprise, and who appreciates the premise that, in America, anyone who wants it badly enough, has the right and opportunity to pursue “a higher degree..a higher purpose” (Walden’s motto). The book is available from Keller Publishing, wade@KellerPublishing.com.