Leonard Clemons Reflects on His Journey in Higher Education and the Value of Pursuing a Doctorate

Leonard Clemons, Vice President for Student Affairs at Austin Peay State University, reflects on his 15-year journey in higher education and the significant impact of pursuing a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership, highlighting the balance between his demanding career and academic pursuits, the transformative experience of his program, and his dedication to student and professional development.

Leonard Clemons, currently the Vice President for Student Affairs at Austin Peay State University, proudly shares his experience as a doctoral candidate in the Executive EdD program in Higher Education Leadership at the University of Miami.

Clemons, originally from Chicago, Illinois, has dedicated over 15 years to higher education. His career includes a significant tenure at the University of Miami, where he served as Assistant Dean for Student Services in the College of Arts and Sciences. It was during his time there that Clemons decided to pursue a doctoral degree, inspired by conversations with colleagues and mentors.

"After previous conversations, with some urging from colleagues, I finally applied and got accepted. I was really excited about that program," Clemons said. Starting a transformative journey, the program enhanced both his knowledge and professional trajectory.

The Executive EdD program was ideal for Clemons, who balanced a demanding career with academic pursuits.

"The executive format was perfect for me because it allowed me to schedule out more accurately the time that I needed for the program," Clemons said. The program's format, involving intensive weekend sessions once a month, allowed him to integrate his studies seamlessly with his professional and civic responsibilities. "It was perfect for my work-life integration and allowed me to cultivate and create a schedule that was ideal for all of the obligations that I had," he adds.

Clemons' passion for higher education began during his undergraduate years at a small college in Kentucky. Initially aiming to become a pediatrician, he shifted his focus to higher education after becoming deeply involved in student organizations.

"I figured, 'Oh, I won't become a doctor. I want to stay at college forever. I want to be in higher education,'" Clemons said.

This decision led him to pursue a master's degree in Illinois and eventually to a fulfilling career in higher education administration. The Miami program provided Clemons with two significant takeaways: diverse perspectives from a cohort of peers and the exceptional guidance of the faculty.

"One of the great takeaways was the diversity of perspectives from peers within our cohort," Clemons said. "The faculty challenged me and helped me become a better writer and researcher."

Throughout his career, Clemons has held various positions, including roles at the University of Chicago and the University of Tennessee. His pursuit of a doctoral degree played a crucial role in advancing his career, opening doors to leadership opportunities.

"Actively pursuing my doctorate really helped me attain that role because I think that role called for someone who was either pursuing or had a terminal degree," Clemons said.

Now at Austin Peay State University, Clemons continues to impact student experiences positively, contributing to the university's strategic goals and campus life.

For Clemons, the most fulfilling aspect of his job is witnessing students' growth and development.

"To see a student come in young and bright-eyed, watch them grow and develop, and then graduate is the most fulfilling part of my job," Clemons said, drawing parallels between his own undergraduate journey and the experiences of the students he serves, emphasizing the importance of both academic and social integration for student success.

Clemons finds great satisfaction in developing the professionals he leads, ensuring that the field of student affairs continues to evolve and thrive.

"Developing the people that I lead is really fulfilling to me. Happy people do better work, which influences a better student experience," Clemons said.

Clemons advises embracing the exploration and development process.

"It's okay to not know the answer. Embrace the journey of development and exploration," Clemons said.