Leslie Sukup ’07, ’11, ’17 is special for many reasons, and here is just one example: She is the first person to earn a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a doctoral degree from Saint Leo University.
Years ago, when Sukup was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, she wanted to pursue her education. However, every time she moved—which was every two or three years—she would lose credits. Then she discovered Saint Leo. Online education was a fairly new phenomenon, and Saint Leo’s program gave her the flexibility she needed. Even when she was deployed, she “could get access to a computer and keep up with my schoolwork,” she said.
Sukup was amazed that even as an online student, she received personal attention from the faculty. “I loved the experience and loved how I was treated—like everyone else who had been on campus for four years.”
When it came time to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, Sukup happened to be stationed in Washington, DC, at the Pentagon. When offered the chance to come to University Campus to walk for commencement she jumped at the opportunity. Sukup was impressed with how the university treated online students for the commencement activities.
Sukup then went on to earn her Master of Business Administration (MBA). As she took classes, the knowledge she was gaining helped her with her job in the Air Force. In that role, she worked in knowledge management, handling information (both paper and digital), network security, and secure network administration.
She has vivid memories of notable deployments. For instance, soon after the attacks on September 11, 2001, she was deployed to Guam. She spent a few months there at a refueling station, supporting bombers that were headed to Afghanistan. While deployed to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, she took advantage of that location and proudly walked across the commencement stage at University Campus with her MBA. At another point, she was assigned to the Pentagon and spent four years in presidential flight support. Working with the Department of Defense “was eye-opening, and I was on call 24/7.”
Sukup finished her MBA in 2011 and applied for the Doctor of Business Administration program the following year. At that time she was still on active duty, but she always wanted to earn her doctorate. Saint Leo University’s DBA program had just launched, and she knew it was perfect for her.
According to Sukup, the DBA program in management is rigorous, and it “absolutely prepared me to be a professor. The dissertation process, doing research—all that gave me a unique aspect into teaching. I focused on resilience and grit.”
Sukup walked across the commencement stage again on April 29, 2017, as part of the first group of students to earn DBAs from Saint Leo.
In September 2017, after 25 years of service, she retired from the U.S. Air Force, and today she is an assistant professor of management at Ferris State University (MI), teaching organizational behavior and operations management.
“Going into teaching was a lifelong dream for me, a goal since high school,” Sukup said. “I love seeing the lightbulbs come on with students. It’s very rewarding.”
“From day one, Leslie was a model doctoral student,” said Dr. Russell Clayton, assistant professor of management. “Earning a doctorate requires a different mindset than pursuing an MBA, and Leslie definitely figured out quickly how to think like a doctoral student. This showed in everything she did in the DBA program from coursework to her dissertation. I’m happy that she has joined higher education and will be sharing her knowledge with the next generation.”
When she is not teaching class, she spends time with her family: husband, Steven, and two daughters, Sky (age 3) and Sage (age 1). Thinking back to juggling work and school, she explained with a laugh that she learned she was expecting Sky just as she started the DBA program. Then she learned she was expecting Sage just as she started her dissertation.
Her life is full and busy, but what’s next? “I’m a lifelong learner,” Sukup said. “There is always something out there for me to learn and help me be better.”