Educational leaders receive doctoral degrees from NAU-Yuma

graduate yuma
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Edwin Richardson, left, Suzanne Alka, Laura Noel, Mary Schaal, and Darwin Stiffler are all smiles prior to receiving their doctoral degrees on Friday, May 14, at NAU-Yuma. Photo by Tara Roberts

Five educational leaders in the Yuma area will take their careers to the next level when they receive their doctoral degrees from NAU’s Yuma branch campus during its spring commencement ceremony.

They will be among more than 250 students who will graduate at 8 p.m. Friday, May 14, at Veterans Memorial Stadium, 7150 E. 24th St.

The five will walk the line and be “hooded” on the commencement stage as the largest graduating class for NAU-Yuma’s doctorate in educational leadership.

The graduating students include:

  • Darwin Stiffler, superintendent of Yuma Elementary School District #1
  • Laura Noel, superintendent of Wellton School District
  • Edwin Richardson, principal of Castle Dome Middle School
  • Mary Schaal, director of Institutional Effectiveness, Research and Grants at Arizona Western College
  • Suzanne Alka, assistant principal
    of Gila Ridge High School
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Members of the first graduating NAU-Yuma nursing class, Megan Vanhorn, left, and Christy McNaster, traveled to Flagstaff to receive their diplomas at the commencement ceremony Friday morning at the J.L. Walkup Skydome. Photo by Amanda Voisard

The five are among nearly 70 total NAU students who earned their doctoral degrees this spring.

Jerry R. Lewis, associate professor and primary adviser for the Educational Leadership program at NAU-Yuma, is proud of the history these students are making for the campus.

“All of these students are quite talented with solid work ethics and honorability and will now distinguish themselves even more on behalf of Yuma and its educators and students,” Lewis said.

This is the first time NAU will have five residents of Yuma County receive their doctoral degrees at the same time.

Earning their degree locally allowed the students to help one another through their academic career. While they worked on coursework individually, they developed a “Docs 2 Be” group, where they would meet regularly to help each other, Schaal explained.

“It was a great opportunity to learn from others. I collaborated with the other students. The camaraderie was an excellent way to learn,” Richardson said.

The many different course formats available in the program also played a key role in the students’ success.

“Trying to work full time and raise a family while also attempting to complete an advanced degree is a difficult juggling act,” Alka said. “The fact that the coursework is a combination of traditional courses, distance learning, and weekend courses allows for more flexibility in designing a course of study.”