First class of master’s of organizational leadership program in Tucson graduates

Members of the Tucson educational leadership cohort

When Kathryn Skinner started graduate school, she knew adding classes into an already tricky work-life balance would be tough.

A new partnership with Northern Arizona University allowed the Pima County employee to fit school into her busy schedule and to collaborate with other city and county employees with similar career and educational goals.

“NAU provided classes at a time that worked for my schedule and at a reasonable cost,” Skinner, who works for the county Department of Transportation, said. “Those were important factors for me as I knew I would be balancing work, school and life during the program.”

She is one of 17 students in the first master’s of organizational leadership cohort between NAU, the City of Tucson and Pima County, which offers an affordable and convenient opportunity for employees to earn their graduate degrees.City and county employees benefit from a 10 percent tuition reduction on NAU graduate programs as part of the partnership between the organizations.

With growing interest among employees to obtain master’s degrees, which would aid in career advancement and help make positive impacts to their organization, NAU worked with the city and county to coordinate an on-site cohort program for their employees, who then studied and took classes in Tucson.

“The City of Tucson is honored to partner with NAU on the master’s of organizational leadership program, said Diane Sotelo, employee engagement and workforce development manager for the City of Tucson. “It has provided practical, timely leadership lessons for our organization as a whole as well as individual development for our employees.”

The Tucson Fire Department hosted classroom space on site, and students attended in-person classes in fall 2019 and the first part of the spring 2020 semester. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group transitioned to NAUFlex to continue their graduate studies in a “live online” synchronous learning environment using Zoom technology.

“The pre-pandemic portion of the program, when the cohort met in person on a weekly basis, was the highlight,” Skinner said. “The cohort includes a group of professionals from a diverse range of public sector jobs that otherwise would never have had the opportunity to meet.”

The cohort model offers many advantages to students. The flexibility of attending class only once a week, the convenience of a central location for working professionals and the collaboration among peers who share similar professional interests and goals are what attracted Skinner to the program.

“I had known that I wanted a master’s degree for some time, but had trouble finding a program that met my personal education goals, schedule constraints and cost requirements. When the brochure for this program circulated at work, it was clear that it met all my criteria for a degree program,” she said. “The NAU MOL program provides a great balance of foundational leadership education plus practical applications. Every course offered opportunities to tie real-work challenges into the assignments, which is ideal when adding a degree program to an already busy career.”

Her pending graduation is especially exciting given how much of this program was spent doing online work. The cohort met in person to give final presentations in one class, MOL 600 Management Information Systems, and although they were masked and spread out, being with her classmates made the entire event so much more meaningful. They became a close-knit group who supported and mentored each other to grow academically and professionally.

“We all knew we would be back to virtual instruction the next week for the next course, but it was a brief reunion with the cohort and a reminder of what an enjoyable group of people it is.”

The organizational leadership master’s degree is designed to help students learn a set of graduate-level skills that will assist mid-career professionals in achieving their professional goals. Coursework focuses on administration and a specialized emphasis area. Through the capstone course, students personalize the experience through analysis of processes, strategies and tactics based on their current place of employment or a related industry.

“Bringing education to where people are is an important part of NAU’s mission, and we’re proud to work with the City of Tucson and Pima County to support their employees with learning opportunities that advance their professional development,” said Doug Small, assistant dean of academic partnerships at NAU. “It is our commitment to offer quality programming that is affordable and accessible in supporting professionals who are balancing family, work and school.”

NAU offers various program at 22 statewide locations as well as on-site cohorts and online programs to help students to continue working while pursuing their degrees. To learn more about the next cohort, starting in fall 2022, or other educational programs, contact NAU at or (602) 728-9510.

NAU Communications