Marlene on laptop outside

With her two adult sons off pursuing their own professional ambitions, Marlene Hammond began to focus on a long-time goal: earning her master’s degree. She spent much of her life working and raising a family, and decided it was time to do something for herself. 

Marlene, who has worked at Lincoln Financial for more than 30 years, knew that her employer offered a tuition benefit and encouraged employees to take on leadership opportunities. 

As she considered her options, she looked for an online program that would allow her to complete her work on a flexible schedule. One day, her husband Todd came home with one of our college course schedules. 

I saw a photo of a student on the cover who looked a lot like me and decided to take a look. 

Selecting the Right Master’s Program 

As she thumbed through the course schedule, Marlene was intrigued by the college’s online M.S. in Leadership program. She had recently begun a new position at her employer as a senior consultant for operational risk and business resilience, and the M.S. Leadership program seemed like an opportunity to supplement the leadership skills she was developing in this role. 

I decided I would try a class and see how it went. After one class, I was hooked. 

One thing she found particularly exciting about the M.S. Leadership program was that she was taking classes with people of different ages and varied experiences. Hearing the perspectives of her classmates helped her to think outside the box and look at concepts from a different angle. While she had initially worried that it would be harder to build relationships in a remote classroom, she found that wasn’t the case. 

I was still able to network with classmates virtually and connect with them on LinkedIn. I was even networking with classmates in Puerto Rico. 

Flexibility and Support From Family 

Marlene also found that the flexibility of the online program helped to make the coursework more manageable. 

Sometimes she would wake up early and get some work in before starting her job for the day. Other times she would squeeze in some work on a Sunday evening. She was even able to take vacations and enjoy downtime. 

I was worried that if I wasn’t sitting in a traditional classroom setting, I wasn’t going to be successful. But that just wasn’t the case. 

She noted that her husband Todd played an especially important role in supporting her throughout her education. 

He did the cooking, laundry, and cleaning. He gave me quiet time to help me focus. 

Todd was also her sounding board, helping her work through ideas or challenging concepts. 

Seeing Immediate Benefits From Her Education 

As Marlene continued to develop leadership skills, she began to see the benefits of her education in real time. In 2021, as she was nearing the end of her degree, Lincoln Financial promoted her to director of operational risk and business resilience.  

Then, in March of 2022, just months after completing her program, she was promoted again to associate vice president of operational risk. While she began as the sole member of her team, it soon grew to a team of five. Her leadership skills became vital resources for creating an effective and inclusive team environment. 

Stepping Outside of Her Comfort Zone 

Marlene was surprised to learn that the class she was originally most intimidated by, Marketing for Nonprofits, turned out to be one of her most valuable experiences. As someone with limited experience in marketing, the course challenged her and provided valuable tools. In fact, she used the skills she learned in the course to create a vision and mission statement for her operational risk team. She even conducted a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis of her employer that she shared with leadership. 

You learn different pieces, but when you start to combine it all together, something remarkable happens. You start to see great results. 

Each student in the college’s master’s programs creates a final capstone project. Marlene knew she wanted to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which has been an important initiative at Lincoln Financial. But as she began to consider the specifics, she was overwhelmed by possibilities. Faculty member Dr. Joseph Mews supported Marlene in selecting a topic that aligned well with her values and interests. 

My capstone instructor Joe helped me to focus and reminded me to trust the process. I’m really thankful for his guidance. 

The subject that Marlene eventually settled on was “Developing an Effective Diversity and Inclusion Program.” She began with the simple strategy of identifying five basic things a DEI program needs for success. The more she researched, the more excited she was to learn about the topic and apply that learning in her professional life. 

Since completing her capstone, Marlene has initiated a monthly discussion series in her department, “Delving into Diversity.” Marlene delivered the first presentation in the series, and now each of her team members is presenting their own topic. 

Preparing for a Remote World 

Earning her master’s degree online provided Marlene and her employer with another unexpected benefit. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lincoln Financial quickly shifted to a remote work environment. Since then, the company’s New Hampshire employees have become permanently remote, a trend among employers across the globe. 

Marlene played a central role in supporting the company as about 800 employees made the shift from working in person to working at home. The skills and technologies she learned and used in her online classes helped her company make these changes effectively. 

Online classes prepared me to work effectively in a remote world. As I was taking my classes online, I was helping my employer shift to a 100% remote environment. 

Mentoring the Next Generation of Leaders 

As Marlene looks toward her future, she hopes to use the skills and confidence she gained from her M.S. Leadership degree to inspire the next generation of leaders. 

In addition to being a coach to her staff and a role model to her two sons and newborn grandson, Marlene volunteers as a mentor in the New Hampshire 4-H program. 

Having been involved with the 4-H program since her childhood, Marlene now works with youth aged 12-18 to help them develop their leadership skills, including public speaking, resume writing, and interviewing. 

I hope I can help the next generation see the leaders within themselves, just as I was inspired to lead by my education. 

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