Focus on Project Management Serves U of A Grad at El Dorado Manufacturing Facility

Doug Stringfellow, left, receives his framed diploma from Gregory Parnell of the College of Engineering during a stop June 22 in El Dorado on the Razorbug Diploma Tour. Mike Malone, far left, U of A vice chancellor for economic development, also traveled from Fayetteville to celebrate with Stringfellow's family and colleagues.
University of Arkansas

Doug Stringfellow, left, receives his framed diploma from Gregory Parnell of the College of Engineering during a stop June 22 in El Dorado on the Razorbug Diploma Tour. Mike Malone, far left, U of A vice chancellor for economic development, also traveled from Fayetteville to celebrate with Stringfellow's family and colleagues.

Doug Stringfellow hasn't risen to the position he holds at international chemical company Lanxess in El Dorado without playing it smart. So, when he decided to earn a master's degree online from the U of A, he threw in a graduate certificate, too.

Stringfellow graduated this spring with a Master of Science in Operations Management, and, for his graduate certificate, he focused on project management, one of several subject areas available in graduate certificates and microcertificates offered online by the U of A. Now, he's also studying for a certification offered through the Project Management Institute, a professional organization that is not affiliated with the U of A.

"The M.S.O.M.'s technical basis was a natural fit for me working in manufacturing," Stringfellow said. "Part of my job is project management. I lead a team of our engineering and maintenance group, so the degree and the certificate fit right in line with my day-to-day work."

Diploma Presentation

Stringfellow was honored June 22 during a stop on the Razorbug Diploma Tour, the second summer that U of A staff and faculty traveled for two weeks in June through northern and southern Arkansas celebrating graduates of online degree programs. The presentations featured as a backdrop the Razorbug, a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle converted to look like a Razorback, with tusks, snout, razor-edged spine, hooves and curly tail.

Gregory Parnell, a professor of practice and director of the College of Engineering's programs in engineering management and operations management, was one of the U of A faculty members who traveled to locations throughout the tour to present framed diplomas to graduates.

Mike Malone, U of A vice chancellor for economic development, attended the presentation, the first of two he joined in El Dorado, to congratulate Stringfellow. Ed Pohl, the new dean of the Graduate School and International Education, sent congratulatory letters and GSIE swag. Stringfellow's family and some co-workers, including a company official who came to the United States from headquarters in Germany recently, cheered him on.

Job Skills

Stringfellow has worked at Lanxess, which has three plants in El Dorado, since October 2005, working his way up from an electrical/instrumentation and refrigeration technician to head of process control technology. Stringfellow manages the team through project design and development. He was promoted to a higher level during the time he was earning his master's degree, with the understanding that he would finish it.

"I have learned how to ask questions about how the project is going and to understand what they're asking me for," he said. "I know the project development cycle, so I can follow along. I know how to motivate when they get to a struggling point."

Graduate certificates are 12 credit hours, or four courses, in a particular subject area, and they are listed on your transcript. U of A faculty members say working professionals in business and engineering use graduate certificates and microcertificates, which are six credit hours, in several career-boosting ways. They want to learn skills needed right away for a particular project their company has taken on, to qualify for a promotion at their job or to apply for a new job. Or they want to begin coursework that can lead to a master's degree.

The graduate certificate shows employers or prospective employers the person who earned it has particular expertise in that area. Another option is to earn a graduate certificate by itself with the possibility of later taking additional courses toward a master's degree.

Stringfellow said he also enjoyed classes on leadership principles and management theory principles and uses what he learned from both.

"Leadership is being there for the team, letting them self-manage but with me guiding them instead of directing them," he said. "I don't have to micromanage now. Check-ins at regular intervals give them the ability to develop not only the project, but themselves."

Education Journey

Working for several years with a technical certificate in commercial refrigeration he earned from South Arkansas Community College, Stringfellow decided in 2016 to enroll in an online bachelor's degree program through American Public University, which caters to military personnel, providing flexibility they need to continue working on a degree through multiple deployments.

The tuition was a bit more for Stringfellow because he was not in the military, but the degree served its purpose at the time.

"It was a great school, and I had no issues, but I felt like from a senior-level, manager aspect, I needed a degree from a more top-tier university to be more appealing to the job market," he said. "The choice of online bachelor's programs in STEM was limited, but a master's degree had a lot of more options."

Stringfellow started a Master of Business Administration delivered online by Louisiana Tech University but discovered it was not a good choice for him and his career goals, whereas the U of A degree was.

Studying online was his only option for a master's degree, he said.

"I live in south Arkansas; I've got a wife, three kids, a career," Stringfellow said. "That was just the only way I could have done it. There's no way working a full-time job that I could have done a traditional, in-class school."

Now, in addition to the two pieces of paper, he shows his pride with a Razorback license plate cover on his truck. He and his family are planning a visit to Fayetteville when his name is engraved on Senior Walk. It typically takes a year after graduation before names are added to the sidewalks on campus.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "Everybody in Arkansas at some point wants to be a Razorback. I know it's a big school, but overall, a limited number of people have the opportunity to go."

The U of A's academic colleges offer 19 graduate and post-graduate certificates and 10 graduate microcertificates online with assistance from the Global Campus. The U of A has offered online graduate certificates for about five years and microcertificates since last year.

The U of A offers more than 90 online degree, certificate, microcertificate and licensure programs. They can be viewed at U of A ONLINE. The Global Campus supports U of A colleges and schools in the development and delivery of online, distance and workforce education programs and courses. It provides instructional design services, technology services and assistance with marketing, recruiting and strategic academic development.

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