Completing Old Dominion University’s Community College Leadership PhD online is a challenge for anyone, but Matthew McGraw '16 hit a few extra hurdles. Spoilers: you can tell by the title that he graduated, but his accomplishment is truly a special story.

Matthew, currently the Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness and Academic Services at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, was a few months into his program when he found out his wife was pregnant. That joyful news was greeted with a lot of celebration, but also a lot of planning for his family to go along with his brand new degree program. Although Matthew was no stranger to online classes, he admits that there was a lot of anxiety starting such a big educational venture. “Maybe I can’t figure out the time,” he said, discussing his initial concerns. “Maybe I can’t fit it with my work schedule. I didn’t tell anyone except for my wife that I was going back to school for the first year. I was a ‘closet doctoral student.’”

Matthew lives in Allegheny County, a rural region of Virginia, and online learning was his best option for earning this degree. ODUOnline was the only doctoral program that fit his goals and offered classes 100% online. “I came for two summer institutes. Came to defend dissertation. Came for graduation. Those are the times I had to come [to campus,]” Matthew said about his distance learning experience. 

Although he had concerns like most students, he kept going and found a wonderful network of support. In his online classes, Matthew was able to connect with other students in his program for papers and projects, and grew those relationships at the summer institutes offered at ODU’s Norfolk campus for the Community College Leadership Program. “We relied on each other for support,” he said. “Especially as I moved to the dissertation phase. It was like having a mini support group.” 

And unfortunately, Matthew needed it. Around his daughter’s first birthday, he found himself facing some unexpected medical trouble and was forced to drop out. ODUOnline stuck by his side, though. “[ODUOnline has a] supportive staff,” he told us. “They called my cell just to check on me. It meant a lot.” 

When Matthew resumed his studies, he had a goal of catching up and finishing his dissertation in two years. He did it in a year and a half. His young daughter was at his graduation, and Matthew says that it meant a lot to him that she was there to see it. “I hope it means a lot to her, too!” he says. 

For more information on the Community College Leadership PhD program, please visit