By Thomas Switzgable
In high school, McAllister Collins, CPS’22 of Chicago, watched his favorite movie for the first time, Forrest Gump. This iconic film follows the titular character as he navigates through life in the Deep South, unknowingly being the catalyst for some of the most important moments in American history during the 20th century. Since that moment, Collins used the film as a basis for his life’s philosophy. “I always desired to pursue opportunities that interest me, do them to the best of my ability, then move once I felt that I had maximized the vertical progress within that particular entity.”
However, in the midst of working a “very demanding and extremely stressful” sports management career, Collins decided to enlist in the United States Army after noticing he was neglecting his passion for international travel. As a result, Collins enlisted in the United States Army where he achieved the rank of Field Artillery Officer, where his duties included destroying or suppressing enemies by cannon, rocket, and missile fire, and helping integrate all lethal and nonlethal fire support assets into combined arms operations.
Unfortunately, injuries in his military career proved to be a deterrent in more ways than one, forcing him to medically retire in 2018 after eight years in the service. With active duty suddenly in his rearview mirror, Collins decided to enroll in Northeastern University’s doctor of education program, placing a concentration on organizational leadership studies. “I became obsessed with looking into [different] occurrences and was able to link such cultural misinterpretations to school discipline disparities, suspension, expulsion, and high school dropout rates, and the school-to-prison pipeline. The research I conducted was sobering to say the very least, but is one of the very best academic endeavors that I have ever completed.”
Taking advantage of Northeastern’s hybrid education and global presence, Collins learned about the benefits of this program through representatives from our Charlotte campus, splitting time between there, online, and Boston. The residencies in Boston proved to be impactful to his studies, stating that “[they] afforded us the opportunity to speak with program faculty and discuss our research interests in an attempt to vet those who would potentially become our future dissertation chairs.”
After completing his dissertation, Collins placed his energy towards helping those who have served through the Veteran’s Restorative Justice Project—a vessel that helps veterans that have been involved with the criminal justice system reintegrate back into society. Combining the community-transforming skillsets he developed at Northeastern with the new ones he will learn as he pursues his MBA at the University of Chicago, Collins is ready to leave a positive influence on veterans and the world alike. “My involvement is making an impact by spreading the word of the work that the VRJP is doing and showing veterans that although all of our service obligations may be complete, we still look out for one another just as we would have on the battlefield.”
Learn more about Northeastern University’s doctor of education program here.
“My education at Northeastern, specifically my qualitative doctoral research, taught me that everyone has a story and deserves to be heard.”McAllister Collins, CPS’22
By Tommy Switzgable
“To me, the fundamental ingredient associated with public service begins with a commitment to creating and sustaining lasting influences so that others who follow benefit from what you contributed to along the way,” says Jim McDonough, CPS’22. “The tools associated with creating that lasting influence are rooted in the development and execution of sound policy that makes a soldier a soldier.”
McDonough, of Round Lake, New York, served 26 years in the United States Army, working his way through the officer ranks and ultimately achieving the rank of colonel. Beginning his military career in Europe, McDonough eventually found his way back to the United States, where he performed two tours of duty for the Pentagon, including a speechwriting position for the Secretary of the Army. He then deployed to the Middle East out of Fort Bliss, Texas to support Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom before returning home to retire from the Simon Center for Professional Military Ethics at West Point.
After retiring from the military, McDonough became the CEO of The Headstrong Project, which he describes as a national-facing mental health treatment practice of choice for military connected families. Through his work with The Headstrong Project, McDonough wanted to further his passion for helping veterans, which led him to Northeastern’s doctor of law and public policy degree program.
Focusing on strategic thinking and research, McDonough noticed there were similar values shared between his time in the service and those taught to him in his degree program—stating that, “…the common thread between my service in the United States Army and my doctoral studies here at Northeastern involves a powerful sense of humility it takes to serve and learn well from others.”
With a deeper understanding of legal analysis and public policy, McDonough loves to share how his newfound doctorate has catapulted his passion for helping others, especially those who have also served their country. Even with over two decades of world travel and military experience, he credits Northeastern for being a unique vessel that has shaped his perception of public policy through the lens of “contemporary issues that continue to challenge the progress of our society.” Looking back, he says, “my studies have invigorated my appreciation of the role that good people can play in developing good public policy and never giving up on serving the needs of others.”
Your Northeastern experience should be viewed as just the first step in making a commitment to ongoing learning, the place where you learned how to learn best.”Jim McDonough, CPS’22
By Tommy Switzgable
“Perspective is something that I have gained at both NEU and the USAF,” says Brad States, DMSB’23, of Charleston, South Carolina. States, a part-time master of business administration and master of science in finance student, credits both the Air Force and Northeastern for introducing him to the string that intertwines our world. “Following my studies, I now see the global connections [that exist] through business and finance.”
Prior to enrolling in two of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business’s most popular graduate programs, States worked as a job coach for special education students. Soon after, he decided to look to the sky and expand his horizons—and he did just that by enlisting in flight school and joining the Air Force, where he achieved the rank of captain and the status of a C-17A evaluator pilot.
However, during his service in the Air Force, States pivoted yet again, developing a newfound interest in business and finance through various conversations with his fellow Airmen. “Spending time with people that have an interest in business and finance leads to long, interesting discussions during long flights or during deployments,” he says.
This encouraged him to pursue a graduate degree in finance. States decided that Northeastern’s fully remote graduate programming was the perfect fit for his unconventional lifestyle of trying to balance schooling with a full-time military career. “As a part-time MBA student, I am pulled in many different directions due to the requirements professionally, personally, and in my education,” he says. To States, time management is the cornerstone to striking this balance—with Northeastern’s remote accessibility and asynchronous learning being the catalyst for success.
With his graduation imminent, States reflects on his time at Northeastern and the impact it had on both his education and worldview. Not only was he able to pursue a world-class business education while continuing to serve his country, but he was also able to continue to learn about the world’s interconnectivity using a new lens—through a group of friends at Northeastern, no less, that would never have been in the same room. “[In my military service] I see the similarities and differences that all different people have. [Northeastern] has given me the same. Being able to interact with professionals from many different industries has given me perspective about how people live, work, and view the world.”
Northeastern has given me a more formal education regarding business and finance…it has opened my aperture to different possible career paths following my time in the Air Force.”Brad States, DMSB’23
By Tommy Switzgable
“It’s the difference between who do you want to carry you over the finish line—someone who has never worked hard for something or someone who will give you everything they’ve got to get the mission done,” replies Melanie Spears, CPS’19, when asked about the value of a good work ethic. It’s no secret that hard work is a cornerstone of her personality, as proven repeatedly through her experiences in the military and Northeastern University.
After making the decision to drop out of college in 2011, Spears enlisted in the United States Army, achieving the rank of specialist. Her duties included ensuring that her unit was mission ready, and food, water, and ammunition made it to outposts while working as security for NATO forces. She remembers her time in the service fondly, especially given that it scratched her itch for travel, stating that it taught her “every country, city…place I visited, people were proud of where they came from, just like I am.”
However, Spears is unfortunately no stranger to adversity, from navigating the difficulty of living as a sexual assault survivor to beating a colon cancer diagnosis rooted in exposure to toxins while serving. Despite this, Spears chose to use her experiences as a catalyst for inspiration. “Being a survivor of sexual assault, peace is a higher measure to reach than justice. Getting and beating colon cancer…I’ve met people who truly taught me what vulnerability is.”
With a new perspective on the world, Spears used Northeastern’s Yellow Ribbon program to achieve her master’s degree in homeland security. “I knew it was important to me to serve my country in a different capacity,” she says. While attending, she utilized Northeastern’s Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Service members to grow her network and create personal connections through a series of events, which helped her become a Wounded Warrior Fellow and obtain her current role as a partner business development manager at Cisco Systems.
By using the comprehensive leadership skills developed through her degree program and leveraging the resources provided to her through Northeastern’s veteran network, Spears has made it her personal mission to become an ambassador for spreading awareness of the variety of issues that many veterans face. “Veteran advocacy gives a voice, an image, to who protects and serves the country and the freedoms we have today. It makes it so the younger generation can see that sacrifices come at a price, and what it takes to ensure that those we love…is protecting us from the evils, and if we advocate, we can better protect them when they choose to hang up the boots.”
“Be bold, take risks. The Northeastern community will be there to pick you up if you fail at something.”Melanie Spears, CPS’19