Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension School?
As an ordained minister and radio show host, I wanted to build the capacity to reach larger audiences. To do that, I knew I had to elevate my verbal and written communication skills. I was also interested in developing a fuller understanding of government—the umbrella that gives me an integrated perspective on politics, international relations, law, business, and leadership. I felt that pairing this knowledge with my experience in ministry would give new dimensions to my potential influence.
My desire was to get a view of the engine of politics—not just what we read on the surface in the headlines. What makes government work? How are the levers pulled in society? What theoretical constructs cause political movements in America and globally?
Step by step, I was eager to see how I’d measure up to the challenge of actually earning a degree from one of Harvard’s graduate schools, while still maintaining my professional life.
How has this experience helped you in your career?
The Harvard experience was transformative intellectually, socially, and interpersonally. Intellectually, by challenging my critical thinking, sharpening my writing, and awakening my creativity. Socially, through engaging with professors who expect rigorous interaction with subject matter, and with classmates who have diverse backgrounds and challenge each other. Interpersonally, through deepened relationships that have been seasoned over time, starting in class and growing beyond the classroom into our professional lives.
What was the most challenging aspect of your time at Harvard Extension?
Statistics. I took it during a semester with two other courses, and it was excruciatingly demanding. At the midterm, my reading glasses began to fog up because I was sweating—there was simply not enough time to finish! I contemplated dropping the course.
After deciding to push through with no guarantee I’d prevail, I attended every section meeting. It helped, but I was a challenged to the end. Muhammet Bas and my teaching fellow, Pamela Ban, provided extra work and extra help. This was the final hurdle before I could officially get started on my thesis. After taking the final exam, word came that I passed the class. Tears filled my eyes.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your time at Harvard Extension?
Research. I actually began taking strides during the first course, my proseminar, which I took with Doug Bond. He has been a mentor to me ever since. I chose my topic of religious influences on presidential decision-making and stuck with it to the end. All the courses in my program were taken with an eye toward how it would impact my thesis.
When I came to that thesis phase, it was literally a joy! Accessing the resources of Harvard has been immense. My research advisor, Don Ostrowski, guided me through my proposal and connected me with my thesis director, David Holland, at Harvard Divinity School. Completing my thesis was rewarding because the entire process was so rich!
What are you most proud of about reaching this milestone?
I am most proud of the fact that my family has been able to experience Harvard with me. We moved to Massachusetts from Hawaii two years ago so I could finish my degree. My older son was entering his senior year of high school, and my younger son was starting eighth grade (my daughter was already in college in New York). My wife set up an administrative post in Brookline for our organization so that our family could make the move.
I appreciate the sacrifices my family made, and I’m grateful they have been here to share this experience with me.