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Student Testimonials

Circle Debbie Barton


Debbie Barton

Graduated: 2020, M.S. in Leadership
Profession: Assistant Finance Director, City of Charleston

Receipient of the Lt. Gen John W. Rosa Award for Outstanding Achievement in Leadership Studies

In reflecting upon my twenty years in the accounting profession, I have come to realize that a key ingredient to any great organization is great leadership. The Citadel’s Master of Science in Leadership program was undoubtedly the best possible choice for me to enhance my leadership skills.

With the program being 100% online, it allows working adults the flexibility to participate in the program. Throughout the program, I interacted with professionals in the business community, the government sector, and the armed forces. We had the opportunity to share best practice ideas as well as gain insight and advice from others in leadership roles.

The Master of Leadership taught me the principles needed to motivate colleagues, lead more effectively, and cultivate a team atmosphere. It does not matter if one is an entry-level associate or holds the highest title; leadership is needed to accomplish the task.
Serving as the Assistant Finance Director for the City of Charleston, the skills I learned from the Master of Science in Leadership are applicable daily. The support and encouragement from the faculty and peers have helped me fight the good fight in leading others. As a graduate of the Citadel, I am now part of the Alumni Network and connected with other successful alumni around the world, which continues to expand my professional network.

Leaders are not born, they instead are those who remain teachable, have a passion to grow and a burning desire to make a difference. Those of us who are called to lead should always strive to become better at communicating, motivating, and inspiring others to become better in their life endeavors. Leadership skills are a necessity; therefore, I highly recommend the Master of Science in Leadership from the Citadel Graduate College as it will serve you well in your journey through life. I encourage you to take the next step in becoming a better leader by applying to the Leadership program at The Citadel Graduate College.


Circle Karen Coltrane

Karen Coltrane

Graduated: 2019, M.S. in Leadership
Profession: President & CEO, Leadership Center for Excellence

Karen Coltrane had been a nonprofit CEO for more than twelve years and out of the college scene for 30. She didn‘t think she could go back to school. "I hadn’t had a formal math class since 10th grade, so I was intimidated by the GRE. Between that, raising my son and working all the time, it just seemed too difficult to take it on." Coltrane confides. But then, she found The Citadel's Master of Science in Leadership Program, which allows both the GRE and the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), and applied.

"With 30 years of real world leadership experience, I wanted to explore the academic theory behind leadership, and get prepared for whatever might happen next," says Coltrane. "The Citadel was excellent for that."

Coltrane hasn't looked back. Being 100 percent online, she found she could balance her busy career with her education, family and friends. The online format was a new challenge for Coltrane. "I hadn’t done an online class, ever, so it was all new and a bit intimidating to me," she explains. "But soon, I found myself rushing to get home to study because I couldn't wait! I absolutely loved every single moment of it."

The best part about the online experience, according to Coltrane, was learning new perspectives not just from the rigorous classes her professors taught, but from other students. "The online format requires everyone to reply and respond to one another. The diversity of thinking and responses creates layers that I wouldn’t get from just reading and listening to a lecture. I find that even more valuable than sitting in a classroom," she says.

Coltrane wasn’t sure whether her non-profit career would fit in the military college until she learned that the program applied to her time spent as CEO at EdVenture in Columbia, S.C., as well as in her current role as CEO of the Leadership Center for Excellence in Arlington, Va. "It pulls the very best from its military roots, but is not a military leadership program," Coltrane explains. The college has earned a strong reputation of developing principled leaders who serve in all sectors, from business and politics to nonprofit organizations.

Changing jobs made sense, she says, following a deeper understanding of leadership theory. "I have no doubt that pursuing this degree helped me stand out when seeking my new position. It allowed me to make a mid-to-late career shift into something that I'm very excited about — helping others develop their leadership capacity."

Coltrane focused on children during her tenure as CEO at EdVenture. Her new role at the Leadership Center for Excellence allows her to expand that reach to young professionals and adults. It thrills her to impart the skills, qualities and traits of a good leader on all ages.


Gary McKenzie Circle

Gary McKenzie

Graduated: 2018, M.S. in Leadership
Profession: Southeastern Regional Vice President, GEICO

As the Regional Vice President of the Southeast in Macon, Georgia, my team consists of about 2,500 people. We oversee over a million customers. Geico encourages self-development and continuing education. After 12 years into my career, it dawned on me that perhaps I should go back and sharpen the edge; The Citadel was the right fit for me.It was a conversation my wife and I had in late 2015. We were asking each other what you would do differently if you were graduating high school and knew what you knew today. My first answer was that I would send 18-year old Gary to The Citadel. 

I really appreciate the school and the traditions. There were no online classes when I went to school the first time so it took an adjustment, but I actually really enjoy it. I get many ideas and I try to incorporate them into my weekly or monthly staff meetings. I think it just helped me become a better leader. 2017 was probably the best year of my career. You know it's not just a coincidence that it happened to be while I was pursuing this second Master's degree in Leadership. I think it all kind of works together but man I had a fantastic year. It really has become a lifestyle.
This format for continuing education, it really works. I'm so proud to be a part of The Citadel. The fact that I could be a part of it at this point in my career, knowing what I know now; I would have made a better and wiser decision early on and chosen The Citadel. It fills me with a lot of pride knowing that I’m a part of something as special as the Citadel.

Chitwood Circle
Eric Chitwood

Graduated: 2018, M.S. in Leadership
Profession: United States Armed Forces

As a naval officer, I am faced with increasingly complex operational, ethical and leadership challenges. It was imperative I obtain the best possible leadership education in order to successfully meet those challenges. When I began my research to find the right academic institution, I had two primary considerations: Flexibility (due to my military lifestyle) and a reputation for excellence that was instantly recognizable amongst leaders from all organizations.

There are similar online programs available at other well-known universities, but after considering The Citadel’s strong support of veterans, high academic standards, the famous alumni network and their 175-year history of producing world-class leaders, I realized that there was only one choice.


Circle Karl Knell

Karl Nell

Graduated: 2017, M.S. in Leadership 
Profession: Manager, Crane Operations at Georgia Ports Authority

As a general manager at the Georgia Ports Authority, Karl Nell oversees almost 100 people in the crane division at one of the world’s busiest ports. So, when Nell decided he wanted to learn more about how to lead and influence his employees, he turned to The Citadel’s graduate-level leadership program.

It was a great fit for Nell in his desire to hone his leadership skills and people management techniques, he said.

"I'm trying to organize this group of employees who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "How do you align yourself with the people who are doing the work and show some kind of empathy instead of treating people like a machine?"

Empathy, influence and communication are all part of what students learn in The Citadel's Department of Leadership Studies. The Master of Science in Leadership Studies is designed for those currently in a leadership position as well as those hoping to advance in their careers to become leaders. The degree program is offered online, and the curriculum allows students to tailor their focus toward their unique career interests. Graduate certificates in leadership and military leadership also are available.

Nell, who lives in Bluffton during the week and Charleston on the weekends, took a mixture of face-to-face and online classes. He graduated in May 2017 and continues to tap into the resources and skills he learned in his courses.

A former U.S. Marine, Nell was drawn to The Citadel’s academic reputation, and its core values of honor, duty and respect, which closely align with his own personal values. And as a networking tool, having a Citadel degree opens doors.

"I would consider the networking capability almost like an Ivy League school," Nell said. "Everywhere you go, there’s someone you can connect with to mentor you in the field."

Before joining the Georgia Ports Authority, Nell was a crane operator with the South Carolina Ports Authority in Charleston. He understands what it feels like to sit in the crane operator’s seat, and his employees continually come to him seeking mentoring and added training.

"In leadership, you’re able to give men and women the means to say, ‘I can do more than my current job.’ Influence—that’s what leadership is about,” Nell said. “This program fits with what I do on a daily basis."


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