Texas Tech University

3 Online Students Prove It's Never Too Late to Be a Red Raider

Lucy Greenberg

January 21, 2022

Brown Graduation

Newsweek recently named Texas Tech University the No. 1 institution in the country to receive an online degree from. Three online students/alumni share their experiences and explain what puts Texas Tech ahead of the competition.

Rick Haasl, Stephanie Legako and Jessamy Brown don't have much in common. Haasl is associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at West Texas A&M University, Legako works in student success at Texas Tech University and Brown is a public relations specialist for a hospital in Fort Worth. They live in different cities and are in different seasons of life, but they have one thing in common - earning a degree online at Texas Tech University.  

“We're not just getting an online degree,” said Legako. “We're getting a degree from Texas Tech University that happens to be online.  

“It's no surprise that Texas Tech is on the top of this list. We're a Tier 1 research institution that produces world famous researchers, performers, leaders, scientists and entrepreneurs. When you put all that rigor into an online degree, of course people are interested.”  

Haasl and Brown have similar views of Texas Tech.  

“When I was looking for an institution to earn my Ed.D. online, there were a lot of schools I'd never heard of,” Haasl said. “I wanted a degree that was going to be highly revered. Whenever someone asks me where I got my doctorate, I'm proud to say Texas Tech.”

And that thinking inspired these three to return to school halfway through their careers.  

Rick Haasl

After spending a couple decades coaching football, Haasl was looking for a career that would offer regular hours.

“Coaching was something I loved but I got to a point in my career where I wanted something different,” Haasl said. “So, in 2005, I transitioned to teaching full time. Then in 2013, I was named associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Rick Haasl
Rick Haasl

“They call it administration, but it's really coaching,” Haasl said. “So much of what I had learned as a coach carried over.”

As a self-proclaimed “leadership junkie,” Haasl wanted opportunities to advance his career in administrative leadership.  

“That's when I started looking for Ed.D. programs,” Haasl said “I quickly realized the program at Texas Tech was the one I wanted to be in. I applied in 2014 but was not admitted.”  

Undeterred, Haasl applied again in 2015 and his determination was rewarded.  

“I was accepted into the Higher Education Administration program in the College of Education that time around,” Haasl said. “I wanted to be in that program badly enough that I would've driven from Canyon to Lubbock a few times a week if need-be, but I was extremely fortunate that the program was offered online.”  

With a full-time job, a family and a life in Canyon, the accessibility of online learning set Haasl up for success.  

“All the classes were so applicable to my career,” Haasl said. “I was able to take what I was learning in class and turn around and use it at work the next day. The immediate application was great. It made me a better teacher and administrator.”

Jessamy Brown

Three hundred fifty miles away from Canyon, lives Jessamy Brown; a public relations practitioner who works in Fort Worth at John Peter Smith Hospital.

Prior to the hospital, Brown had a 20-year career in journalism. A Minnesota native, she moved to Texas after college and worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  

“I enjoyed my time there, but when the newspaper industry took a turn in 2008, I started looking at other career options,” Brown said. “I was getting nervous after seeing a lot of my friends get laid off.”  

A few years later, Brown made the change to public relations.  

“I was able to use a lot of the same skills that I'd gained in journalism,” Brown said. “There's a lot of interviewing and writing in public relations, so it was somewhat of a natural shift.”  

However, after a few years in her new role, Brown was interested in learning more about theory and best practice when it came to public relations.  

Jessamy Brown
Jessamy Brown

“That was the impetus behind my decision to go to graduate school,” Brown said. “I didn't have any public relations in my undergraduate program, so I wanted something to differentiate me from the other journalists that were flooding the public relations field at the time.”  

Brown applied and was accepted into the Strategic Communication & Innovation graduate program within the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech.  

“I had looked at a few other institutions and it had come down to either Texas Tech or a private university here in Fort Worth, but the one here didn't have online options,” Brown said. “I just couldn't imagine myself working all day and then sitting in class for hours.”

The ease of online learning offered through Texas Tech made Brown's decision for her.  

“I loved learning online because I could fashion my schedule however I wanted,” she said. “The asynchrony of the program allowed me to still prioritize my career while studying when it was best for me.”

That meant a lot of 5:30 a.m. study sessions and reading during her lunch breaks at work.  

“It gave me peace of mind to know I never had to be online at a certain time,” Brown said. “In public relations, emergencies come up all the time. I never had to choose between missing a class or dealing with a problem at work.”

When COVID-19 hit, Brown felt even more confident in her decision.

“We didn't miss a beat when the pandemic started,” Brown said. “Our program was designed to be online, so no one was scrambling to get their curriculum up. I can't imagine how different it would have been if I'd been enrolled in-person.”

A flexible schedule didn't mean that Brown was without struggles though.  

“It was hard going back to school in my 50s,” Brown said. “I worried that I wouldn't have much to contribute, but that wasn't the case at all. I felt I brought so much real-world experience to the table. And the program was very diverse. There were students from all over the country with a good balance of age and experience. It made the discussions really interesting.”  

Stephanie Legako  

Legako is a unit manager in the Dr. Bill Bennett Student Success Center in the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources at Texas Tech. However, she spent the first 10 years of her career as a marriage and family therapist specializing in addiction and recovery.  

Stephanie Legako
Stephanie Legako

“I like to joke that I was in rehab for 10 years,” Legako said. “But truly, it was a good career. At a certain point though, the hours were inhibiting me from seeing my own family.”  

Legako and her husband were living in Utah at the time and had just welcomed their first daughter, June.  

“I barely saw my own kid and that was really hard,” Legako said. “I didn't really sleep for 14 months because that was the only time I got to see her.”

Around that time, her husband was offered a position at Texas Tech.

“My husband is a beef flavor chemist, so his career is very niche,” Legako said. “The reality is that it's easier for me to travel with his job than vice versa.”  

After moving to Lubbock, Legako started making some changes.  

“I didn't want to stay in marriage and family therapy if it meant not seeing my own family,” Legako said. “I started work in the Davis College, and I guess they liked me because I've been there for five years now.”

Through her time working there, Legako fell in love with higher education. So, her decision to apply to Texas Tech's Higher Education Administration program made sense.

Stephanie Legako

“If my husband were to move to another institution, it's much easier to hire two doctorates,” Legako said. “Because Jerrad's line of work is unique, I wanted to be wise and set us up to make future transitions as easy as possible. But I also wanted to do it because I'm passionate about higher education.

“The program has been an ideal fit for me,” Legako said. “I did look at doctorate programs in human sciences but most of the programs required students to be full time. That just wasn't possible for me since I work full time and have a family. The Ed.D program was offered online and just made sense. I'm combining administrative leadership with my background in counseling to positively impact student affairs.”  

The program has allowed Legako to spend more time with her family, which is now a family of four after the addition of their second daughter, Jolee.  

Finding their why

Going back to school after being out of the classroom for years was no easy task for Haasl, Brown and Legako. Especially going back in an online format which had not been an option before.  

“I really thought Googling something was considered cheating,” Brown laughed. “Turns out it's fine. There are all these resources now I never had before.”

But earning a new degree halfway through their careers was a big step.  


“You have to have a clear reason for why you're doing this,” Brown said. “For me, I wanted that credibility with my colleagues. I was tired of sitting in public relations meetings and depending on my gut instinct. I wanted to back up my recommendations with data.”  

For others, their reasons hit a little closer to home.  

“Honestly, I do this because I can,” Legako said. “I grew up in a Mexican home and my mother is first-generation American. “In many ways that has impacted my dissertation, which is about acculturation stress in Latina undergraduate students.  

“Mexican culture is all about family, but America is a very individualist society,” she said. “That's why I started this line of research. All students experience stress upon entering college, but many Latino students especially struggle leaving that tight-knit familial environment and striking out on their own.

“I think of what my mother experienced and what I experienced, and I want to create the very best experience for future Latino students, especially in Davis College since that's where I work,” Legako said. “Davis College has a growing population of Latino students, and we want to serve and support them.”  

Legako hopes that her research can offer Texas Tech even better support and findings to grow its Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) programs and practices.  

“Beyond all that though, I have two little girls at home watching everything I do,” Legako said. “I want them to see what women can do. Yes, I am their mom, but I also want them to see their mom doing something other than being their mom.”  

Rick Haasl

Haasl's family was his motivation as well.  

“Yes, I wanted an opportunity to grow my career in higher education administration,” Haasl said. “But that's not what got me through the hard times. You see, later in life, you're more focused on what you're leaving behind than what you're going to have. I wanted to leave a legacy of determination and gratitude for my girls. What better way of doing that than this?”  

“It was my daughter and my granddaughters that got me through,” Haasl said. “When things got hard, I would play this picture in my mind of them hugging me in my cap and gown.”

And in December of 2019, Haasl's mental picture became a real one.