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Alum credits leadership for journey from high school dropout to doctoral graduate | University of Phoenix

Alum credits leadership for journey from high school dropout to doctoral graduate

By University of Phoenix

  • Nov 27, 2020
  • 4 min read
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Wayne McCoy, D.M., credits leadership for making him the man he is today. The personal and professional skills he learned from the leaders in his life — many of whom he discovered at University of Phoenix over a 20-year higher education journey —helped him grow from a high school dropout to CEO of his own company.

Dr. McCoy’s passion for the topic led him to make it the emphasis of his dissertation research in the Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership program. However, despite positive influences and leadership defining the man he would become, these integral elements were missing in Dr. McCoy’s early life. It wasn’t until he was an adult with a family of his own that he recognized the desire he had to change his life through education.

He hopes his story can help illustrate the profound impact leaders can make in the lives of others and the importance of leading ethically.

“True ethical leadership results in people bettering themselves,” said Dr. McCoy, who earned his doctorate in 2019. “They become someone with self-worth and inspire others to do the same. True leadership, regardless of approach or method, is selfless and is focused on the lifting of others to their very best of self. Leadership approaches that are self-centered or self-aggrandizing are not leadership at all.”

An uncertain beginning

Dr. McCoy was an only child whose rebellious nature often clashed with his
stepfather’s disciplinary style. There were many arguments and altercations, and at 17 he was kicked out of the house.

He moved to Tucson, Ariz., enrolled in a new high school and continued on a familiar path until he was expelled. In his early 20s, he began working at a donut shop where he met Tammy, his future wife and the first leader who would change his life. It was only the start of his transformation, though. Over the next decade, the McCoys had their struggles as they raised their family.

Dr. McCoy worked multiple jobs and long hours to support his family. Tammy regularly told him he needed to get an education if he were ever to advance professionally.

Finally, in his mid-30s and on the verge of a divorce, Dr. McCoy heeded her advice. He earned his GED and started taking courses through University of Phoenix.

“I wasn’t ready to be an adult. I was very selfish, and I felt sorry for myself.” Dr. McCoy said. “She somehow got part of my head straightened out for the first time in my life.”

Meeting his mentors

While pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, Dr. McCoy would meet his second leadership mentor, Anthony Pitucco, Ph.D. As his instructor, Dr. Pitucco recognized Dr. McCoy’s innate leadership and encouraged him to tutor other students and continue pursuing opportunities as a volunteer to hone those skills.

It’s a very stark reality check when you realize you didn’t just accomplish these things by yourself.

Wayne McCoy, D.M.

A decade after graduating in 2005, he became the chief technical officer of a company and started the Master of Business Administration program at UOPX. During that time, Dr. Pitucco had dinner at the McCoys’ home and they spent the evening discussing the possibility of pursuing a doctorate. Dr. McCoy followed his mentor’s advice and began working toward a doctoral degree.

Along the way, Dr. Pitucco was there to offer advice and encouragement.

“I would always encourage him that he’d gone this far, just take the next step. He was so enthusiastic. I could tell he was going to do it,” Dr. Pitucco said. “It’s indescribable the pride you can have when a student pursues his goals like that.”

The impact of the faculty members he met in his early years at University of Phoenix was so profound that Dr. McCoy chose leadership as the topic of his doctoral research. It focused on the ethical behavior of leaders and used advanced statistical analysis to understand the impact leaders have on the people who followed them.

His research resulted in a study that critically examined the direct impact people at the top of organizations have on those who look to them as leaders, something he witnessed firsthand throughout his career. He conducted a multivariate path analysis with a sample of more than 300 participants, a process that is above and beyond the scope of what he needed to do.

When it came time for Dr. McCoy to give the oral defense of his dissertation, he spoke with confidence and a clear understanding of his research. It was clear that the topic was not only driven by personal passion, but also well supported using advanced
statistical research methods.

“Not many students can do that, or will make the effort to learn how to master ad-vanced statistics, said Herman J. van Niekerk, Ph.D., associate dean and Dr. McCoy’s doctoral chair. “I’ve participated in oral defense about 30 times throughout my years. I will say his was the best I’ve seen.”

Dr. McCoy is now the CEO of Audio Video Technologies LLC, a custom home automation company in Tucson. He’s seeking teaching opportunities, hoping to offer the kind of direction and leadership he once received.

“It’s a very stark reality check when you realize that your life has been impacted by individuals along the way, when you stop being selfish and realize you didn’t just accomplish these things by yourself,” Dr. McCoy said. “There are people on your path along the way who change your course and help to shape who you can become. I learned from them that we are not the product of our environments, however difficult they may be, but our lives reflect the content of our choices.”