Brandman News

Learning to lead: Earning an Ed.D. from Brandman changed Michelle Harmeier's career path, life

October 24, 2017 by Brandman University

Michelle Harmeier chose Brandman University’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership program because she was ready for a career move.

Michelle Harmeier
Michelle Harmeier

She made more than one.

“I knew I was ready to grow,” said Harmeier who, at the time she decided to pursue a doctorate, was the principal of Coyote Ridge Elementary School in Roseville, Calif.

And grow she did. From the time she started the program in 2013 to shortly after her 2016 graduation, Harmeier rose from being a school principal to a school district director to an assistant superintendent.

Importance of flexibility

Brandman University has a campus in Roseville that seemed to offer the kind of program and flexibility she needed. Flexibility was key.

Just as her doctoral program was starting, Harmeier and her husband decided to pursue new jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was hired as the principal of Miller Creek Middle School in the Marin County’s Dixie School District and transferred to Brandman’s Walnut Creek campus cohort.

Mentoring opens doors

The switch to Walnut Creek proved especially rewarding because her cohort mentor (a key part of the Brandman Ed.D. program) was Dr. Walter Buster, the former superintendent of Clovis Unified School District. It was Buster, and a connection Harmeier made through ACSA, Dr. Donna Lewis, that led to her next career move.

In her second year in the Ed.D. program, the San Mateo-Foster City School District hired her as director of Human Resources. Buster’s coaching, enthusiasm and support that made the difference.

“His endorsement was amazing. That was a gift I would never have had if I was not in the program. His letter of reference was so powerful. They recognized him as someone who would endorse a quality candidate,” she said.

Lewis also encouraged her to apply for the HR position. Lewis was the district’s assistant superintendent for personnel at the time. When she met Harmeier met at an ACSA Women’s Leadership Conference, Lewis told her it was time to earn her doctorate.

Faculty coaching made the difference

Buster’s influence and support, along with faculty members Dr. Marilou Ryder and Dr. Pat White, make earning that doctorate possible, Harmeier said. Buster’s work coaching superintendents throughout California even influenced her dissertation choice. He, Ryder and Myrna Cote, an adjunct faculty member, were her dissertation committee and all three have been superintendents of California school districts. “The Impact of Coaching on the Leadership Practices of Public School Superintendents,” Harmeier’s dissertation, could be the title of each’s life story.

Career options grow

After she finished the program in 2016, it was time for the next career step. “I applied for 10 positions over a two-year period. What was key was the support from my committee, their advice on which jobs to pursue. I think what Brandman does, along with ACSA, is help us network. They taught us how to bring our card, to develop emotional intelligence and gave us strategies for being comfortable in networking activities,” said Harmeier.

 “The advantage of this doctorate is that the focus of the whole program is to develop transformational leaders, like Michele, who know how to engage their people in bringing about successful, productive, needed change that will produce breakthrough results,” said White. “These leadership skills are what will be needed for organizations to survive and thrive now and in the future.” 

Now the assistant superintendent for Human Resources in the Anaheim Elementary School District – a K-6 district with 18,000 students – Harmeier is in the position to help others advance their careers, which she does by attending Alumni Colloquium during Brandman Ed.D. immersions and by having jobs to offer at Brandman’s Education Fairs.

“I started the program because I knew I wanted to lead with a job that had more responsibility and would have more impact,” she said. “I’ve reached my goal.” 

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