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Lessons Learned from CLS Help Oklahoma Community Plan for the Future

Online student, Alan Riffel

As city manager of the northwestern Oklahoma town of Woodward, where wide open sky, rugged hills and farmland meet, Alan Riffel is helping shape the future of the community. He said he finds understanding and awareness of social changes key to successfully managing this city of 12,000 and credits his education through the College of Liberal Studies with enabling him to serve the needs of this one-time farming community with a more thoughtful attitude.

“The interdisciplinary approach of CLS was extremely valuable to me,” he said. “I had never been inclined to scientific thought processes, but now recognize that I utilize new reasoning methodologies, which I attribute directly to my liberal studies education.”

The Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree, with an administrative leadership concentration, first was offered by the college in 1996, to serve adult students who could benefit from career-related courses and the broad perspectives of a liberal education. Today, the online administrative leadership program is making it possible for professionals like Riffel to obtain both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in this concentration.

Riffel was 47 when he started searching for a bachelor’s degree program from an accredited university that could accommodate his busy work schedule. Commuting two to three nights a week was out of the question. He had been an OU student in the early Seventies, but got married before finishing his degree and became a firefighter in Anadarko, Okla. When he was named city manager in 1996, Riffel attended leadership training and professional development seminars through the City Manager’s Association of Oklahoma but knew that these courses were not sufficient to warrant classroom hours for degree programs.

“The interdisciplinary approach of CLS was extremely valuable to me,” he said. “I had never been inclined to scientific thought processes, but now recognize that I utilize new reasoning methodologies, which I attribute directly to my liberal studies education.”

“I looked into OU’s College of Liberal Studies’ online distance learning program and found the administrative leadership degree fit my needs and was distinctly pertinent to my profession,” he said. “With my three children grown out of the nest I knew my time away from work could largely be dedicated to classroom assignments.”

Frank Rodriquez, CLS academic counselor, said, “The administrative leadership programs work well for professionals like Alan because the curriculums have been specifically developed for people who are already in leadership positions or seeking such opportunities.”

The program allows students to explore multiple approaches to leadership through readings, case studies and research, enabling them to understand, evaluate and expand on their knowledge and abilities to perform as a leader of people and organizations.

“Another important feature of the program is the development of human relations skills that help students understand, communicate and manage a diverse workforce,” said Rodriquez.

Second Time Around

For Riffel, college the second time around as an adult student was greatly enriching. “The CLS cohort concept is a marvelous method of improving the educational experience to a holistic endeavor,” he said. “It not only vastly improves the probability of academic success, but also serves as an incubator for lifelong friendships with fellow students and faculty.”

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in administrative leadership and was recognized as CLS’s Outstanding Senior in 2003.

Riffel’s pursuit of excellence continues. In 2005, he obtained an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) credential. He is one of just seven local government management professionals in Oklahoma credentialed by the CMA. The credentialing process is rigorous with a commitment to continued professional development and ensures a city gets an excellent manager.

According to Woodward Mayor Steve Bogdahn, “It reassures city commissioners and the city that you have a top notch city manager who’s willing to do the extra things to become credentialed and stay at the cutting edge of city management.”

CLS graduates often share a common commitment to lifelong learning. Graduates such as Riffel are taking their knowledge and giving back to their communities and the world. They graduate with the understanding, as Riffel said, “Perhaps the greatest lesson learned at OU is that true knowledge is constantly evolving.”

OU CLS
The College of Liberal Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite bachelor's and master's degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.

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