For Eileen Powell, the decision to pursue a master's of business administration (MBA) online was not just a professional determination to diversify her skills and increase her employability – it was a highly personal one.

Her fiancé, Sgt. Andy Brown, had been killed in a traffic crash while working for the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP). Powell, who also worked for FHP, felt she needed to do something positive with her time and for herself as she grieved, so she began working toward an advanced degree.

It was tough but rewarding juggling work, parenthood and classes.

It was also just what she needed.

"The constant challenges kept my life on track during this difficult time," Powell says.

That was 10 years ago. Her hard work paid off when now-Major Powell was recently named a troop commander for FHP. She is the first woman to hold that position, overseeing nine counties in North Florida and more than 100 state troopers.

Powell's start in law enforcement

Powell's career at FHP began unexpectedly. She was serving in the Florida National Guard and following a pre-veterinarian track at college when she spotted a recruiting notice from FHP on the bulletin board at the armory. She applied on a lark, was hired and started FHP's training academy on Jan. 12, 1987.

Powell had completed an associate's degree but knew that even though she was moving forward with a career in law enforcement, she wasn't done with school. In 1994, pregnant and working full-time, she enrolled in a bachelor's program in criminology at a local state university.

When she decided to return for an MBA in 2004, Powell was living in Lake City, Fla., and there wasn't a university close enough to make driving to campus to attend classes practical. She began researching online MBA degree programs and discovered Saint Leo University fit her needs. The assistance she received as a military veteran also helped the single working mother.

The value of an MBA in law enforcement

Although many people assume an MBA degree is for corporate or financial sectors, demand for nontraditional MBAs is strong. Nontraditional sectors account for 20 percent of the MBA job market, according to a 2013 report from workforce research firm Burning Glass.

Graduate Admissions Director Joshua Stagner says that he is seeing this trend at Saint Leo University.

"The number of applicants to the university's graduate business programs who are not in business careers is definitely on the rise," he says. "The foundation and versatility that our MBA program offers provides students with the skill set and knowledge that can be applied to any workforce sector."

Powell, for example, selected an MBA program to open new doors and expose herself to new material. She knew it would help her as she took on more responsibilities with FHP.

A degree in criminal justice can lead to an interesting and fulfilling career in law enforcement, she says, but attaining the management skills that are taught in a graduate business program – budgeting, management of assets, deployment of resources and "how to operate the agency as business entity with external stakeholders" – is valuable preparation for leadership positions.

Role model for her daughters

Pursuing a master's degree while working was difficult, Powell says, but the online option provided the flexibility she needed to fit her education around her career and family. She did her classwork and assignments late at night after work and after her children had gone to bed.

Juggling so many responsibilities had a positive result because it demonstrated to her children how hard work and dedication to education makes a difference. Both of her daughters are now enrolled in college.

"They have always known that college was in their future – there was no other option – and both are now excelling," Powell says. "I did not just tell them the value of a college education; I showed them how to get one."

Powell says her experience with Saint Leo was well worth the time and effort. The knowledge she gained in her MBA classes equipped her to take on the challenges of her new position and move her agency to new levels of efficiency and effectiveness.

"My MBA taught me a lot of things even beyond the classroom/book learning," Powell says. "It reminded me how to work hard to achieve a dream and a challenge. Do not give up when the nights get late and the time short."

Can we answer any questions you might have about the value of earning an MBA?

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Former Navy SEAL Chooses Saint Leo For Online MBA Degree

Image credits: Courtesy Eileen Powell