DBU Cook School of Leadership Welcomes its 20th Ph.D. Cohort

Cohort XX on the DBU campus celebrating the 20th cohort to study in the Cook School of Leadership

The Gary Cook School of Leadership has been developing leaders at the highest academic level for 20 years. When Dr. Gary Cook became president of DBU in 1988, he felt God prompting him to expand the university's educational offerings. After prayerful consideration and seven years of faculty development, DBU moved forward with the Ph.D. program. The program had to be approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the university's accreditation agency, and in late 2004, DBU was approved and became a Level V Institution capable of bestowing doctoral degrees. In 2005, the Ph.D. in Leadership Studies accepted its first cohort, with the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership following soon after. Since then, the Cook School of Leadership has been a pillar of the excellent, Christ-centered education offered at Dallas Baptist University.

This semester, Cohort XX began its doctoral journey on University Hill. Pursuing a Ph.D. in Leadership with concentrations in ministry, higher education, business, or general leadership, the cohort's studies will include qualitative and quantitative research alongside a deep dive into leadership scholarship. The three-year program consists of three institutes, taking place in three summers throughout the duration of the program. Each institute sets the stage for the following year of research and study. Then, in the final stage of their doctoral work, the students must compose and successfully defend their dissertation on a topic in their respective fields of study.

Cohort XX recently congregated on University Hill for the first institute, the Dallas Institute. In this program phase, students connect with one another and familiarize themselves with DBU's campus and values. Next summer, the group will travel to Washington, DC, to study under the leadership of DBU President Dr. Adam C. Wright. In the summer of 2026, they will travel to Oxford University for the final institute, where they will learn from Dr. Blake Killingsworth, Dean of the Cook School of Leadership, before entering the research for their dissertation in the summer of 2027. Cohort XX has merely scratched the surface of their latest academic endeavor, but the faculty and staff are eager to see how the Lord molds the new students throughout their journey on University Hill.

Dr. Mary Nelson has been a member of the DBU Faculty for over 20 years, and she began teaching in the CSL in 2013. In 2017, she was named the Director of the Ph.D. program. "It is pure joy to watch the students grow academically—but the greatest delight is seeing how each cohort coalesces into a learning community of Christian scholars," Dr. Nelson shared. "These students pray for one another, bolstering each other on challenging days and celebrating one another's accomplishments."

Dr. Nelson continued, "I believe the administration engagement in our doctoral program rivals any school in the country. Our president, Dr. Adam Wright, is a graduate of our program, and he meets with the students during their first days in the program to encourage them for the journey and challenges ahead. Our Chancellor, Dr. Gary Cook, also meets with the students each summer for an in-depth leadership discussion." The most significant distinction of the Cook School of Leadership is that the academic goal of the Ph.D. is inexplicably linked to faith. The CSL motto is to produce "Christian Scholars, Servant Leaders, and Global Thinkers," and this motto permeates throughout every aspect of the program.

"The doctoral program is a wonderful opportunity to develop your leadership skills further; the scriptures instruct us that 'iron sharpens iron,' and this program will be both challenging and illuminating—allowing you to strengthen your skills as a scholar and a leader. Give careful thought and prayer to the Ph.D., and please contact me to learn more!" — Dr. Mary Nelson, Director of the Ph.D. in Leadership Studies.

About Cook School of Leadership

The Gary Cook School of Leadership produces servant leaders, Christian scholars, and global thinkers who lead with excellence for the glory of God and the renewal of our world in business, ministry, higher education, and other callings. The Cook School of Leadership offers master's degrees in higher education, international relations, and leadership; a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies; and an online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. Graduates of the Cook School of Leadership receive a Christ-centered, interdisciplinary education that prepares them to lead with effectiveness and serve with humility in today’s organizations, impacting both present and future generations to come.

Written by Cameron Billings

Cameron Billings is the Assistant Director of Written Content in University Communications at Dallas Baptist University.