Dawn Bovasso G ’15 remembers graduation day as one of the best days of her life.

“When we walked into the Carrier Dome [SU’s nearly 50,000-seat stadium], they had all the doctoral students walk in first,” she recalled.

“I remember thinking that this must be how the Olympic athletes feel during the opening ceremonies. Everyone was cheering for us and for everything we’d accomplished. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced.”

Now Dawn is a creative director for a large financial institution (we’ve agreed to keep this information confidential due to fiduciary liability). But just a few years before, she had hit a glass ceiling.

As a female creative director, then working for an advertising agency, Dawn noticed that many women — including herself — weren’t getting the same level of respect, authority, pay, or promotions as their male counterparts. A PhD would automatically add to her credibility and help her fight this bias, she thought.

However, she felt strongly that she didn’t want to step out of the workforce to go to school. It just wouldn’t have made financial sense given the level of her career, nor would it be easy to get back in once she left.

Dawn knew that salary isn’t the only thing people sacrifice to go back to school. Additional financial sacrifices can total four times the salary amount itself when you consider costs ranging from lost raises and promotions to foregoing employer retirement matching and taking pay cuts upon returning to the workforce.

That’s why the flexibility to keep her job while completing her degree made the iSchool’s Doctorate of Professional Studies stand out above the rest.

“I would have lost so much money that I don’t know it would have ever been worth it financially,” she said. “So coming to the iSchool was such a good decision in terms of my personal development, intellectual development, and financial health.”

And she decided to have a baby during her last year – by herself, from a donor. She knows this would have been impossible in a program with a traditional residency.

Dawn’s decision to pursue a DPS paid off. Rather than sacrificing salary and benefits, Dawn now makes almost three times as much as when she started her degree.

“I almost doubled my salary during the program,” she said. “And then, at graduation, I had an offer in hand for $65,000 more.”

That’s a lot, especially for creatives who are already rising to the top ranks of their industry.

And in terms of credibility, “Nothing tells people you’re an expert like a terminal degree,” she said. “They absolutely loved it.”

Doctoral programs, at their core, are about knowing one topic extremely well and being able to focus on it for a sustained period of time. From quickly taking in user needs and data and coming up with a solution for how to tackle a problem, that focus allowed Dawn to develop the skills she needed to take her career to the next level.

“[The program] helped me get a lot better at quickly looking at all of the different inputs, data, strategy, and theory that goes into something,” she said. “It’s not that different when you’re creating a digital experience or a script or the concept for a product. And whether people know I have this degree or not, they can tell I have the expertise that comes with it.” 

But beyond the skills and the salary, one of the best things Dawn remembers about the DPS program is the people.

Taking classes with renowned professors and a cohort of diverse leaders who came together for a shared goal was a one-of-a-kind experience.

“Those couple weeks a year we went to classes together were something special that I’ll never forget,” she said, “ This program changed me as a person, and I made some friends for life.”