Online Program Aids Working Mother
Heather Khadij is used to carrying a heavy load. When she was a 96-pound, 5’3” high school senior, she went to the state weightlifting championship. At the time, she was able to bench press far more than her own weight.
She’s only gotten stronger. Now a 26-year old wife and mother, she works 50 hours a week as chief marketing officer for two West Palm Beach Chick-Fil-A franchises. She is also a full-time Palm Beach Atlantic student taking accelerated online courses and maintaining a 3.8 GPA.
Khadij does most of her schoolwork between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., when her 2-year-old son Malachi is asleep. Like many online students with careers and families, it’s the only window she has. “I still have other life to do,” she says. “There are dishes to be done, laundry to be done. You know, life.” But there isn’t a hint of complaint or exhaustion in her voice.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Watching Khadij cheerfully welcome patrons or refresh a beverage, you realize she loves her work. But she is just as enthusiastic about her studies.
Khadij graduated from Seminole Ridge High School in Loxahatchee, and earned her associate degree from Palm Beach State College. She went on to Indian River State College, got married at 19, and put her education on pause. A year ago, a family member made it possible for her to finish her bachelor’s degree in organizational management at her “dream school” – Palm Beach Atlantic. She’ll graduate in July.
“This degree, I’ve been so fulfilled in,” she said. “The people side, the leadership side, how people think, how people work together, that has fulfilled me.”
She uses what she learns every day. “In my most current class, we’re studying servant leadership. This whole program has given me a more practical application, rather than just a definition of what it means.”
Khadij is one of the faces of Chick-Fil-A in the West Palm Beach community. She manages marketing and outreach for two store locations, one on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and the other on Okeechobee Boulevard near Florida’s Turnpike. On any given day, she might stage events, coordinate sponsorships and donations, run social media campaigns, do store signage and decorations, or promote the mobile app. (She doesn’t wear the cow costume, though she once did while working in children’s ministry at Christ Fellowship.)
She loves interacting with people, in her work and in her degree program. One of the things Khadij appreciates most about her PBA experience has been the one-on-one time with her professors. Since the campus is nearby, she has the opportunity to sit down with her professors and get to know their hearts and their histories. “I wanted a smaller, intimate setting. I had three people in my last class. I know that’s probably not typical, but for me it was special because you really get to know the professor and the students.”
In her eight-week courses in the School of Leadership, Khadij attends periodic two-hour video conferences with the professor and fellow students, usually about 8:30 p.m. “You have to plug in your mic, turn on your camera, and be engaged,” she says. The conferences might include lessons, individual presentations or group projects.
The online workload is heavy. “I think any professor will tell you – and they told me before I started – the workload is more than on-ground classes. There are more papers and worksheets. It’s more work, but more flexible. For me, flexibility always wins.”
Khadij has two long-term goals. One is to own and operate her own Chick-Fil-A franchise. The other? To get her doctorate, and to do it online. For her, there’s no going back.