Bader ’21EdD: A 50-Year Degree Dream

By Caitlin Burns | May 19, 2021

Most people look forward to relaxing and doing less after retirement. Jacqui Bader ’21EdD plans to make teaching her “encore performance” after retiring, starting in education after decades in other industries and fields. 

When Bader was growing up in Philadelphia’s government housing in the 1960s, she never imagined standing on stage for a bachelor’s degree—let alone a doctorate. On Thursday, May 20, she’ll be hooded for her Doctor of Educational Leadership degree. This, after years of working 50 to 55 hours a week as Benefits, Compliance, and HR director at Becker’s School Supplies; raising two teenage daughters who have had their senior year taken from them; overseeing the accounts and paperwork for one of her husband’s businesses; and caring for several “spoiled cats.” 

“The work seemed above me sometimes,” said Bader. “I’m happy I didn’t give up though.”

A challenging educational path is something that Bader had faced before though. At 17 years old, Bader worked three jobs—flipping burgers at Wendy’s, tutoring local students, and typing at a local company—when she read about how college graduates earn more money compared to people with only high school diplomas. Not long after, she enrolled in her first class at her local community college.

With her other life commitments, Bader earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from LaSalle University after 10 years. Next, she earned certifications from Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in taxation from Drexel University.

“Teaching will be my encore performance,” jokes Bader. “Fifteen years ago I decided that in retirement I was going to teach one course a semester at a local university near wherever I’m living at that time. I know that my Arcadia degree will make me stand out compared to the other applicants who might be younger or have more teaching experience.”

Persuading others that she can do the job is nothing new to Bader. Five years ago, with no teaching experience, she approached Associate Professor of Education Dr. Peggy Hickman about the Educational Leadership program. As a kindergartener, Bader had seen the movie To Sir, With Love (1967) and promised herself that she’d be a teacher. In addition to teaching, Bader plans to volunteer at a local shelter during her retirement.

“[The department] allowed me to be me, and still earn my doctorate,” said Bader, who put her own spin on assignments. Since she wasn’t a teacher, Bader got creative with some of her assignments like  observing volunteers and administrators at Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and interacting with fosters and adopters instead of students in a school setting. During her presentation, she even paired up peers with dogs that had the same name and were available for adoption. 

An example of how Arcadia is a legacy institution, Bader’s youngest daughter will join the University community in the fall as a first-year student.

“It’s taken me my whole life to get to the Commencement,” said Bader. “I expected the workload, but I didn’t expect the lessons I learned outside of the classroom. It’s taken me 42 years to get a doctorate, and more than 50 years since I decided to be a teacher.”