Stepping into the Courage Zone – My APUS Learning Experience

By Cheryl Seminara, Ph.D., Deputy Chief Learning Officer, FEMA

Editor’s Note: From time to time in this space, we want to share stories from our alumni as they relay their experiences with APUS and how they have impacted their careers and personal lives. This week, we feature the story of Dr. Cheryl Seminara, who is a 2012 graduate of AMU and a member of the Washington D.C. area President’s Alumni Advisory Council. We encourage you to contact us at to share your own APUS journey with us as well.

We all know what makes us comfortable and many of us stray into the ‘unknown’ to push ourselves beyond our limits. The challenge for most of us is that we don’t have someone there to coach and help us be courageous. The faculty and staff at  American Public University System (APUS) provided just the support I needed to step into my “courage zone” and be successful.

While my Ph.D. is in organizational development, I opted to pursue a Master’s in Criminal Justice at APUS because I wanted to continue studying leadership from a different perspective. After all, there are both famous, and infamous, leaders, right?  I was excited and nervous when I entered the program and, even though I had a Ph.D., I had no idea what to expect.

From the moment I engaged with the APUS team, I was impressed by the professionalism of the admissions and financial aid teams. I was not just a number to them; I was a student and when I called, they made me feel like I was the priority.  They ensured my questions were answered and I had the resources I needed to succeed in my program.

But, the most rewarding thing for me was the course experience. I was usually the only non-law enforcement person in each of my classes, but the instructors and students welcomed and engaged me so that I could make the most of the learning experience. With their support, I was able to immediately apply what I was learning and further my personal research into the field of leadership development. The coursework was challenging and when I struggled to relate it to my field, the instructors would personally engage me to help me make the connections.

Some people think you need to sit at a desk on campus to feel a sense of community; I felt that in the online classroom at APUS. I know I was not the only one who looked through the participant list on the first day of class to connect with folks from other courses; we all worked through our program together. Another thing that stood out for me were the honor societies offered to students. This is something usually reserved for traditional ‘in-person’ programs. APUS has found a way to provide engaging student experiences in an entirely online environment through innovative tools, interactive online events, and a multitude of other resources.

Graduation was an amazing event. While all of us were excited to meet each other in person, this was one of the most important days in my life. I did not have the chance to walk when I received my Ph.D., and my advisor encouraged me to wear my robe.

I still feel connected to the school, even as an alumni. My membership in the honor societies is for life, and I love reading about the great work they are doing. I am proud of my APUS degree and value the experience I had as a learner.



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