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WGU Tennessee 10th Anniversary Reflections: John Steele

Founding Board Member John Steele reflects on WGU Tennessee's challenges and successes.

Jul 27, 2023

In celebration of our tenth anniversary, we asked several founding members of our Advisory Board to reflect on their experience with WGU Tennessee. John Steele is a retired human resources professional whose last position was as Senior Vice President at HCA.

Q: How did you first hear about Western Governors University?

I first heard about WGU over 20 years ago from Ken Smith, CEO of Strategic Partners, who was consulting with HCA Healthcare, helping us identify organizations that could help meet the demand for people we had as a growing company. HCA, along with a number of other healthcare institutions, helped with the early development of the BSN program, which I think was the first online degree of its kind. As our relationship with WGU grew, I even had the opportunity to deliver the commencement address at the WGU graduation ceremony in Atlanta in February of 2012.

Q: Why did you decide to join the WGU Tennessee Advisory Board?

Considering my long relationship with WGU, it was a “no-brainer” to join the WGU Tennessee Advisory Board as soon as the decision was made by the state and WGU to open a Tennessee affiliate.

Q: In your opinion, what has been the greatest challenge that WGU Tennessee has faced?

Not unlike WGU nationally, one of our greatest challenges is to help the broader population in the state understand what makes WGU Tennessee work. Self-paced, competency-based education makes a lot of sense, but it is still not widely understood. I look forward to the day when the WGU model is widely understood and supported, and prospective students are drawn in greater numbers to our school. The fact that we are also a cost-effective solution is a bonus.

Q: What do you consider to be WGU Tennessee’s greatest achievement over the past ten years?

I think our continued growth and our more than 10,000 graduates are WGU Tennessee’s biggest achievement. I have firsthand experience with the many colleagues I referred to WGU – individuals whose lives have been forever changed by the experience of completing their degree while continuing to work and excel at HCA.

Q: What do you think the future has in store for WGU Tennessee?

When I look at how WGU has grown nationally to over 330,000 graduates with significant numbers of those happening in the last three-to-five years, I have to believe we are on the precipice of tremendous growth here in Tennessee. It feels like all the stars are aligned. We have the right model at the right price at a time when the demand for talent is at an all-time high.

Q: Is there anything else you think people should know about WGU Tennessee?

WGU Tennessee is led by people who follow the principle of “student first” in all they do. It shows up in every interaction they have with community leaders, company representatives, faculty, and most importantly, with our students. I am proud to partner with such a compelling organization.


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