It’s been more than 30 years since alumna Nikki McQueen ’88 graduated with her Associate degree in Advertising and Photography from Endicott College, and—much to her own surprise—she’s just returned to earn her bachelor’s degree.
An accomplished professional, McQueen spent most of her career in sales and marketing for Fortune 500 companies and enjoyed nearly 10 years as the Vice President of the largest family-owned funeral company in the state of Florida. The company was founded in 1952 by her father in-law and his business partner, later inherited by her husband John and his two siblings in 1987, and purchased by Nikki and John in 2010. Throughout their careers, and as owners of a very successful business, the McQueens developed an immense passion for customer service. Upon selling the company in 2017, they decided to put their thoughts to paper and published a book, Lessons from the Dead: Breathing Life into Customer Service, which draws from their 60-plus years of combined experience leading teams and considerately serving customers.
This past winter, Endicott held an alumni event in Florida, and McQueen was in attendance. She says, “It was there that I had the pleasure of meeting [Vice President of Institutional Advancement] David Vigneron. We struck up a nice conversation and he updated me on all the changes that have occurred at Endicott since my graduation.” Vigneron returned to Florida a few weeks later, and set up a meeting with McQueen. She and her husband had expected to receive an invitation to donate to the College, but when Vigneron asked her, “Nikki, have you ever thought about returning to college for your bachelor’s degree?” she was stunned. The simple answer was no—she hadn’t. “David explained the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program to me—what intrigued me the most was the opportunity to earn college credit for my past work experience.” McQueen took the following few weeks to consider this new venture, and she decided to enroll. She is currently working towards her Bachelor of Science in Business Management—and loving the experience.
“Nikki is a seasoned professional with years of workplace learning and dynamic life learning who just happened to not have a bachelor degree,” says Assistant Dean, Prior Learning Assessment, Dr. Enid Larsen. “During the reflection process in Prior Learning Assessment, she realized how much more she had accomplished that she had even realized. PLA not only gave her a credential to get past application gatekeepers for her new ambitions, but it also gave her a renewed sense of value and meaning to her successful career history.”
McQueen tells us more about her journey below.
What was the PLA experience like for you?
The PLA experience is great. I highly recommend Endicott’s program to anyone who is considering returning to college to finish their degree. My academic advisor, [Director of Van Loan Undergraduate Programs] Dr. Maureen Znoj, as well as my PLA advisor, Dr. Enid Larsen, are wonderful. They really make registering for classes a breeze and are always there to answer any questions. Both are encouraging and never make you feel as if your questions may be foolish.
How has this process inspired and changed your perspective, professionally, academically, and personally?
This process has been challenging at times but also extremely rewarding. I am getting to learn about the theories that connect back to the practices I have been using for years in my career; it is interesting to see how they connect. I have just submitted my PLA portfolio for review and consideration.
I have always been an individual that would find a way to make things work. I am not afraid to learn or to find new ways to do my job. Since I began this process I have gone online and performed a few job searches—I noticed that every job I am qualified for has a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree. Although I have the actual work experience, I would not get past the gatekeeper. I still have much to offer—who knows what I may decide to pursue once I have my degree, but I do know this degree will open many more doors for me.
Do you have advice for other working professionals thinking about going back to school?
Just do it! Endicott’s program and faculty will work to make this a success for you. I have always told my kids that when you come across a situation that seems impossible just remember that “the front door may be locked, but the back door’s open.” There’s always a way! You just have to find it. For working professionals trying to balance a career, family and find time for school…well not only does Endicott have the door open for you, the welcome mat is out!
Please tell us how you came to write your book—when was it that you started, where did the idea come from, what did the process look like?
Customer service has always been our hot button and we found it discouraging that so many companies overlook this important aspect of business. Once we sold our company, we decided it was time to sit down and write it. When you think about our profession—funeral service—it is not a business that people typically want to frequent. If we could find a way to make our business, a business people prefer to avoid, an overall pleasant experience for our customers, any business would prosper with the principles we’ve taught our own team.
Do you have advice for anyone looking to write a book? Or for people with business plans who are trying to launch a company?
The publishing world has changed over the years and many authors self-publish these days. When it comes to writing your book—start typing! Start typing your thoughts and let them flow. You can go back and edit later. Also, don’t try to finish it all in one big chunk—we would work on our book and then we would take a break from it. In regards to starting a company, we believe it comes down to the Four P’s—Purpose, Plan, Passion, and Persistence. It is important to have a clear understanding of the purpose for your company, as it will be your filter going forward. Develop your plan, as it will be your GPS to success. Serve your customers with passion. Be persistent, there will be times when you stumble, but keep pushing forward—too often people quit just before finding success.
Learn more about success stories like this, and explore our adult learning programs. Lessons from the Dead: Breathing Life into Customer Service is available on Amazon or direct from lessonsfromthedead.com.