Leap of Faith: Burks Draughon Works Full-Time While Pursuing PhD

As both a PhD student and the director of cost analysis at NC State, it is no secret that Ginger Burks Draughon likes to push herself. After nearly seven years of working for the university, she has simultaneously served as a researcher, student and employee. Each of these roles has equipped her with unique perspectives, making her more understanding and mindful as she and her colleagues work on tasks pertaining to students and faculty. Between working for NC State and being a student here, Burks Draughon loves higher education and strives to make it better.

Before coming to NC State, Burks Draughon worked in the finance division for the UNC System where she handled topics related to the state budget and regularly interacted with staff in the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division and the Governor’s Office of State Budget and Management. She also worked with the UNC president and Board of Governors on financial policy and legal issues impacting the system and its institutions.  Because of her diverse experience and policy expertise, her job responsibilities at NC State often include “other duties as assigned.” Burks Draughon plays a major role in guiding campus units in the establishment of trust funds, and reviewing and approving service rates for charges to federal contracts and grants. She credits her knowledge of how the system functions and the resources it offers to her job at the UNC System.  

“I can get bored in jobs after a while, but I didn’t get bored with my job in the UNC System,” she said. “I had a great opportunity to learn.”

Office of Cost Analysis (from left): Jeannie Chen, Ginger Burks Draughon, Cassandra Campbell

Burks Draughon loves growing in knowledge and expertise, which led to her current pursuit of a PhD at NC State. She started her PhD with the College of Education in 2012, around the time she began working as the director of cost analysis within the Budget and Resource Management division. She’s generally taken one class towards her degree every semester while working full-time. She claims that she’s on the “slow path” to finishing as she hopes to graduate in spring 2020. Although Burks Draughon liked the idea of getting her PhD in educational research and policy analysis, it was a major decision for her to return to school after 14 years in the workforce while simultaneously raising her family.  

“I always thought about a PhD but then took a leap of faith after taking a few classes at State as a non-degree student,” she said. “I even had to retake the GRE in order to pursue it.”

Her risk and efforts definitely paid off. Juggling two specific roles of employee and graduate student created the opportunity for her to better understand student and faculty needs, which is one of her favorite parts of being in graduate school. Even her immersion in research and analysis has proven helpful, motivating her to forge connections between what she’s learning on the job and within the classroom.

Burks Draughon’s research interests often overlap with her job responsibilities. She and a classmate from her higher education finance class recently had their research formally published.  This project piqued her interest in studying how state performance-based funding policies can affect universities’ work with part-time students and influenced her decision to pursue a similar topic for her PhD dissertation. She says that completing research while being a PhD student and NC State employee has affected the way she views policy and decisions that are made in higher education.

“I now see how policy impacts students firsthand… The researcher and practitioner mindsets don’t always meet, but I hope I can float between the two and connect them and impact higher education in the future,” she said.

Barbara Moses, associate vice chancellor for budget and resource management, echoes that Burks Draughon offers a unique perspective that benefits the university as a whole. Between her diverse skill set and knowledge of the UNC System, Moses says that Burks Draughon is an asset to cost analysis at State.

“Ginger brings a wealth of policy expertise to NC State and is a sought-after resource from numerous senior administrators responsible for responding to legislative and System Office inquiries. University administrators welcome her advice and policy insight. She plays a key behind-the-scenes role, working with others across the university to ensure that our institutional reporting, especially accreditation-related reporting, is accurate, proper and fair.”

  As seen through her simultaneous pursuit of her PhD and her career at NC State, Burks Draughon doesn’t shy away from challenges. Regardless of how tough a situation may be, she takes each opportunity to further invest herself in her work, using challenges as a catalyst for learning and growth.  

“We are lucky to have Ginger on staff, she serves our office and the university well,” Moses said.