As the first woman in the Texas Air National Guard to become a one-star general, Dawn Ferrell ('02 Ph.D.) says her mission is clear -- help others and make her country proud. Her 32-year military career has included overseeing logistics for 35,000 U.S. and NATO troops leaving Afghanistan and guiding forces in search, recovery and humanitarian efforts during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"Serving in the Air Guard and leading the airmen who serve is an honor for me," she says. "Our personnel are the brightest and hardest-working people I have ever known. Their dedication motivates me."
Ferrell's training, education and leadership roles prepared her to serve in her latest rank of brigadier general, a title she earned in 2015. Following her promotion, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed her as the Texas military department's deputy adjutant general for air, conducting the swearing-in ceremony in January in the Senate Chambers of the Texas Capitol.
As principal advisor to the adjutant general of Texas, Ferrell oversees planning and administration for the largest operational units of the Texas Air National Guard -- the 136th Airlift Wing in Fort Worth, the 147th Reconnaissance Wing in Houston and the 149th Fighter Wing in San Antonio.
A native of Wichita Falls, she enlisted in the Guard at 17.
"My father was retired from the Air Force, so I always knew I wanted to be involved in the military," she says. "I also wanted to go to college and enlisting in the Texas Air National Guard allowed me to do both."
Early in her career, she split her time working in the Guard part time and earning a bachelor's and master's degree in counseling from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. She also took on a civilian career as a counselor at Vernon College while completing her master's.
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"Once I started working as a counselor, I knew I wanted to do more in the higher education realm," she says. "So I began my doctoral studies at UNT."
While earning a doctorate in applied technology, training and development (now applied technology and performance improvement), Ferrell remained a full-time employee at Vernon College and a part-time member of the Guard. UNT's emphasis on development for working professionals allowed her to take evening and weekend courses at UNT in Denton and at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls.
"My advanced degrees were crucial to obtaining the positions I wanted in my civilian career," says Ferrell, who was employed by Vernon for 12 years, eventually serving as the college's director of institutional research and accreditation liaison. She also taught entry-level political science courses as an adjunct instructor.
At UNT, she gained invaluable advice from her professors, who were always encouraging, she says. Her faculty thesis committee members -- Michelle Walker, Jeff Allen, Milan Reban and Jerry Wircenski -- helped her to identify qualities of success she's found useful.
"Education, professional development, perseverance and commitment are all things I needed to succeed at UNT, and in life," she says. "UNT's program helped me achieve my civilian career goals and be a better airman. Nobody ever gets where they are in life on their own."