This is part eight in a nine-part series profiling American Sentinel University’s leadership team. Check back each Monday to learn more about the strong leadership that guides American Sentinel and gather their tips for success in healthcare and in education.
If you had met Jeff Caplan back in 1998, you may not have seen it coming. He was a seasoned executive at DuPont with 15 years of experience, backed by an MBA from Vanderbilt University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from Rutgers University. It doesn’t really get more traditional than that. But if you knew Jeff in high school, what happened next would have been no surprise at all.
Keep your eye on the prize
Jeff always planned on going to college, but didn’t want to burden his parents with the expense. Upon starting 9th grade, Jeff found a busboy job in a new Chinese Restaurant. As each busboy eventually quit, Jeff asked the owner for more responsibility instead of hiring replacements, to earn more tip money. After eighteen months at The Great Wall, Jeff ‘earned’ a job at the local supermarket. He had his eyes on a supermarket job for some time, but it took persistence to get hired. “To this day, I don’t know if the store manager hired me because he needed me, or to stop me from asking for a job every other week.” He spent three years working 20-30 hours per week in the produce department and learned many valuable life skills, including how to select perfect exotic produce. Jeff successfully funded his college education completely on his own. “At times I wish my kids could have paid for their college education, because the satisfaction from doing it by myself was life-changing and indescribable.”
When business meets science
Jeff’s entrepreneurial instincts were sparked at an early age. By the time he was in high school, Jeff was President of his first company within the Junior Achievement program. His company sold stock (at $1 per share), elected officers, and created a business plan, in addition to manufacturing and selling its products. He earned an award trip to Nassau, Bahamas that year, which was gratifying. Four years later, he was hired right out of college by DuPont, where he started out in functional roles like R&D, manufacturing, quality control, marketing and sales, and finance. Before long, he took on leadership roles in a number of small to medium DuPont businesses to fix, turn-around, grow or sell. The businesses were in diverse industries including medical device sterile packaging, medical gowns and drapes, electronic materials, residential construction and hi-tech outdoor apparel.
Back to school
At 33, Jeff decided to earn his MBA. He chose a two-year executive program at Vanderbilt University so he could learn from classmates, and balance a wife, two young kids and a stressful job. It was a full-time program with five courses per semester. Courses were taught in a traditional classroom every other Friday and Saturday. “Going to classes was the easy part. It was the 12-day sprint in between that was hard,” Jeff recalls. “After a full day at the office, I’d have dinner with the family, bathe the kids, read to them, sometimes dozing off myself mid-story, and then put them to bed. After a 30-minute nap, I’d study from 9:00 p.m. until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.” Jeff added, “I was thirsty for new sophisticated business approaches to propel my business leadership abilities. I graduated as valedictorian, but that was not the goal.”
Would those years have been easier in an online learning environment? “Yes, to a certain extent; but there is definitely value in multiple modes of engagement,” Jeff replied. “In a traditional classroom, the communication is largely one directional: a professor lectures, students listen. Tomorrow’s online students will be able to read and watch content, share with other students, engage in virtual environments or educational games, and chat with their professors.” But this robust learning platform did not exist when Jeff was earning his MBA, and is still evolving today.
Enter the Internet
By the late 1990s, it was clear the Internet was changing everything. Jeff grew impatient with a traditional corporation like DuPont. He didn’t want to read about exciting, fast-growing companies in the Wall Street Journal any longer. He wanted to work at one of these cutting-edge organizations he read about in the news – he wanted to be making the headlines, not just reading them. The world was moving at the speed of light and Jeff didn’t want to get left behind. In 2000, he saw an opportunity to join an early-stage online healthcare technology start-up, and away he went.
Jeff has always worked at the corner of business and science. Several of the businesses he managed at DuPont were involved in healthcare. He had considerable experience in the medical device industry, sterile packaging, and collaborating with nurses. While it may have seemed like a big leap of faith to some, Jeff was confident, comfortable, and ready to work on the leading edge of healthcare.
By 2007, Jeff joined American Sentinel University, and earlier this year he launched Healthcare Learning Innovations as President, providing uniquely interactive healthcare training, virtual simulations, and innovative learning tools. What Jeff enjoys most is forging a path in a changing environment that will make a difference in people’s lives.
“The fundamental models and delivery of both education and healthcare are undergoing tremendous change at unprecedented rates. It’s hard to resist participating at the intersection of these sectors impacting so many people’s lives and careers. The educational innovations that are gaining momentum include interactive games as learning tools, two-dimensional and three-dimensional educational environments, and even artificially intelligent assistants or ‘bots’.” The Healthcare Learning Innovations team is having fun building exciting learning tools, online courses and truly engaging training.
What the future holds
As for what’s next, Jeff is also looking to competency-based programs versus a more traditional course-based curriculum. “Why should someone have to sit through courses they don’t need or have already mastered, when we can assess their competency gaps and simply address those needs?” Jeff explained. He points to American Sentinel’s 100% project-based MBA Healthcare as an example where projects that demonstrate competence have replaced what is traditionally a course-driven curriculum.
When it comes to having fun, Jeff enjoys time with his family, staying active, listening to music, watching sports, and spending time with his dog, Jessie. When asked of his dog’s breed, Jeff often replies “lucky – lucky to live in this household.” He admits to following too many sports teams. And when it comes to music, he enjoys everything from Foo Fighters and Zac Brown Band to Bruce Springsteen and Martina McBride. Living in Nashville makes it easy to follow and listen to music. As it turns out, Jeff Caplan is a pretty lucky guy.