Meet Dr. Rick Oliver, Founder and CEO

Meet Dr. Rick Oliver, Founder and CEO

This is part six of 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 think the founder of American Sentinel University doesn’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes, think again. Before Rick Oliver could put Ph.D. behind his name, he and his wife spent 15 years “in crazy mode” raising kids, working and going to school. 

The crazy years

“I was working during the day, going to classes at night. My wife was working nights and taking classes during the day. The kids were in daycare. We were motivated. We had good neighbors and good support from people who knew what we were trying to achieve,” said Dr. Oliver. As soon as he finished his Ph.D., his wife went back to get her MSN. “It was years and years after I finished my Ph.D. that I could relax on a Sunday evening without worrying that I might have a paper due the next day.” The one thing the Olivers never had to do was explain the value of an education to their children. “They learned by observing.”

Tips for success

Dr. Oliver, who is on his third career, is quick to point out that the world is always changing. “My advice is to stay as flexible as possible, and always have a Plan B. This is why it’s important to take courses that are outside your comfort zone. Look for opportunities to stretch and broaden your knowledge. Stay open and don’t be afraid to try something challenging.” 

Guiding principle

Dr. Oliver has had several ‘aha moments’ along the way, including the continual recognition that without online education so many people wouldn’t have the opportunity to get an education. “That’s why we put the students first. Every decision we make impacts a student’s life in some way. If we focus on satisfying the students, then everything else will work out.” 

Just for fun

The Oliver brothers’ (Rick and Bill) “old-timer” hockey card.

Dr. Oliver’s number one favorite pastime is being a grandfather to his three grandsons, whether it’s tossing footballs and baseballs, or helping them with their homework. In his spare time, he devours history and has even written a book about WWII. “I’ve been a big collector of Winston Churchill books all of my life. In fact, I’ll be donating my collection the new museum library at George Washington University in Washington DC.” Dr. Oliver is also a lifelong lover of hockey. “I play with a group of guys in what we call the ‘old timer’ league. My team’s name is the Sentinels. “I’ve always enjoyed playing and it keeps me active.”

Love a nurse

While not a nurse himself, Dr. Oliver has strong ties to the profession, not the least of which is marital. His wife of 46 years is a nurse and holds an MSN from Vanderbilt University. “I have the greatest admiration for nurses. They are always learning because things are always changing. There are clinical changes, economic changes, legal changes and technological changes. Nurses are special people because they are so devoted to their patients.” 

Starting American Sentinel University

Dr. Oliver on his recent trip to India to speak on the importance of public health and education.

In the early 1990s when the Internet was very new, Dr. Oliver was teaching at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University when he was asked to research the impact of technology on education. Oliver, who had earned his Ph.D. in Informatics back in the 1980s, was the right guy for the job. He came back with a proposal to start an online university. Vanderbilt University gave the green light, but felt the name should be the American Graduate School of Management. With the purchase of an online school in Birmingham, Alabama, the name changed to American Sentinel University.

Before American Sentinel

While at Vanderbilt, Dr. Oliver received the Outstanding Professor Award and a Dean’s Teaching Award. For several years, he served as a visiting professor of management at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Prior to his academic career, Dr. Oliver had a 20-year career at Nortel Networks, where he was vice president of marketing, and he also worked for DuPont Co. Dr. Oliver is the author of seven books and more than 50 book chapters and journal articles about management, technology and education, and has lectured around the world on these topics.

He is a member of Advisory Board of the International Journal on Innovations in Online Education, also currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Online School for Girls, Washington, DC., and Life Skills and Livelihood Skills, Hyderabad India. Earlier he served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Services Marketing and the Journal of Strategic Management Education. Dr. Oliver has served on seven corporate boards and was chairman of the board of directors of Symmetricom, a high-tech Silicon Valley telecommunications company, from 1997 to 2004.

Dr. Oliver holds a Ph.D. in Informatics from the State University of New York, a Master of Arts in Communications from the University of Delaware and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Cornell University.

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