It takes all of a five-minute conversation with Ronnie Coppedge to feel like he’s an old friend rather than a stranger.
Coppedge, a native Oklahoman, is friendly, funny and personable. Listening to his Southern accent is like relaxing in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly night.
At age 60, Coppedge isn’t slowing down.
Coppedge is set to graduate with a 4.0 from his online MBA in Management program in December 2016.
“I was invited into the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society, and my professors say it’s a really prestigious honor. Not too bad for a 60-year-old.”
He’ll be attending the December 10 graduation ceremony in Durant with bells on.
Teacher and Student
These days, Coppedge is the director of media center operations at Murray State College in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. He is also an adjunct business instructor.
“They call it M.I.T. — Murray in Tishomingo,” he said.
The Business Department Chair at MSC, Kathy Bowen, asked Coppedge to teach the entrepreneurship course because of his 20-plus years’ experience as a self-employed businessman. And he’s about to be even more qualified.
“There are some new Higher Learning Commission regulations that require a minimum 18 hours of graduate school in the discipline you’re going to teach,” he said. “Since I am teaching business classes, earning my MBA was a good move for me, although I didn’t know that two-and-a-half years ago when I enrolled.
“I was raised on one of the largest peanut farms in the state of Oklahoma,” Coppedge said. “It was all irrigated, and we worked in the summertime from when we could until when we couldn’t. Our dad did not want us to miss school, so we came to the conclusion being dedicated students and earning good grades meant we didn’t have to work in the peanut field. I figured that out real quick.”
Coppedge earned his Bachelor of Science in Industry Business from East Central University, in Ada, Okla., in 1985. After graduating, he took the LSAT and was accepted into several law schools, including Princeton, but decided to go a different route.
He was one of the first male directory assistance operators in Oklahoma, worked in the Oklahoma and Texas Oilfields as a welding contractor and worked as a technical illustrator with the U.S. Postal Service.
While employed by the U.S. Postal Service, he and his family lived in Norman, Okla. Coppedge and his wife Lanette quickly learned that raising their two children in a larger city such as Norman wasn’t for them. They moved to Tishomingo in January, 1989 and started BuiltRight Compressors, a Freon Compressor business. With little startup capital, absolutely no experience, a huge desire to succeed, and strong work ethic, the company thrived for over 20 years.
After closing the business, Coppedge signed on at Murray State as a graphic arts instructor. When that program ended, he briefly returned to the compressor business, but eventually found his way back to MIT, where his education, skill and willingness to help makes a difference daily.
“I’ve always been sort of a Michelangelo artsy type,” Coppedge said. “All my life, I’ve been a sketcher who likes to draw and paint with oils. If I can see something, I can draw it. It’s always come easy to me.”
Back to School
Coppedge decided to go back and earn his MBA even before he was teaching the entrepreneurship course.
“Two-and-a-half years ago, my wife and I were sitting around talking about what’s on our bucket list,” Coppedge said. “I always wanted to get my MBA. School has never been that difficult for me; I enjoyed learning. I talked to Southeastern and started putting together my letters of recommendation. It had been a long time, but Southeastern welcomed me into the program.”
Speaking of a long time, Coppedge and his wife, Lanette, have been married for 43 years — so long that “we’re starting to look like each other.”
Not surprisingly, she was the driving force behind Coppedge earning his online degree with such distinction.
“When I got down, especially in the beginning, she just said, ‘Look, you can do this. You can do this,” Coppedge said. “And if it hadn’t been for her, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”
The couple also did not have to go into debt to foot the bill.
“We paid everything right out of our own pocket — the books and the tuition,” Coppedge said. “We don’t owe anybody anything. It just challenged me. The more I got, the more I wanted.”
The professors and leadership in the business department at SOSU were another reason Coppedge had so much success.
“Dr. Martin Bressler really inspired me to write business plans,” Coppedge said. “That was really, really good. And Mr. Robert Howard was my adviser through all of this. We became very close friends.”
Over the course of the last 30 months, Coppedge especially enjoyed a couple of courses.
“The first one was Data Analysis for Managers (BUS 5253) with Dr. Robert Stevens,” he said. “It really challenged me to get my study habits up to the place they needed to be. All of them — Dr. [C.W.] Von Bergen challenged me by saying, ‘There won’t be many A’s in this class.’ That got me really fired up. That was Behavioral Management (MNGT 5223). I got an A in that one. I really liked his style. He was very, very tough, but he was very, very fair.”
And Coppedge found every course challenging.
“I never did have a basket weaving class,” he said.
Coppedge believes anybody considering an online degree should be prepared for plenty of self-motivation.
“Just be diligent and disciplined,” he said. “That’s what you’ve got to do. It’s online, so if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. You’ve got to have a significant other or loved one in your life who will get behind you and push you. And you’ve got to have the right instructors. At Southeastern, I never had a bad instructor. Not one.”
One Last Piece of Advice
Coppedge said not all his family and friends got behind him when he decided to go back to school after nearly 30 years.
“At first they just thought I was nuts,” he said. “Now that it’s finished they’re saying things like, ‘I really wish I could do that.’”
“I tell them it’s never too late — you’re never too old to learn something new.”
In the field of life and career, Coppedge walks the talk by encouraging and teaching others. He brings to the office, the classroom and his community a winning personality mixed with successful life experiences and an astounding base of knowledge. He is indeed a Renaissance man who serves his campus and community as a grand master of lifelong learning.
Learn more about the SOSU online MBA in Management program.