CLINTON, Iowa, March 14, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- South Dakota's first secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a global Fortune 100 company's top executive, and a Colorado chief of police have something in common – all three turned to Ashford University's 21st century online education model to advance their careers and become leaders in their fields. (Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20120802/AQ50928-INFO-g) (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130228/LA68969LOGO) The online model allows students to enhance their education with accessibility and flexibility. Ashford University uses innovative technology to provide online degree programs, with the mission of developing foundational leadership values, such as self-worth, creativity, interdependence, service, integrity and effectiveness. The mission resonated with Larry Zimmerman, a top enlisted member of the South Dakota National Guard. He became the first official secretary of the state's new Department of Veterans Affairs on Jan. 9, 2013, just two days after completing his bachelor's degree in business and organizational management from Ashford University and, coincidentally, on his 59th birthday. In his new leadership role, Zimmerman oversees more than 100 employees and leads the department responsible for ensuring South Dakota's 70,000 veterans are receiving the right benefits and opportunities. When asked what led him to pursue higher education after 29 years in the Army National Guard, Zimmerman said he aspired to set an example for his five grandchildren. "I had to show my grandkids the importance of an education," he said. "Considering my extensive travel with the Army National Guard, I wouldn't have been able to get a degree without the accessibility of online education. It worked for me and my career. Recently, I utilized my education to develop a mission statement and write a strategic plan for the new department."