First Doctoral Students Complete Program
Five PSU graduate students have successfully defended their doctoral dissertations, becoming the first to complete the new Doctor of Education (EdD) in Learning, Leadership and Community.
Cheryl Baker, June Hammond Rowan, Barbara O’Brien, Michele Craig, and Ginger Lever are five of the 11 members of the first class, known as a cohort, accepted into the doctoral program at its inception in July 2009. For these candidates, defending their dissertations was the culminating event of the 60-credit program.
Baker, who is the director of graduate recruitment and outreach at PSU’s College of Graduate Studies, wrote a dissertation entitled, Understanding Lack of Membership in The Rural School Educator Effectiveness Collaborative’s Newly Developed On-line Professional Learning Communities: A Quantitative and Qualitative Study.
Her research found that New Hampshire’s rural educators did not join online professional learning communities because they did not have time and lacked regular, convenient access to the Internet. She also found that while educators were accustomed to using the Internet to find professional resources, they did not know how or where to share information. Baker’s work, which will continue, is tied to a $350,000 State Agency for Higher Education (SAHE) award from the New Hampshire Department of Education to support the collaborative, which was created to provide teacher professional development in areas of math, science and language arts in rural New Hampshire school districts. The collaborative is composed of PSU and other schools throughout the state.
The doctoral program was a good fit for Baker, who cited the academic quality and mix of students in her classes as among its strengths. “I liked the fact that each of the courses challenged our perspectives in different ways, which prepared us for the dissertation and research that lay ahead,” she said. Baker described the dissertation research and writing process as interesting and challenging. “The dissertation is a terrific opportunity to delve deeply into a topic about which you are passionate,” she said. “It’s a stepping stone toward your life’s work.”
Hammond Rowan, who is the interim associate director of PSU’s Center for the Environment, wrote a dissertation entitled, Planning Boards in New Hampshire: What They Do and How They Learn About Planning. Hammond Rowan’s dissertation was a qualitative study that examined the work of planning boards in four New Hampshire towns.
“Having worked as a land use planner in New Hampshire, I was curious about how planning board members learn about planning and PSU’s EdD program provided me with the opportunity to explore this,” Hammond Rowan said. “My research indicates that planning board members primarily learn through the experience of serving on a planning board rather than through formal training. These volunteers give countless hours and make decisions that impact the development of our communities so how they learn about land use planning is important.”
O’Brien, a second-grade teacher at Beaver Meadow School in Concord, wrote the dissertation, Through Our Eyes: What Effect does Participation in an Inclusive Primary Grade Classroom Community have on Typical Students? She conducted surveys and interviews with first- through fifth-graders in her primary classroom to learn how the students viewed inclusion and the classroom community. The students described inclusion and a classroom community as one and the same, she noted. In the words of the students: “If you do not have a classroom community, then you don’t have inclusion,” and “if you have inclusion, then you have a classroom community.” Other themes of O’Brien’s research, also in the students’ words, were that inclusion means learning together, that it is okay to be different and that a classroom community is everyone learning together.
For O’Brien, PSU’s doctoral program fit perfectly into her career plan. “I have always dreamed of being a Doctor of Education,” she said. “My goal is to teach grad and undergrad classes so that I can share my 31 years of experience in primary classrooms with others.”
Michele Craig wrote the dissertation, Citizen Participation, Transportation Corridor Planning and the Intersection with Land Use Planning in New Hampshire Communities: What are the Best Practices? Craig investigated how the New Hampshire Department of Transportation works with regional and local stakeholders to incorporate the values and needs of those citizens surrounding the corridor, with a specific focus on the use of Context Sensitive Solutions. She conducted a mixed methods study, incorporating interviews and surveys with content analysis of documents related to two New Hampshire projects, the Route 16 Corridor Planning project and the I-93 Community Technical Assistance Project.
Ginger Lever’s dissertation was entitled, Perceptions and Experiences of Partners Who Have Engaged with Institutions of Higher Education in New Hampshire. Lever conducted a mixed methods study to understand community stakeholders’ needs, interests and perceptions of the value of engagement activities, such as service learning and engaged scholarship, with institutions of higher education in New Hampshire.
Plymouth State University, as a regional, comprehensive, public university, has a long history of meeting the needs of graduate students and their communities not only in the New England region but also far beyond. “The PSU program has attracted the attention of candidates from around New England and Canada, as well as those who work as international educators in a variety of countries, who have been seeking an exceptional doctoral program that is designed to be accessible to them and to allow them to pursue interests that are important in their workplaces, whether they be in higher education, agencies, or schools,” said Kathleen Norris, program coordinator. “The impact of the program is also felt by regional service providers as they find PSU doctoral students willing and able to provide excellent research services that make a real difference in their work. By integrating research, service and coursework, the program reaches beyond the campus and gives students opportunities to make a difference for others.”
PSU’s doctoral program is designed to support candidates from their first courses through the dissertation. Each admitted candidate becomes part of a small cohort of candidates who follow the same core course schedule. Students engage with this learning community for the eight required doctoral courses, and pursue their own specialization for the remaining requirements. The program can be taken as part of either a summer cohort or a year-round cohort.
Those in the summer cohort take two courses each summer and conduct research, participate in practica or externships, or enroll in courses during the academic year, based on the individual student’s program of study. This option is ideal for candidates who live a distance from Plymouth, including international candidates; for candidates who have limited time during the academic year; and for candidates who wish to pursue other coursework between the summer sessions. Summer cohorts began in July 2010 and will continue to form every two years, including in July 2012.
Those in the year-round cohort take one or two core courses throughout the year in each of the four graduate terms. The year-round cohorts formed in July 2009 and 2011, and will continue to form every two years.