Aiming for a Higher Degree

Khaleel Desaque fulfilled a special promise on October 29 in Shippensburg University’s Old Main Chapel. About ten years ago, he promised his grandmother that he’d earn his doctorate, and this fall, he defended his dissertation for a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. “My grandmother aspired to be a teacher and was denied the ability,” he said. “It was my calling and her dream.”

In October, Khaleel Desaque defended his dissertation, having completed his Doctorate in Educational Leadership. He said strong support from the university and his family helped him to complete the program.

In October, Khaleel Desaque defended his dissertation, having completed his Doctorate in Educational Leadership. He said strong support from the university and his family helped him to complete the program.

Defending his dissertation was significant personally and professionally. Desaque also completed his EdD to set an example. When he entered the program, he worked as a principal in Baltimore. Each year, he met with teachers and encouraged them to set goals and return to school to further their education. “I was feeling hypocritical. I encouraged others and was not getting my terminal degree. …It’s made me a better educator and a better educational leader.” 

Defending his dissertation also was significant to Shippensburg University. Desaque is a member of the first cohort in Ship’s first doctoral program, which was approved by the State System in 2015. Jolinda Wilson earned the very first doctorate from Shippensburg this past February. Now, the program has six cohorts running.

“The dissertations are exciting for us and for them, too,” said Dr. Jerry Fowler, director of the program. “We have eight or nine dissertations this semester. Our students now have models, a network, and fellow students who they can call and ask questions to.”

And it won’t be long before Ship’s Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision yields similar results. The university’s second doctoral program earned approval in 2016, and a dozen students make up its first cohort.

“Having the doctorate is huge,” said Dr. Ford Brooks, director of the Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision. “This is an undergraduate institution. Having this program elevates it and brings about notoriety.”

Introducing doctoral programs at Ship is impacting faculty, students, and the community. Dr. Nicole Hill, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, said these two programs have invigorated the college. “It adds a layer of complexity to our work. Having experience with doctoral students expands and adds a richness to the level of education at Shippensburg University. 

Dr. Jerry Fowler, director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership, teaches students at the Dixon Center in Harrisburg.

Dr. Jerry Fowler, director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership, teaches students at the Dixon Center in Harrisburg.

Designing a Doctorate

Developing doctoral programs at Ship is not a new concept. Brooks came to Shippensburg in 1997 and said counseling faculty has discussed it at least that long. But it wasn’t until the state lifted a moratorium on Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education offering doctoral programs that Shippensburg could pursue the option.

Fowler spent about two years developing the Doctor of Educational Leadership in partnership with Millersville University. Shippensburg already offered the Superintendent Eligibility Program for people seeking executive leadership positions in public education. Fowler said when the opportunity arose to pursue a doctoral program, they jumped at the chance.

“We were concerned that if we didn’t move forward, another institution would develop an EdD with superintendent eligibility, and we’d lose people,” he said. The question was how to stand out among existing programs in Pennsylvania. So, Shippensburg and Millersville introduced specific themes to their program.

“We were looking to become a niche program with two themes—poverty and technology. Each dissertation must involve one, the other, or both.”

Turned out, that was a great direction, as it drew a lot of interest and appealed to the state. Fowler said they also purposefully crafted the program in partnership with Millersville to collaborate with a sister university and pool resources. The program runs out of the Dixon Center in Harrisburg, providing a somewhat central location for students. Millersville faculty teach the foundation courses, while Shippensburg handles the letter of eligibility, then students move onto their research proposals.

“It’s a reputable program that brings Shippensburg and Millersville together, both of which have strong professors in the field,” Desaque noted.

Fowler said it was a challenge to design the university’s first doctoral program. “It’s like the old adage that you’re building the plane while flying it. We’ve responded to a lot of feedback to see what we can improve for them and for us.”

The Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision launched right around the time that Hill accepted the position as dean of the college. She said that having the doctoral programs is “powerful, because it’s so grounded in who we are as a college. We really prepare leaders in spheres of influence.”

The counseling program trains professionals to direct programs, enhances their understanding of clinical supervision, and provides the opportunity to teach counselor education, Brooks said. Many students in the current cohort received their master’s degrees from the program at Ship, spent a few years in the field, and returned to expand their options.

That’s exactly what led Karen Capone-Miller back to Shippensburg. “I was feeling somewhat stagnant in my career and was in need of some newfound inspiration,” she said. “I did my graduate work in counseling at Shippensburg. The faculty was a huge motivator, as I knew how high the quality of the education would be. This degree provides me with a lot of flexibility in terms of where I would like to take my career next.”

Marcelle Giovannetti began adjuncting in counselor education programs after earning her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. She had a variety of clinical experiences to pull from in the classroom, but never had formal education on how to teach. “After adjuncting for a few semesters, I discovered that I love teaching and supervising counseling students. I also see being a counselor educator as a way to give back to the profession and further my contributions to the field.”  

Jolinda Wilson (center), the first doctoral student to defend her dissertation at Shippensburg University, with Barbara Lyman (left), provost and executive vice president, and President Laurie Carter in February.

Jolinda Wilson (center), the first doctoral student to defend her dissertation at Shippensburg University, with Barbara Lyman (left), provost and executive vice president, and President Laurie Carter in February.

Establishing Experts

The doctoral programs are developing experts in the fields on campus and off. “When our students finish this process, it’s not just a degree,” Fowler said, “you are leaving as an expert in a particular area.” 

Both doctoral programs confer EdDs, which traditionally are more hands-on and less research oriented. However, Brooks notes that they do the research regardless. Fowler said these applied doctorates build scholar practitioners.

Desaque said the doctorate in educational leadership taught him to properly conduct research that enhanced his work and added quality to his work at a more holistic level. The niche program fit his educational background perfectly. “The poverty theme I was very familiar with—I’ve worked it, I’ve lived it. The technology was a bit of a learning curve, but it all came together.”

In October, Desaque defended his dissertation titled “An Analysis of the Impact of the Community School Strategy on the Reading and Mathematics Student Achievement of Elementary School Students in a High Poverty School District.” His research focused on the Community School Strategy as a reemerging way to meet the needs and improve academic achievement of students in high-poverty public school districts. “This is a passion of mine.”

Desaque is now director of the Office of School Improvement for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. He said the doctorate gives a new level of credibility to his work, and he knows he can count on Fowler whenever he needs to. “That’s huge, and not just as faculty, but as a professional.” 

In turn, Fowler already has referred peers to Desaque and his research. “We refer people to our students as experts.”

The doctoral programs also have elevated the expertise of faculty at Ship. For the Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision, Brooks said all faculty teach at least one class. “The faculty have to step up their game in another way. All the courses are new,” he said. “This is new territory, and all of us are teaching. It’s huge—there’s some status to it.”

Hill said it’s powerful how quickly Shippensburg moved meaningfully into the doctoral area, and she credits the faculty for their dedication. By supporting and encouraging work at the doctoral level, she said that knowledge and expertise trickles down and integrates into the undergraduate and graduate experiences. “We’re in a space where the faculty is challenged and growing. It’s different now how we engage with our graduate and undergraduate students.”

Meeting Students Where They Are 

Designing a convenient format for both programs was key. Fowler and Brooks knew that courses had to be offered in a way that allowed students to balance work, family, and other responsibilities. 

Both are offered with a hybrid format, requiring some classwork in person, and other courses online. The face-to-face classes are held all day on Saturdays. Of their current twelve-person cohort, Brooks said all are women, all work full time, and a third of them have children. Capone-Miller said the Saturday format is ideal. “I have a small child at home. My husband and son get a day together, while I get some time away.”

Desaque said the class schedule was perfect for his situation. “I lived in York but commuted to Baltimore. The weekend format face-to-face with the online format fit my lifestyle perfectly. It was intense, but I was able to get the work done and didn’t have to physically be in the classroom during the week.”

Students also found support and camaraderie through the programs’ cohorts. “That was one of the best surprises,” Capone-Miller said. We have become so close and find such support in each other. It makes working, going to school, and caring for a household so much more manageable.”

Giovannetti said she learned a lot from her peers in the cohort. “There is a strong sense of cohesion, vulnerability, and trust that we share. We even named ourselves the ‘doctribe,’ and I very much feel the support of this ‘tribe’ of inspirational women.” 

The two programs have been so well received that Fowler and Hill said they are in the early stages of developing a second doctorate in education focused on instructional leadership. “It’s a critical area for people who want to be master school teachers,” Hill said. “It’s something needed and desired.”

Fowler has spent forty-eight years in education and is preparing to retire.  “I can’t think of a better way to have finished out my educational career than to work with about thirteen students on their research. It’s been exciting. It’s a change in conversation and culture in education in terms of how to proceed in the future.”

Hill recognizes the work faculty has done to move into the doctoral area and is thrilled to continue to support their efforts. “I appreciate the faculty leadership and vision,” she said. “We’re having a positive impact on the Commonwealth.”