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Two Staff Members Among First Group to Earn CSU Doctorates

Published: July 15, 2010

The first cohort of CSULB students to earn an Ed.D. in Education Leadership in the campus’ history graduated in May during the College of Education commencement.

Included among the 13 graduates were staff members Dave Edwards, Associated Students Inc. (ASI) associate executive director/director of the University Student Union (USU); and Marshall Thomas, associate director of the Learning Assistance Center.

“We are most excited for these students. A doctoral degree is a major achievement requiring not only significant academic work, but also sacrifices in terms of life outside work and school,” said Anna Ortiz, co-director of the Ed.D. program. “Seeing them grow into confident, knowledgeable and capable leaders and scholars has been a constant source of satisfaction for me and the rest of the faculty.”

The three-year doctorate program, designed for working professionals, currently has 98 students in four cohorts working toward their degrees. The students come from local school districts, community colleges, four-year universities and non-profit agencies.

In 2007, CSULB became one of the first campuses in the 23-campus CSU system to offer an Ed.D. in educational leadership. The program represents a major achievement and advancement in the history of higher education in California and addresses the demand for qualified educational leaders for P-12 school districts and community colleges.

“It’s exciting to receive this doctorate,” said Edwards, who was the first to finish the program in the entire CSU. When asked about that, he said that a lot had been made of it, but he didn’t think it was such a big deal. He added that he wouldn’t have been able to complete the program without the support of the faculty and especially the support of his fellow cohort members. He received his B.S. from the University of Evansville, Ind., and his M.S. from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. Edwards joined the university in 2004 after a career in student affairs that took him to Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina as well as four years at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His Ed.D. dissertation, which he defended in December, was titled “Successful California State University Presidents: A Case Study on How Well their Professional Qualities Mirror Job Descriptions.”

Edwards’ decision to join CSULB was part of a lifelong dream of living in Southern California.

“When I stepped on campus, I had the same reaction you’ve heard a hundred times – there was that feeling on campus of one big family. Everyone was supportive,” he said. “But what really sold me on CSULB was that on Day One on the job I was in the office unpacking when the then-University President Robert Maxson greeted me personally.”

His responsibilities with ASI and the USU include overseeing of operations, programs and services for the USU, the new Student Recreation and Wellness Center, the Recycling Center, and the Soroptimist House.

There were growing pains with the new Ed.D. program.

“As one might expect, the program has grown and improved and is much, much better on its last day than it was on Day One, which is a credit to the leadership of the Ed.D. program,” Edwards recalled. “Not only were there great faculty members and staff but a great program coordinator in Heidi Gilligan. We started as nervous newcomers at orientation and some of us ended up as lifelong friends. It was a great educational experience.”

Edwards applauded the practical, hands-on aspect of the program.

“In our classes and group projects, students and faculty offered real-world examples and not theoretical concepts. Courses were even taught by university and college presidents, including one course taught by Dr. F. King Alexander,” he said. “We got to hear how things really work. We learned from real-world, practical experience. That informed our definition of leadership.”

Thomas felt a real sense of accomplishment upon the completion of his doctorate.

“I feel relaxed at this point,” he said. “For the first time in years, I was able to spend a weekend with family and friends without worrying about writing and editing. It feels good.”

Thomas said that beyond the knowledge he gained in the program, it was the people in the cohort that were the most important part of his experience. Program participants came from all over including such cohort members as John Scaringe, president at the Southern California University of Health Sciences and Michelle Fino, a public health nutritionist for the City of Long Beach.

“They were really amazing people,” he said. “It was great spending three years with those folks. Those connections were just as important to me as anything else.”

Thomas loved the fact the program was on campus. “I loved the fact that it was the first doctorate program to be run independently by the CSU,” he said. “I loved the fact it was a cohort model. There are those who join other doctoral programs that do not operate on the cohort model and they reach the point of writing their dissertation only to find themselves on their own. I wanted to be with people who had the same goal. It turned out that was the most important part.” Thomas received all his degrees from CSULB including his bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies in 2000 and his master’s degree in Linguistics with an emphasis on teaching English as a second language in 2006.

He began his professional association with the university in 2000 as a volunteer English as a Second Language tutor in the Learning Assistance Center. A decade later as associate director, he supervises the center’s tutoring programs and student personnel. He also lectures in the English Department and the American Language Institute.

“I created a program to help veterans for my dissertation project,” he said. To do so, he formed connections with the university’s Veterans Services Office, and Counseling and Psychological Services. The product is the VET NET Ally Program, which educates staff and faculty about CSULB’s student veterans and creates a network of allies who have served in the military.

One of the doctorate program’s biggest strengths to Thomas was its newness.

“There was an emphasis on getting people through the program and making sure everyone was successful,” he said. “I was a Marine and one thing we were taught is that you always wanted to avoid being caught on the skyline. That’s how you become a target. But in this program, being on the skyline meant everyone was watching to see how successful we would be. It’s not a program where people compete with each other. It is a program where people work with each other.”

Both Thomas and Edwards encourage other staff and faculty members to participate in the program.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of staff members who considered the program and I ask them to think about the pros, the cons and what they need to be concerned about,” Thomas said. “But what I ask them to think about the most is the potential to branch out to other campus staffers. Being a student, faculty and staff member at the same time helped me to create a web of campus connections during my three years in the program. I made more connections in those three years than I did during the seven years before joining the program.”

“If this small-town kid from Indiana can do it, anyone can,” said Edwards. “This program, more than any other, is designed to make sure students succeed. Because it’s new, the faculty and staff have a vested interest in showing the legislators who approved the program that they are successful in turning out graduates. They want students to succeed. Other programs are there to weed out people. This is much more supportive. It is a great program, especially for faculty and staff who are working on campus.”