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University System of Maryland Hagerstown

Students in First Cohort of Doctorate in Education Program Earn Degrees

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Seven local educators are graduating with a doctorate in education (Ed.D.). They are part of the first cohort of 14 students enrolled in the University of Maryland’s (UM) doctorate in education leadership and policy studies program offered at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown (USMH).

The program started in 2010 with classwork ending last year. The seven graduates have completed and defended their dissertations. Most of the remaining seven students in the cohort will be finishing by next year, according to Dr. Helene Kalson Cohen, the coordinator of the program for University of Maryland. Those receiving their degrees this year are Kara Burhans, Jeff Gladhill, Donna Hanlin, Boyd Michael, Jana Palmer, Karen Palmer, and Tiffany Tresler.

The program was brought to USMH largely through the efforts of Dr. Elizabeth M. Morgan, former Washington County Public Schools (WCPS) superintendent. “It took multiple efforts, and we worked very hard to bring this program to Hagerstown,” she said. “The fact that this was a growing area with a growing school system, coupled with our efforts to improve the school system to make it world class, highlighted our need for a local doctorate offering. Further, local people had to travel great distances to earn a doctorate, and that’s not true for any other part of the state.”

Throughout the program, students were not required to travel to the College Park campus for classes, as they were all taught at the USMH center. “The location served as a significant factor in my pursuit of this degree,” said Michael. “Given my current job responsibilities and schedule, a local program instructed by College Park professors was the only feasible avenue for pursuing and securing this degree,” he added.  Both Hanlin and Gladhill were considering enrolling in a program at a university that would have required travel. They changed their plans when the local opportunity was announced. The group did have to go to College Park on select dates to meet with their advisors, defend their dissertation proposals and defend their dissertations.

Offered on a closed-site basis, the degree program was open to personnel from school districts in the western Maryland counties: Allegany, Garrett and Washington.  As it turned out, all 14 members of the cohort were WCPS employees, which, the graduates agree, enhanced the experience.  “We knew where we were coming from, so there was less relationship building that had to be done,” said Burhans. “We were familiar with each other so we were less guarded,” added Jana Palmer. Hanlin said, “When we wondered why we were doing this, we could prop each other up.” They all agreed that it helped to have each other to rely on, and, further, nobody wanted to be the first to drop out.

The graduates believe that a program for local educators will benefit the local school system. “The more people who go through the program, the better. What it puts you through in terms of research and data analysis is valuable,” explained Gladhill. “It forces you to look at research-based data in a different light.  It makes you ask the question, ‘Is somebody using data and manipulating it to support something they are pushing or is it truly research-based?’” added Jana Palmer.  Morgan agrees. “The system will be stronger because there will be more school administrators,” she said. A lot of people complete the coursework for their doctorate, but don’t earn the degree because they don’t complete a dissertation. When you earn your doctorate, it says you’re a finisher, a doer. I think that is why school systems look for people with a doctorate.”

The Ed.D. program continues at USMH, but has been taken over by Frostburg State University (FSU), which was the plan from the inception. The majority of classes were taught by UM faculty, but FSU instructors served as affiliate faculty for UM throughout the program, and they continue as faculty in the FSU program. FSU started its first Ed.D. cohort on the main campus in 2012 and followed with a USMH cohort last year. The university plans to alternate in this way into the future.

Dr. John Stoothoff is an FSU faculty member who taught in the UM program. He also believes that the local education system will benefit from having more administrators earn their doctoral degrees. In the class that he taught on policy evaluation, the students evaluated WCPS programs. Further, he believes that dissertation topics will have value to the schools.  “It’s an old joke that two holders of an Ed.D. will never ask each other about their dissertation topics, because they will have to listen to a boring recounting of the whole research process,” he said. “But these graduates should be asked about their topics, because they are probably related to the Washington County population.”

The FSU program is not a closed site program, and, according to Stoothoff, has drawn from a broader geographic region, including Frederick and farther South and East. It still has a strong representation from WCPS.

The graduates all expressed that they are not planning any big career changes, but appreciate the supplemental opportunities that may come as a result of completing the degree. Jana Palmer will teach in Hood College’s graduate program and Hanlin, who has retired from WCPS, is teaching in the FSU graduate education program at USMH. Michael summed up the feelings of the group, “I believe that the experience has increased my leadership skill set and that will translate directly and indirectly in supporting the education of our students in Washington County. During my research related to student graduation and drop-out prevention, I found myself rejuvenated in the need to ensure every day is extremely significant in advancing the success and future of all students.”