Cohort helps doctoral learners dissect dissertation challenges
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
You won’t find a bigger fan of the College of Doctoral Studies program at Grand Canyon University than Cathy Ames.
“I love it, love it, love it. I tell everybody I talk to that it’s the best thing I’ve done since having my kids,” she said. “I’ve never had a bad instructor.”
Ames wanted to show that love by sharing knowledge with her fellow doctoral learners, and last year she and fellow doctoral learner Rachel Behling started the Doctoral Community Cohort, a club designed to help them navigate the dissertation process. Originally focused on the cohort students who study on campus, it has expanded to include online students, too.
The group has proved so magnetic, its numbers have grown steadily from about 20 people to more than 100 who came to campus last week for its first “mini-conference,” organized in conjunction with Dr. Michael Berger, dean of the college, and his staff.
Unlike previous meetings, which usually featured one speaker, the mini-conference had six presentations, such as research tips from library director Nita Mailander and dissertation disasters to avoid, by Dr. Wayne Schmidt, the Ed.D. content chair for Doctoral Studies. It was divided into four half-hour sessions, which also included roundtable discussions on dissertation topic development or prospectus review. This gave attendees the opportunity to meet with the doctoral staff and faculty and have their questions on their personal research answered.
Residencies and other support services have long been a staple of the GCU program, but after talking with Ames and other learners Berger decided even more frequent contact — among the learners as a group and between them and the staff — would pay dividends.
He said one learner told him he would have dropped out of the program if not for the DC Cohort, which also makes its presentations available online.
“People just really like getting information face to face,” Berger said. “What we’re seeing is the value of the peer experience. A culture of scholarship is springing up outside the hallways.”
One of the attendees last week was Dan Nichols, director of club sports and also the color analyst on GCU men’s basketball radio broadcasts. He’s eager to make significant progress with his dissertation on club sports development and saw the mini-conference as the ideal way to hook up with the right people.
“I just want to get the information and get it done,” he said.
Ames knows the feeling. She has been in the doctoral program, seeking a degree in educational leadership, for two years and has been a stay-at-home mom since having the first of her three children 19 years ago. She previously worked as a teacher and then as a vice principal at schools in Phoenix and Yuma.
That makes her the typical doctoral learner — busy, busy, busy and in need of as much support as possible. The DC Cohort is the “join the club” experience that can help.
“The University as a whole is supportive of clubs — the traditional colleges have lots of them,” Berger said. “Why not Doctoral Studies?”
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.