GCU’s 1st Ph.D. a heady accomplishment

May 19, 2014 / by / 2 Comments

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Nancy Wigton, set to become the first graduate of Grand Canyon University’s Ph.D. program, is so disciplined and organized, she completed her dissertation with minimal distress and way ahead of schedule. She has spent her career studying the brain, and this process showed that she definitely has her head together.

Wigton, who owns the Applied Neurotherapy Center in Scottsdale, completed what she called “a 20-year dream” when she got the final signatures last week on her dissertation on the effectiveness of neurofeedback, which is designed to help people modify their brainwave patterns – rather than use medication – to address Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and other psychological challenges.

Nancy Wigton

Nancy Wigton

During a typical visit, electrodes are attached to the scalp of a patient who sits in front of a television screen with animated images and sounds. The electrodes record images that are sent to a computer programmed to look for particular brainwave frequencies, and the patient can be taught to “retrain” the brain.

Wigton said she sees improvement in approximately 80 percent of her cases and recommends neurofeedback only if she believes, after the diagnostics, that it will help. The field still has its critics, but recent scientific studies have been more positive. “It’s sort of like chiropractors 30 years ago – it took awhile for science to embrace it,” she said.

The realization of Wigton’s doctoral dream dates to when she received her master’s degree from Northern Arizona University.

“I remember watching the hooding of the doctoral candidates and thinking, ‘Someday that’s going to be me,’” she said.

Wigton feels blessed in the way she wound up in the Ph.D. (doctorate in philosophy) program, which is why she said her dissertation is “dedicated to the Lord.” Thinking that an Ed.D. (doctorate in education) was her only option at GCU, she had taken one class when a work-related research project sidetracked her for six months. The wait proved fortuitous.

“Then I stumbled into GCU’s Ph.D. program,” she said. “I just happened to see it online – ‘Ph.D. in psychology at Grand Canyon University.’ I said, ‘What? When did they do that?’”

Even better, GCU gave her the latitude to do her dissertation on neurofeedback and also was economical, allowing her to take one class at a time. Just like that, she had what she calls “the right fit.”

It was the right fit for GCU as well. Dr. Michael Berger, the college’s associate dean, said having the first Ph.D. graduate is “exciting” and added, “She is far and away ahead of everyone else. The other group in her cohort, they’re still working on their proposals and are two months to a year out. She even beat the clock on the three-year time frame.”

Wigton is quick to emphasize that this was a team effort, particularly with her committee chair, Dr. Genomary Krigbaum, and committee members Dr. Daniel Smith and Dr. Eugenia Bodenhamer-Davis. In an email to Berger and other faculty members in the College of Doctoral Studies, Wigton wrote:

“I understand it would be easy for GCU to singularly highlight a learner’s success; however, as you well know, in the GCU dissertation process, the interface and interaction between chair and student is paramount. To that end, we both brought elements to this journey which would engender success. … Please know it is the work of a molded scholar; and as such, I do not deserve sole credit for its quality, or more importantly, the timeline for its completion. Therefore, if there is any recognition of my efforts, please also make sure to equally recognize Dr. Krigbaum, as this is as much her success as it is mine.”

Krigbaum, whose background is in clinical psychology, said: “I had an open-door policy with her. One of the things we talked about is that she needed to allow herself to follow the process – follow directions and pay attention to detail. … When we’re adults we think we know better, and it’s very hard to take directions. I told her, ‘If you want to be the first one, we have to organize ourselves together.’”

Wigton took that to heart.

“Having a great committee, that’s what made it all work,” she said. “I just followed what I call the three R’s for doctoral learners – respectful, responsive and resourceful. When you’re doing a dissertation, it comes down to this: Do you want it done your way, or do you want it done? I’ve learned to trust my committee.”

But that respect went both ways.

“I tried to be open to her to see how she works,” Krigbaum said. “What is her strength and what is her style? And then I work with her style.”

Wigton will be in class until early July and said she was “floored” that her dissertation got through the academic quality review in one round of revisions. But as for any talk that she’s a superwoman who writes a complex dissertation while running a busy practice and doing a dozen other things in her daily life, she said that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It’s not like I’ve got my act together so much. I think it’s more that commitment to the process, the goal,” she said. “I committed to getting this done in a timely manner. I cut down on my practice – I still saw clients, but not as many. I don’t do multitasking well. If I was going to do my dissertation well, it was going to be a priority.”

She said her husband, John, a software engineer, has been “wonderfully supportive,” and she has felt God’s presence throughout the process. The dedication of her dissertation reads in part:

“This dissertation is dedicated to my Lord and Savior, Jesus. From my first thoughts of considering a doctoral program being divinely inspired and directed, through to the last step I will take across a graduation stage, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are always the center point, the anchor.”

No wonder she and GCU are on the same wavelength.

Contact Rick Vacek at 602.639.8203 or [email protected].


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2 Responses
  1. Thankgod Playman

    I think, I have a lot to learn from Nancy Wigton. I am also undergoing a Ph.D in Psychology with emphases in Industrial and organizational Psychology. Knowing about Nancy Wigton’s process to achieve this height is an added enhancement which could pilot me through the pressure of Doctoral learning. Nancy Wigton, Keep the spirit high as a living example.

    Sep.26.2014 at 1:31 pm
  2. Patrick Benhamou

    Thank you for inspiring so many of us at GCU. I hope to live to your outstanding work ethics and faith. CONGRATULATIONS :-)))!

    Sep.29.2014 at 4:58 pm
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