GCU reaches 2,000 signed doctoral dissertations
Story by Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
The recipient of that signature, Senior Doctoral Adjunct Faculty Supervisor Dr. Nicholas Markette, remembers it like it was yesterday.
The then chief financial officer for a technology company had no intention of pursuing a full-time career in academia, but after writing and teaching his first course for the doctoral college, his career path changed.
“It’s such joyful work that I was willing to walk away from business to do this,” he said. “I mean, my graduates are my friends, and it’s the best, most fun thing you could do.
“It’s been a long path, it’s been fun. God has really blessed me, and GCU has been part of that blessing. I’m really grateful for it.”
Little did he know, the joy he found in his work with the college would lead to his contribution to its most recent accomplishment — the signing of its 2,000th dissertation.
It was an email that Dr. Kortney Song never could have prepared herself enough for as she enjoyed vacationing and the beautiful tropical weather in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“Congratulations Dr. Song!”
As her chair, Markette did not hesitate to share his congratulations with his newest graduate. He always has prided himself on trying to be the first to notify his graduates once he finds out about their dissertations receiving the needed signature to complete their program. He was sure to still uphold that tradition for Song, despite Markette being on vacation in the Caribbean.
“I’m just very honored,” she said after learning of the significant role her dissertation has played in the doctoral college reaching the 2,000-graduate mark. “I feel very blessed to have this distinction.”
The new graduate — she received her Ph.D. in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Cognition and Instruction — had her fair share of significant life events over her five years in the program. She transitioned from part time to full time as a professor at Estrella Mountain Community College, went through a divorce and moved.
“There was life happening all around me and trying to stay focused and committed to my studies was a challenge a lot of the time,” she said. “I think that’s one of the most difficult things about being a doctoral student — navigating the rest of life while having this significant task on your plate.”
As a mother of one daughter, Colleen, Song would often find herself struggling to balance her responsibilities without feeling guilty when she would dedicate time to one responsibility over others. But now that she has reached the conclusion of her program, she hopes her perseverance will set an example for her daughter.
“I said it the entire time that I was in the program, that the only person whose opinion mattered and the only person that I wanted to feel proud of me was her,” Song said. “I can only hope that I demonstrated strength and courage during some pretty difficult times that we experienced.”
But she couldn’t do it alone.
Throughout her moments of doubt, Song credits Markette for helping to keep her motivated. It was an experience that was equally as meaningful to him as well.
“We’ve been working together pretty much nonstop for two years,” he said. “You just can’t help, after all those hours, getting close to somebody.”
Having made the transition from first doctoral graduate to chair of the 2,000th doctoral graduate, working with Song has been a “full circle” moment for him.
It’s a similar sentiment that rings true for the college as well.
Over the course of 10 years, the College of Doctoral Studies has continued to grow, passing new milestones at an impressive pass. Since its first graduate in 2011, the college, cumulatively, would go on to reach 100 graduates in 2014, 500 in 2017 and 1,000 graduates in 2019.
It is an accomplishment that the college’s dean, Dr. Michael Berger, says can be attributed to the dedicated faculty and staff, the fantastic student service counselors and the learner-centric models and resources in place to guide learners through the process.
It’s been a long road, but one that Berger has loved to watch continue to flourish.
“It’s been huge watching the changes,” he said. “Just seeing the college go from eight graduates in 2011 and, hopefully, almost 500 in 2021 (alone) — it’s big.”
But to Berger, it’s not about graduates getting handed their degrees once they have completed their program, it is about what ways they use it to better themselves and the world around them.
“Doctoral degrees change lives,” Berger said. “Going through it changes your life, getting it changes your life, it changes the way you think, it changes the opportunities that are available to you, and that’s a lot of lives that have been impacted by Grand Canyon.”
Getting that final dean’s signature is an accomplishment as meaningful as the pen Berger uses to sign nearly every dissertation. It’s the same pen he received from his father after being named Dean of the College of Doctoral Studies in 2014.
“It really represents pride in accomplishment. … That’s why I use it to sign all of those dissertations because these folks really should have pride in this accomplishment that they have done,” he said.
With so many new milestones being passed every year, Berger’s goal for next year is simple.
“I want to get so many dissertations for 2022 that the pen runs out of ink,” he said with a smile.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].