Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Terminal Degree as the Beginning

As I listened to Ashley Miller speak at the doctoral hooding ceremony about her fears of not graduating, of that dreaded email requiring one more course or one more draft, I realized how real my own fears had become.  The time-line of defending my dissertation at the end of March, addressing the committee's recommendations in early April, sending the revised draft to my adviser soon afterwards, submitting the final dissertation to the graduate school before April 22, and the ceremony on May 13, intensified these fears rather than relieved them.  And when I was in line to step onto the stage, I held back the urge to look inside the cardboard tube with the University of Louisville seal to see if anything was inside.

The ceremony marked the transition to "Doctor" as one to be taken with great responsibility.  Dr. Beth Boehm, vice provost for graduate affairs, assured our families that a terminal degree meant "the end"--no more coursework or dissertation drafts.  Yet, this journey is just beginning.  As doctoral students, we learned how to create new knowledge.  Through our doctoral programs, we discovered the needs within our communities.  Our new terminal degrees have positioned us as researchers, creators, and problem solvers.

Through courses in education and literacy theory, teaching writing, cognitive coaching, and qualitative research design and methods, I discovered the need for "small data."  I am prepared to analyze trends, identify learning gaps, and further disaggregate data as tiny lenses into education; yet, more exists to be seen and heard.  My dissertation research study narrated the stories of a teacher leadership team and the liaisons across the country who developed and implemented a Literacy Design Collaborative professional development workshop called Assignments Matter.  Narratives such as these show us effective ways into big data.  Teacher and student narratives help us see the faces behind the numbers.

Inspired by the speakers' encouraging words, my adviser Dr. Penny Howell's vote of confidence, and my professor Dr. Lori Norton-Meier's special congratulations, I enter the next phase of my education.  Empowered with the knowledge of how to create new knowledge, I attend to the literacy and professional development needs within education through organizations such the Illinois Writing Project.  And although I hesitated to add "Ph.D." to my C.V. until it was official, I now have a signed parchment that no one can take away from me--I'd like to see them try.