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Celebrating 10 Years: Ed.D. Cohort 1 Reflects on Lessons in Leadership

December 14, 2018

They called themselves the “First Borns.” Members of Cohort 1 of the Ed.D. in Executive Leadership, offered through the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education, are self-described risk-taking pioneers with a passion for education and knowledge.

Members of the Ed.D. Cohort 1 at Commencement.

Ten years after their fall 2008 graduation—they were the first to earn doctoral degrees from St. John Fisher College—members of Cohort 1 have become leaders in their field, impacting the organizations in which they work and changing their communities for the better.

“In the beginning, the first cohort could be best characterized as a group of individuals whose primary objective was to obtain the doctoral degree,” said Dr. Sam Walton, founding director of the Ed.D. Program. “However, as they progressed through the program, the group developed a strong sense of pride and a bond based on their membership in Cohort 1. This new sense of pride and unity lead to the group’s commitment to ensure the success of each member.”

Walton said the program was developed to provide an education that prepares candidates for careers as executive leaders, promotes effective organizational and individual performance, and fosters an understanding and appreciation for diversity, among other goals. Its graduates have gone on to serve in top leadership and administrative positions in higher education, secondary education, nonprofit, health care, and business, among other sectors.

“The program is important to the development of administrators or managers hoping to move up in their careers because it prepares candidates for the challenges and demands of leadership within the context of a diverse, information-driven, rapidly changing, and increasingly technology-reliant society,” Walton said.

Among the “First Borns” were Dr. Lesli Myers, superintendent of schools for the Brockport Central School District; Dr. James Colt, director of safety and security at Monroe 1 BOCES and vice president of Avon Central School District’s Board of Education; and Dr. Anne G. Wahl, assistant provost at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Myers said several aspects of the program drew her to enroll, including the diverse faculty who brought unique experiences to the classroom, as well as the cohort format, which added an extra layer of teamwork and support. Wahl agreed, noting that Cohort 1 members were a microcosm of the Rochester community, representing many sectors who shared their experiences and insights throughout the program, resulting in a rich learning environment.

“Whether it was case study discussions, current political or social issues, we viewed and shared—through a multi-disciplinary lens, gender, race, and age—diverse perspectives,” she said. “This model, this type of learning community, influenced me both personally and professionally.”

In reflecting on the sheer amount of writing, reading, and analysis the program demands, Myers said tackling the dissertation while acclimating to a new position in her professional career (she was offered a promotion at a new district in the middle of her degree) was challenging and thrilling.

“Taking a topic that I was extremely passionate and knowledgeable about and then conducting research and noting the findings was exhilarating,” she said. “I’d never written a document that long and it was satisfying to see the outcome of over two and half years of work.”

At the center of the program’s philosophy is social justice, and it interlocks the tenets of diversity, achievement, compassion, knowledge, and service. All three graduates said they draw on those in their daily work.

For Myers, that means working to create equitable access to high quality instruction for all students.

“I have enjoyed working with students from various demographic backgrounds and clearly understand nuances relative to different cultures and socioeconomic levels,” she said. “I’m most proud of my ability to develop programs that promote academic achievement and unity within the larger school community.”

At Monroe 1 BOCES, Colt said the Ed.D. Program’s value-centered focus aligned well with his prior studies in criminal justice and education.

“The program enhanced my beliefs in working to address some injustices of the world and fueled a passion to serve those in need,” he said. “As the civil rights compliance officer, I am able to provide for the protection of human rights.”

And, in her role at RIT and in her personal life, Wahl said the values of compassion and positive change remain at the forefront of her thinking. In summer 2018, she had the opportunity to renew her thinking on leadership as she completed the Management and Leadership in Higher Education (MLE) program at Harvard.

“I don’t have one definition of leadership, but found myself reflecting on the qualities of great leadership we explored in both the Ed.D. Program and the MLE program: focus, passion, wisdom, courage, and integrity,” she said.

As the program looks ahead to its next 10 years, Walton said he hopes doctoral candidates continue to hone those values under the leadership of current program director Dr. Jeannine Dingus-Eason.

“It is my hope that alumni of the program are socially conscious and morally grounded leaders who respect and embrace diversity and understand the importance of service and putting the needs of others first.”