Conference showcases extensive Leadership and Innovation student research


Dolores Tropiano

Understanding imposter syndrome among the undergraduate student population. Studying the impact of a lack of women of color in higher education institutions. Creating a college-going culture among first generation Latino students in rural Arizona 

These topics and more were part of a staggering array of research presented at the 2022 Doctoral Reseach Conference, hosted by Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. More than 200 students in the college’s Leadership and Innovation, EdD program presented work that was both varied and vast. 

“It’s always an amazing day to see the culmination (at any point) of all of the work our students are doing to change their local and larger contexts,” said Leigh Graves Wolf, clinical associate professor in MLFTC’s Educational Leadership and Innovation EdD program and a faculty fellow with the Office of Scholarship and Innovation. “They are all out there changing the world.”

Collaborative and constructive 

The online event provided an academic forum for EdD students to disseminate ongoing research and receive feedback. The award-winning program prepares individuals, working in many different settings, to create better learning opportunities for their communities of practice.

“It’s a place to share new ideas, exchange ideas and fine tune ideas,” said Josephine Peyton Marsh, associate professor of literacy education and chair of the Leadership and Innovation, EdD program.

All doctoral students must present three times over the duration of their EdD program. The research presented was in various stages and cycles of development. Some were one semester in, others had defended their dissertations. The research helps students think critically about a problem of practice in one of three different contexts or tracks that align with their careers. 

Of the 212 students presenting: 56% were on the higher education track, 38% were on the K-12 track and 6% were on Systems, Professional and Reimagined Change (SPARC) track. Some were one semester in, others had defended their dissertations. There were 300 attendees at the conference, including 16 students from the University of Guyana. Each member of the Guyana cohort documented a problem of practice related to student learning in their respective departments at University of Guyana.

Addressing problems — creating change

The conference featured research related to racism and cultural intelligence, mindfulness and mental health, special education and financial literacy and much more. Specific presentations ranged from understanding teacher resistance to change to knowledge of LGBTQ inclusive practices in schools. 

Daniel Garcia’s research addressed disparities in high school discipline policies. According to Garcia, suspensions, detentions and expulsions are dramatically higher among Black, Hispanic and LGBTQ students than they are for other students. 

“They seem to be targeting the same type of students,” said Garcia, an English teacher with the Phoenix Union High School District who just completed his first year of the EdD program.

Garcia said that when a student has problems in one class, being expelled for days impacts their success in other classes. His solution? Creating daily communication channels to inform all teachers of a student’s struggles and hopefully deter problematic behavior.

Ryan Cordia, another presenter, noticed that high school students enrolled in a teacher training program were being discouraged from going into the education profession.

“There are a lot of people scaring them off,” said Cordia, a high school principal in his second year of the EdD program. “Teacher prep students are saying, ‘the teachers told me to get out of this now.’ ” 

As part of his research, Cordia created a mentorship program designed to create and reinforce positive attitudes about teaching to encourage those entering the field. 

Keys to success

While research presentations focused on students’ current work, keynote speakers spoke to writing and defending a doctoral dissertation in times of change and, in the process, normalized the challenges that many students faced. 

Leroy McLean, a third-year doctoral candidate, discussed the multiplicity and speed of changes brought about by the pandemic and challenges it presented for EdD students working on their dissertation. Changes impacted innovations, interventions, problems of practice and more. 

“We knew that this journey was never going to be easy,” said McLean, director of digital transformation for Microsoft Corporation. “Whenever you do have obstacles, the thing to do is pivot and you’re going to get it. We’re all going to get it. And just remember, that this too shall pass.”

Nika Gueci, (EdD ’18) executive director of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience, added her own assurance.

“What is true is that without adversity, you cannot have resilience. So what is happening now is that, through the difficulty, you’re building the resilience muscle and not coming back as you were before, but coming back stronger and wiser and strengthened due to the process.”

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