A former teacher and lawyer and a corrections officer walk into a classroom …

By

Jennifer Priest Mitchell

When students come to ASU and enroll in one of the PhD programs at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, their professors and academic peers represent a broad spectrum of backgrounds and interests. In fact, in at least one class, a corrections officer along with a teacher who had practiced law shared their viewpoints on motivating students. These PhD programs represent the intrapreneurship of the college as students and faculty have recurring opportunities to be creative and collaborate as they discuss issues, solutions and research projects.

 Joshua Cruz, a third-year PhD student, is studying how undergraduate students gain an academic identity and adapt to what is expected of them in college, as opposed to how they performed and engaged with classes, teachers, peers and material in high school. Cruz said he has enjoyed theoretical discussions with peers from different backgrounds. For example, he said, “We bring our own research interests and backgrounds to the table, and one difference I see is that we talk about the kinds of knowledge we believe are valuable. Some people rely more on numbers and I, for example, value qualitative information - stories and experiences - more than statistics.”  He recalls a discussion with a lawyer and former teacher in the program who had worked closely with students who have behavioral issues. He said their approaches to the role of a teacher in the classroom were very different based on their experiences. In working with others, he has come to realize that more structured approaches than his own can be important in different classrooms.

The PhD in Educational Policy and Evaluation prepares scholars to engage in systematic analyses of education policies in a variety of settings. The PhD in Learning, Literacies and Technologies develops scholars in their ability to generate knowledge that will catalyze educational interventions and innovations to improve pre-K–20 programs. Applications for both programs are open now, and  upcoming online information sessions will provide details about the degrees and experiences for students. Tara Burke, academic advisor for the PhD programs, said, “In keeping with ASU’s spirit of innovation, the college recently reimagined and redesigned our doctor of philosophy programs to better reflect an interdisciplinary approach —- one which we believe best prepares doctoral students to think broadly and to problem-solve with a wide lens. Both programs embody this philosophy.”

Professor Mirka Koro-Ljungberg has worked with first year-year students in the LLT program during an interdisciplinary studies course. She said, “this two-semester course is co-taught by faculty from different areas at ASU, and the focus is on interdisciplinary scholarship and collaborations.” Last year she co -taught with Steve Graham, Mary Emily Warner Professor specializing in quantitative research on language and writing. Koro-Ljungberg, to contrast, is a qualitative research specialist. They worked with students during the first semester as the students developed research plans and collaborated on projects in small groups. The faculty encouraged students to look at problems and consider solutions from two or more vastly different angles.

Koro-Ljungberg said, “Students from different backgrounds bring their personal experiences to each discussion, and this is a great way for them to consider a variety of solutions to, as well as causes of problems. Some are more focused on systems, and others think more about finances, or politics, and there are some who think mainly of the child or the learner in each situation.”

When an engineer works with other scholars studying dance or counseling, the discussions are likely to take winding paths, and that’s what Medha Dalal, a second-year LLT student, said she discovered in her first year of the program. She appreciated the opportunity to work with peers from backgrounds in dance, biology, business and counseling. She believes that taking elective courses from other disciplines, such as educational psychology, broadens her perspective and will help her gain insights for her career. She said, “My engineering background is one of many binary questions and approaches. I am working with people who have a qualitative approach to research, and that is challenging me to look at things from different angles. This also helps me to consider different ways to use technology, which will help my research as well as anything else I pursue in the future.”

Terrence McTier Jr., a second-year EPE student, focuses on the experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals in his research. He said his personal experiences and many encounters with the population shape how he approaches projects when collaborating with peers and faculty in the program.

The interdisciplinary aspect of the program goes beyond discussions and group projects. Koro-Ljungberg explained that when she teaches, her assignments and readings can all be de- and re-contextualized so that they can be considered and utilized beyond the world of education. For example, an assignment about methods could be considered outside of an education setting and discussed with regard to nursing or engineering. “This is really the definition of inter-disciplinarianism practiced in a classroom — the ability to shift what you’re thinking to different contexts and acknowledge domains, and then transfer that to students. We can talk about this a lot, but to actually do it involves a shift in thinking and customary practices and how we communicate with our students.”