Alumna Spotlight: Bonnie Blake, Ed.D.
Bonnie Blake, Ed.D. is a graduate of the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program at UNE Online. Here, she talks about her experience with the online Ed.D. program and how she is putting her dissertation research to work, planning the next steps in her career.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and what encouraged you to pursue your Ed.D.?
I had been an educator at New York University for more than 25 years; first as an advisor, an instructor, and eventually clinical assistant professor, as well as academic director and coordinating chair for the programs in media industry studies and design. I received my Master’s in Graphic Communications Management and Technology from NYU, and it was my desire to educate along with my passion for the graphic communications industry that helped me grow the NYU program into the successful program it is today.
While we were developing the program, I became increasingly fascinated with the role of industry in education, so I began pairing up students with board members and industry leaders to give the students practical work experience. I made it my mission to help students learn and apply their skills in a very practical way within the media and communications industry.
As I watched my students flourish I realized that I had a desire to go back to school for my doctorate. I felt that earning an advanced degree that focuses on transformative leadership would accomplish some big personal and professional goals. I did some research and decided on the University of New England Online because it looked like the kind of program that would help me increase my knowledge about helping students in higher ed while simultaneously learning from my student colleagues.
As a teacher, how did you feel about becoming a student again?
I just loved my professors, my colleagues in the cohort, the subject matter, and the pace of the program. I found that in the Ed.D. program online, which focuses on educational leadership, I was able to be very engaged with what other colleagues were finding to be successful, or weren’t as successful as they had hoped. We learned from each other.
The professors were wonderful too. They were great communicators and they offered a really good curriculum. The readings were so interesting, I would often get so excited about reading an article, or a book, or an assignment that I discovered through class, that I’d be chatting away with my friends about what I was learning. It’s so wonderful to deepen my knowledge of a subject area that I’m passionate about in an industry where I hope to continue to contribute.
Any experiences from your studies at UNE that you’ve been able to apply right away in your current role?
Yes, so many! For example, I’m a co-chair of the mentoring program in a women’s organization, New York Women in Communications, as well as the chair of the Mentoring Committee at the Graphic Communications Scholarship Foundation. I found that I was able to apply what I was learning in the classroom right away to the professionals that I was mentoring in the field.
My new knowledge also helped me plan the next steps in my career. Right now, I enjoy helping students and professionals find the right role or a better role for them in their career, but I’ve discovered that there are so many things I can do with this doctorate – anything from working in a university system to private practice consulting.
What was your dissertation experience like?
Right from the beginning, we were required to think about our thesis and begin planning what it would look like. Throughout the entire curriculum, we learned leadership theories, read case studies, learned what other people have done as great leaders, and considered the type of leader we might be ourselves, all the while centering our assignments around our own topic area.
As we considered ideas for our topic, we used these assignments to work toward narrowing our focus. I thought it was an excellent way to organize the curriculum: there were steps, and they made sense.
Can you tell me a little about your dissertation?
My dissertation title was “Transforming Disability to Advantage: A Phenomenological Study of Career Success for Dyslexics.” The dissertation focused on adults with dyslexia who transformed their disability into an advantage for themselves, and now have successful careers. To give you some background and context, I’m a high-functioning dyslexic. My whole life I thought I’d been using phonics to read, but I’ve been told that I’ve actually memorized every word I’ve ever read. In this program, I was able to use my experience with dyslexia to help shape my dissertation.
I selected six interview participants for my study ranging from a CEO, to a neuroscience grad student, to a photographer, to the person who decides the look and feel of a major media publication that we all know. What I learned from them was so intense that I decided to continue to increase awareness for people who are dyslexic, even after I graduated.
My experience was profound, especially in terms of what I learned from other dyslexics. I enjoyed the process of defining a topic area for a dissertation, about how to narrow down that topic, and how to choose a topic I was passionate about – all with guidance and direction from my professors
Dr. Brianna Parsons was my lead advisor, and I spent a great deal of time with her as she helped me revise my dissertation. I’m personally and professionally extremely grateful for her patience and her insights that helped direct me to areas that would best fit my goals. I found the entire dissertation process to be entirely student-centered and very warm.
Now that you’ve finished your dissertation, where do you go from here?
I want to raise awareness among dyslexic people of how successful you can be, even if your learning style is different and your brain is wired differently. I want to show them what other dyslexic people have done, teach them techniques that have helped other dyslexics leverage their gifts, and help them take advantage of how their mind works in order to advance their career.
Using my dissertation as a starting point, I intend to take what I learned in this program and continue on with it. I’m starting to write some articles, and I absolutely will be calling my professors for advice. They were all so terrific. I’m also in the process of assembling an educational industry panel in New York to raise awareness of dyslexia.
Did you feel a sense of community while earning your online Ed.D. program?
Yes. And I think that speaks not just about the design of the curriculum and to the title of the degree, but to the fact that we all felt very engaged together, and we all helped each other. I felt that there was a great deal of student communication and involvement.
The way the program is structured, you have a certain number of people in your cohort as a whole, and then at a certain point in the curriculum, the cohort is split into assigned small groups. You only have so many people in your cohort, to begin with, and then you have a limited number of people with like interests in your small group, so you get to know one another very well. I think that in many ways it was more engaging than some classroom environments that I have seen.
We were all remote, but all very comfortable speaking with one another – whether it was a video call or a phone call – and the colleagues I worked with were located all around the world. We had one person in China, and another one was in Grenada working for a veterinary program. We had a fantastic mix.
At graduation, those of us who were able to make it to the ceremony immediately gravitated to one another and drew together in a little circle. We may have never met in person, but it didn’t feel that way at all.
You mentioned that you have a diverse mix of classmates in this program. Can you elaborate on that?
There were people at many different levels and stages of their leadership careers in the program. Some were younger and some were older, but everyone had diverse experiences that the rest of us could learn from. We all learned from one another.
One of my cohort, Dr. Mike Wilber, educates students in a prison environment. So yes, he works within the field of education, but it’s a completely different environment than say, a university. I had another classmate who worked for a nonprofit. And so on.
I really have to commend the admissions committee. There are people in your cohort who have related interests but haven’t traveled the same exact career path, so that becomes an opportunity for you to learn about other career paths.
Did you feel supported throughout the program?
From the very beginning of this process, my Student Support Specialist, Greg Andrews, was fantastic. I asked him about a million questions to start with, and then throughout the program whenever I had a question about something, I received a very timely response. I haven’t always found that to be true in business or even in a traditional academic environment – people are busy. However, at UNE Online it’s clear that the faculty and the program have decided to be very attentive to the students.
How do you feel that earning your Ed.D. has affected you?
I can tell you, the Ed.D. program at UNE Online transformed my life. It definitely came at the right time for me.
As you grow you figure out what you’re good at then you master that skill or talent, and then what? Then you realize that you must keep learning. With the insight I’ve gained through the program, I’ve found that I’m now able to reimagine my career.
I can continue to work at a university, I’m starting this practice for career guidance for people with dyslexia, and I feel very confident. What I’ve learned has encouraged me to learn more. It’s not as if I only enjoyed the articles and the books talking about different types of leaders, I loved it all.
You met with UNE president James Herbert recently. What did you talk about?
I had the honor of meeting UNE president James Herbert when he came to New York for his listening tour. We ended up having a really productive conversation about the online Ed.D. program and how meaningful it is to students.
We also talked about how engagement within the program is so rich not only because of the faculty and the structure of the curriculum but also because of the diverse backgrounds of the students themselves. Everyone was very engaged and highly invested in the learning process.
Any words of advice for potential Ed.D. candidates considering UNE Online?
If I were to speak to a prospective student looking at this online Ed.D. program, I would say that if you are looking for a program where you are going to be engaged with your student colleagues, you want in-depth discussions, and you want to be reading and reflecting on the knowledge that you’re attaining, this is an excellent program.
If you’re looking for an Ed.D. program that isn’t engaged or warm or caring, you should go somewhere else. But if you’re looking for a transformative experience, being a student in a doctoral program for leaders in education and related areas is an excellent choice. The program at UNE was truly exceptional.
I’ve been happy with this program from the very start. From admissions, to support, to curriculum design and the pacing of the courses – I was extremely happy with the Ed.D. program at UNE Online.
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