Dr. Michael Fischer is a recent graduate of the Ed.D. program at UNE Online and was recently named the president of York County Community College, in Wells, Maine. Fischer was chosen out of a field of nearly 50 candidates to lead this 1,600-student college in southern Maine.
Dr. Fischer began his academic journey at UNE in Fall 2016 as a student in the Doctor of Education program. He chose to focus his dissertation on leadership, and titled his dissertation “The Importance of Soft-Skill Development in Co-Curricular Programs: A Summative Evaluation of a Community College Student Leadership Program.”
He graduated from the Ed.D. program in June 2020.
I’ve been in higher ed for the better part of 20 years. About 12 years ago I came over to the community college system, which was something I was really excited about – specifically around access and affordability and giving people an opportunity to better themselves and create a future for themselves.
My enthusiasm for the community college mission stems from my own background, growing up in public housing. I was the first person in my entire extended family to go to college, and I was actually just the second person in my extended family to graduate from high school.
I got my start in higher ed coaching intercollegiate basketball. I was 25 at the time, and I saw what a high-touch student-centered approach can do for students. That experience kicked off my whole journey in higher ed, and from that point, higher ed has been my passion and my commitment.
In the last 20 years, I’ve served in a wide range of leadership capacities from Athletic Director to Dean of Students, and really any other role that the college presidents have needed me to take on. I’ve served as the right-hand person for three different college presidents in the last few years, and have been heavily involved in everything from fundraising to working closely with academic programs and department chairs. So when this opportunity at YCCC presented itself, it was something that excited me immensely.
I’m lucky to have several good mentors in my life, and they advised me that to get to the next level, I needed a doctoral degree. So I knew this was the next step in my evolution. At UNE, one thing I have truly valued is UNE’s student-centered approach – it’s something I’ve tried to model, too.
I’ve found that the UNE Ed.D. program is very much geared towards working professionals – and the fact that we’re encouraged to work on issues that are happening on our individual campuses has made me a better leader tenfold.
My coursework has allowed me to apply my learning. I talk about my real-life work situations in our group sessions, discuss them with fellow students and professors, and I’m able to get different insight than I would just on my campus. I’ve definitely found the cohort model to be incredible and a phenomenal experience.
In some ways, the program was far more intense than I actually anticipated – both in terms of workload and the time needed to manage it. But once you get in the swing of things, it actually goes fairly well.
On the flip side, I got far more out of the Ed.D. program than I anticipated getting out of it. You truly do get what you work for, and you get out of it what you put into it. That’s the part that I really appreciate.
I went back and forth between both of them. Ultimately I chose an Ed.D. because of the hands-on practitioner approach. Of course, research is incredibly valuable, and there is still an aspect of that in the Ed.D. program.
So for me, I felt that I got both worlds. I wasn’t so entrenched in research that I was losing sight of things that could help me in my career as I was going through the program. And likewise, I wasn’t so focused on the hands-on aspect that I lost sight of the importance of research and its role in setting the foundation for theories moving forward.
The Ed.D. program presented the best of both worlds – but it was the practitioner approach that really intrigued me.
I got my start in the student-affairs side of higher ed, so I have a slightly different perspective than some. One of the things that I recognized early on is that there is a lack of focus on the development of soft skills in the classroom.
Academically there is a long rich history of assessments that demonstrate what students are learning. Outcomes in subjects such as science and math are measured against expectations. But you don’t see the same approach with student affairs issues.
The majority of skills that employers look for in employees when they hire them are soft skills such as critical thinking skills, the ability to function as part of a team, and the ability to communicate effectively, both written and verbally.
Soft skills should be complementing what’s going on in the classroom. We should be helping students develop the skills that will help them be successful when they leave, regardless of whether they’re going on to a four-year school or going directly into the workforce.
My dissertation focused on a leadership program that I helped create, and it dove into the benefits of student leadership programs and what skills students gain even in a very tight window of time. The results are very, very promising.
The more opportunities that students have to put what they’re learning to practice, the better they get at it. Which makes sense – and it’s the same for everyone. The more we practice something, the better we get.
Students who participate in leadership programs and do well, and leave better prepared to succeed in their next step. My research has supported that finding, and the limited national data also supports it.
First of all, don’t be afraid to make the jump – because it’s going to be worth it. It’s a lot of work, but like anything else in life, it is work that is going to pay off.
What you’ll be doing in the program is also meaningful work. You’re going to enter the program with one point of view, and once you go through the program, you’re going to leave and you’re going to see your position, your society, your community – in a different light. And that’s exciting.
Time management is also important. A good support structure is also very important – make sure that you talk about entering the program as much as you possibly can with those around you. Talk about it with your employer, talk about it with your coworkers, talk about it with your loved ones in your family members. Set your goal high. And when you do that, they’re going to help you stay on track to be able to achieve it. Balance is not easy, but it’s achievable.
The great thing about UNE is that it’s a program that is going to support you and enhance what you’re doing in your everyday job. And that’s a huge benefit.
Interested in becoming a doctoral student?