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Program Reaches Achievement Of The Highest Degree

July 12, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Kim Kyle Morgan

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Among the 200 graduates of (or those who will help increase the tally for) the Doctor of Education in educational leadership program are: (front row, from left) Pam Laughlin, Lingling Yang (Class of '10), Karen Smith (Class of '00), David Paitson, (middle row) Amanda Clark, Xiaohong Li, Kay Angrove, (back row) Somer Franklin (Class of '13) Robert D. Young Jr. (Class of '13), Stacy Scott and Leah Mulligan (Class of '11). —Photos by Brian Blalock

 

Magdalena Denham used to dream of being a diplomat, perhaps of a career at the United Nations, or maybe serving as an ambassador for the goodwill of the world.

Today, at 46, she truly is an ambassador of sorts. On Aug. 3, Denham will be the 200th student to graduate with a doctor of education degree from Sam Houston State University.

"This program changed my life," Denham said.

The Doctor of Education degree in educational leadership is the highest professional degree available to students who aspire to leadership positions.

Julie Combs, director of the Center for Research and Doctoral Studies in Educational Leadership at SHSU's College of Education, said sometimes it's a simply a matter of achieving a lifelong goal.

"For some of our students, it's a personal goal," Combs said. "For others, it's professional growth."

Whatever the reason behind seeking the doctorate, the program's success speaks for itself in terms of high completion rates. That's quite a feat considering students commit to an average of four years of additional education on top of maintaining full-time jobs.

Students of all ages embark on the doctoral program, Combs said, but they are usually at least 25-years-old due to the fact they have already earned a master's degree and have a few years' work experience under their belts.

"We're very dedicated to the success of our students," Combs said. "I find that to be somewhat unique in higher education at this level. We have outstanding faculty here presenting all over the world, publishing all over the world, and are experts in their fields…yet they still have intense focus on student success. Teaching is a priority, but research is also a priority."

SHSU is, in fact, recognized as a Doctoral Research University by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, placing it in the nation's top 7 percent of all institutions of higher education.

Denham said one of the reasons she entered the doctoral program was because she wanted to focus more on research.

"My career until then provided a lot of practical elements," Denham said, "but not a lot of research."

After becoming the College of Education's 200th doctoral graduate in educational leadership, Magdalena Denham will continue her teaching career as an associate professor of victim studies in the College of Criminal Justice in August.

Denham has most certainly had a lot of on-the-job adventures. Originally from Poland, her first venture was as an airline attendant for the Berlin/Germany/Warsaw flight path of Pan American Airways.

From there, Denham spent four years in San Diego working for the Department of Social Services as a refugee social worker. After earning a master's degree in applied linguistics at San Diego State University in 2003, Denham was recruited by the FBI as a special agent in foreign counterintelligence.

Denham joined SHSU as a program coordinator at the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, within SHSU’s Criminal Justice Center, in 2005. Five years later, she was an adjunct professor in the College of Criminal Justice.

"I thought I wanted a doctorate in criminal justice, but a mentor told me that if I love to teach and love to develop programs, a doctorate in educational leadership would combine those things but provide a wider spectrum of experiences," Denham said.

As it turns out, Denham's Doctor of Education degree really has done her career justice. Beginning in August, Denham will be an associate professor at the College of Criminal Justice, helping create curriculum and develop programs in security studies.

"I never thought that before even graduating I would be hired to do something I love to do," Denham said. "And when I heard that I'm the 200th graduate? It's the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae."

Method leads to milestone

The doctoral program in educational leadership at SHSU received approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 1995. Following funding approval, the program was revised to incorporate a cohort model. This means that individual students are part of a specific group that works through the program with other individual students, exposing them to a wide range of occupations and viewpoints within the education industry.

Steve R. Johnson, superintendent of Huntsville ISD, said the concept of a cohort is one reason he went to SHSU for his doctor of education degree.

"I was working in College Station and watching a lot of colleagues working on their doctoratal degrees at the university there, without a cohort group," Johnson said. "They were kind of on their own. At SHSU, I was with 14 individuals from a wide range of background and experiences. I think it's a fantastic way to do a doctoral program."

Johnson, who specialized in the K-12 track of educational leadership, while Denham chose the Higher Education track, was one of the first to graduate from the doctoral program in 1999.

Now, in 2013, faculty, staff, students and alumni will gather later in August to celebrate the 200th graduate milestone.

"I want to thank SHSU for having the foresight to initiate the program," Johnson said. "They did a great job of structuring the program, paving the way for all of us that followed."

 

 

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