Interview with Jennifer Moss Breen, Ph.D. - Program Director for the Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership at Creighton University

About Jennifer Moss Breen, Ph.D.: Jennifer Moss Breen is the Program Director for the Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership at Creighton University. As Program Director, she has responsibility for mentoring her faculty team in research, teaching, and scholarship. She also has oversight for all program operations and enjoys adapting the program with faculty and staff so that they continually meet students’ learning needs. Dr. Moss Breen and the graduate school team are also developing several new tracks for Ed.D. students and students from varying fields.

Dr. Moss Breen teaches the introductory course in the Ed.D. program, Program Orientation. She also enjoys teaching Organizational Behavior and Leadership Ethics. She spends a great deal of time serving as the chair of several dissertation committees. Her research and scholarship include topics such as complexity in higher education, leadership resilience, and leadership courage.

Dr. Moss Breen earned her Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UN-L). She also has three additional degrees from UN-L, including a Master of Arts in Quantitative and Qualitative Psychometric Measures, a Master of Science in Leadership Education, and a BS in Business Education.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Creighton University’s Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students to assume leadership positions across a diversity of contexts?

[Dr. Moss Breen] The Interdisciplinary Leadership EdD brings students from all sectors together to learn about leadership, strategy, organizational behavior, ethics, and much more. The interdisciplinary nature of the program is the primary method to equip our students to spearhead important changes within their organizations. Because of today’s complex work environment, where we must work across interdisciplinary lines to be successful, it is essential that our EdD students learn how to operate from a different lens.

For instance, within one cohort, students are teachers, fire chiefs, business executives, Jesuit priests, physicians, etc. When asked how to solve a complex problem, each of them inherently views the problem in a different way. Through their online discussions and meaningful dialogue, they learn a great deal about how the world works in a much broader sense. This knowledge equips them to be mindful and attentive to varying world views and approaches to problem solving and work. This is the greatest gift we can offer our students so they can manage change during ambiguity, move projects forward with an interdisciplinary team, and help their organization thrive amidst chaos.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that Creighton University’s Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Moss Breen] Creighton University uses Canvas as their online learning management system. The EdD courses are asynchronous, but faculty often offer synchronous sessions that are recorded so students who cannot attend them ‘live’ can watch them when convenient for them. Students are taught in cohorts of 15, so courses are small, which makes learning more engaging. Faculty really get to know their students with small courses. Students have a faculty advisor, and they can reach out to their advisor at any time when they have concerns about their coursework or the program. Students are assigned their dissertation chair through a matching process, which we hope enables a really good ‘fit’ for both the student and their chair.

The program also has two very important staff who are very helpful in supporting our students. These roles include a program coordinator who manages our EdD Student Resource Center, teaching schedule, and the candidacy and dissertation process. We also have an Academic Coach who registers students, is the first line of contact for most student questions, and who helps students with their program of study, program adaptations, etc. Students are required to come to campus two times. The first is for the program orientation, which is a three-day on-campus session. The second required campus visit is to defend their dissertation. We also offer Learning Institutes twice a year on campus, which are optional. In the Learning Institute, we cover topics such as scholarly writing, library resources and search tools, managing research time and writing your research question.

[] Creighton University’s Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership requires the completion of a Dissertation. What does the Dissertation involve, what processes do students take to complete it, and what kinds of faculty/peer support do they receive during their work?

[Dr. Moss Breen] The Dissertation in Practice (DIP) is an applied research product that each EdD student must complete to confer their doctoral degree. The DIP contains five chapters including Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Findings, and Discussion. Students begin their dissertation journey in the Proposal Construction course. Through our matching process, students and their chair first work together in the Proposal Construction course, and then they continue to work together to complete the dissertation along with the students’ second committee member. Dissertation chairs serve only five students at a time, so students get wonderful support from them. They also have the support of the other four students working with the same dissertation chair. It is like a small research cohort who are all working on their dissertation at the same time.

Through the DIP, students are expected to develop practical leadership implications as a result of their findings. They are asked to develop a potential solution to the problem addressed in their study based upon the evidence from both the field and their dissertation. As such, all dissertations are applied in the professional setting. Students do receive individualized attention and guidance from their dissertation chair and also their faculty advisor during the dissertation process. They also receive support from their peers and program alumni.

Dissertations in Practice topics are highly diverse and individualized to each student’s interests and professional goals. For example, one of my students conducted a research study exploring the characteristics and qualities of women seeking or successfully attaining a secondary school principalship. She wanted to shed light on how women in education can successfully attain their goal of full principalship. That was an educational example. In a more organizational or business-focused example, we have a student in Jamaica who runs a hotel chain and is looking at the leadership styles of different Jamaican managers in the hotel industry, which is a fascinating emerging study. We had another student who worked in the financial services industry who examined the role of motivation in determining leadership style.

Some of our students are very interested in the intersection of educational/organizational practices and social justice. One student, for instance, examined the experiences of African American female entrepreneurs and what leads to their success as well as potential barriers they face in their industry. Another student wanted to study the relationships between college readiness and employability for students in her college. She used her research to develop and refine a college career transition program that worked with high school students to help prepare them for college. So as you can see, the topics that our students focus on for their dissertation are highly diverse and are research inquiries for which students have both professional and a personal interest.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Creighton University’s Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Moss Breen] Students are mentored by faculty, their dissertation chair and their peers during coursework and the dissertation process. Often, mentoring occurs in the online environment through the use of web-based video conferencing tools such as Zoom. Students mentor each other through their cohorts and also by creating informal small support groups.

One element of our program that I believe makes us stand out is the fact that our faculty reflect the interdisciplinary nature of our degree program. For example, we have faculty from varying fields including leadership studies, political science, communication, psychology, and health services. This diverse team assembles often to discuss the curriculum, our students’ experiences and how we can approach our instruction to our support of students from their diverse perspectives. There are huge advantages to examining and seeking to solve educational and organizational challenges from myriad perspectives–from a business perspective, a social justice perspective, a political perspective, and a psychological perspective–when you approach problem-solving with a wide-view lens like this, your solutions become more valuable.

The range of students with whom we work is amazing and truly gratifying, and this pushes us as a faculty to step into their shoes to support them in their research endeavors. We work with educators, of course, and business professionals, but also non-profit leaders, Navy commanders, health care workers. As a dissertation advisor, I have to be able to say, “I don’t understand at all what it is like to be a Navy commander, but here is how I can lend my research expertise and insights to the specific organizational, communication, or educational challenge you want to tackle in your research.” So, our students serve as subject matter experts in many ways, and we talk to them about the writing, framing a research question, and structuring their dissertation. And while students’ dissertation chair is their primary research mentor, each student’s dissertation committee will collaborate to provide optimal support and feedback.

[] For students interested in Creighton University’s Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Moss Breen] Applicants should understand the mission of Creighton University and discuss how their learning goals, even if not Catholic or Jesuit, align with Creighton’s Jesuit values. They should also discuss what they really want to learn and how they want to grow during the program. Letters of recommendation should be from both professional and educational relationships. For instance, a note from the student’s Master’s program faculty is a good idea, especially if they can speak to the student’s writing ability.

Most of our students are mid-career, so a reflection of what they have accomplished and how they envision the EdD taking them to their next career/life goal is a good element to include in their application. The ideal student wants to learn, has grown in humility and, as such, understands they still have much to learn, and wants to help their field/community/school/workplace etc. advance in an interdisciplinary thought process that equips them to solve today’s complex problems. We look for self-motivated learners who will be involved with the program, make new friends and colleagues, are be curious about the world and ready to learn.

[] What makes Creighton University’s Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in organizational and multidisciplinary leadership?

[Dr. Moss Breen] The EdD in Interdisciplinary leadership equips graduates to function in the world with a wider sense of perspective and the ability to work across disciplinary lines as well as within their own discipline. It teaches students to conduct applied research and to be strong consumers of research as well. It teaches them to ask different questions on topics as well as to ask different questions when working with people. It makes them more curious about the world and equips them with sound tools to find valid and reliable answers to those questions.

I am often asked about the program’s interdisciplinary nature, and I always tell prospective students that it is one of the biggest strengths of our program. Not only because our faculty team is inherently interdisciplinary, but also because the student cohorts that we bring together have so much to give each other because they bring unique perspectives to the coursework. When we have group discussion sessions amongst our students, we make sure to group students who have different professional backgrounds so that they can benefit from their peers’ perspectives and proposed solutions. In a given class, all students might be asked the same question but they will respond with 15 or more different ways of solving or answering that question. And when we have a business person, an educator, a healthcare professional, an epidemiologist, and a political activist all discussing in this interactive online learning environment, the insights they can all gain can be profoundly impactful.

There are so many complex contemporary challenges in the world right now that cannot be solved by one discipline alone. You have to work across fields, and in many cases that means working closely with an interdisciplinary team. So we strive to create such an environment for our students in our program, and the result is they walk away from the program with the ability to listen, to understand what they don’t know, and most importantly to empathize with other perspectives in a way that empowers them to arrive at a multifaceted and effective solution.

The Jesuit values throughout the program teach students how to reflect on difficult issues as well as on their own mindset about life. Students are taught to reflect prior to reacting, which is an important tool in today’s life. Students learn about leadership theory and leadership practice. Students learn to conduct valid research and to use credible sources in their thinking and writing. This gives them a much stronger base from which to make difficult decisions. The program is ‘alive’ with faculty and students. We all get to know each other. This is not a ‘dial in’ program, meaning it is as close as you can get to receiving the ‘on campus’ feel while still being an online program. We control program growth so high quality is maintained. Retention is high in our program at about 85 percent, so students who are willing to hang in there and do the work will be successful (willing to learn!).

The alumni network is strong. We bring together alumni across the country on a regular basis through Affinity Events. We also encourage alumni to engage with the program after they graduate through mentorship, teaching, writing, and serving the program in many ways. Most of our students say upon graduation that they want to stay involved with the program in some way.

Thank you, Dr. Moss Breen, for your excellent insight into Creighton University’s Online Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Leadership!