Interview with Jessica Daniels, Ph.D. - Program Director for the Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership at Bethel University

About Jessica Daniels, Ph.D.: Jessica Daniels is the Program Director for the Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership at Bethel University. As Program Director, she oversees academic and administrative functions of the program, including curriculum, evaluation, faculty, and budget, and she most enjoys teaching, advising, and supporting Ed.D. students. The highlight of her year is teaching the residency course EDUC801 Philosophical, Historical, and Cultural Issues Impacting Higher Education. She also teaches EDUC832 Leadership of Academic & Support Systems, among other Ed.D. courses. The research agenda of Dr. Daniels falls under the broad umbrella of higher education and positive social change, so her research projects have included issues around gender, racial and socio-economic diversity, and most recently intellectual disabilities. She also focuses on organizational leadership and means of fostering engagement, collaboration, and diverse perspectives.

Prior to her role at Bethel University, Dr. Daniels served as the Assistant Provost at a university in the Pacific Northwest, and was responsible for institutional assessment, accreditation, institutional research, and faculty development. She also has student development, consulting, and curriculum design experience. She is a member of the peer-corps for the Higher Learning Commission and a reviewer for a number of academic journals, and serves on the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Research Taskforce.

Dr. Daniels completed her bachelor of arts in History at Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, CA. She finished two master’s programs, a Master of Arts and a Master of Teaching, at Bethel University, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration (Organizational Leadership Concentration) is from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students optimally for a wide variety of roles in higher education leadership?

[Dr. Daniels] The coursework for Bethel University’s Ed.D. program in Higher Education Leadership is a survey of the different components and functions within a university, intersected with an emphasis on personal formation. So in addition to content that will foster an integrated and holistic understanding of American and global higher education, from the macro level culture and systems to the more micro skillsets of budgeting or curriculum development, an exploration of self is also supported.

As students better understand their own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, goals, and opportunities for difference-making, they are best equipped to apply the knowledge they are gaining from professors, peers, coursework, and the accumulated process, to positively impact, and even re-imagine, the departments, institutions, and systems within which they work.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership uses to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Daniels] The majority of the courses in the Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership program are eight week online courses. Bethel University uses Moodle as the learning management system. Courses are all asynchronous, with occasional synchronous assignments (typically via video, unless a group of students opt to meet at a conference, or happen to live within a single geographic region). Discussion forums within Moodle are regularly used for student conversations, which typically are extensive, rich, and move well beyond requirements to extend learning and relationships.

Bethel provides students with asynchronous or synchronous (student choice) access to an Academic Resource Center, with significant writing and editing support options for completion of assignments and dissertation.

Faculty are all committed to student success in both the courses and their professional goals, so contact and conversations are common (phone, email, in-person meetings). Professors also use various technologies such as Flip Grid, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, etc. to facilitate learning, community, and conversation.

[] Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership requires students to attend one week-long residency every year they are enrolled. May we have more information about these requirements, what they entail, and how they enhance students’ learning outcomes?

[Dr. Daniels] Three one-week summer residencies are required. In these residencies, students meet and network with peers and faculty, engage in deep and transformational conversations and formation exercises, and practice and apply content knowledge. Students often state they are surprised by how fast the time passes, how much they enjoy the time with peers, and that they wish all of their courses could be in this interactive and engaging format (however their personal and professional lives wouldn’t allow it). Outside the classroom, events such as a lunch panel with regional leaders (presidents, provosts, VPs), or research showcase (recent graduates present their dissertations) support students’ content knowledge, professional networking, and dissertation preparation.

In particular, the third residency is jointly taught by a qualitative and a quantitative professor, who both provide individualized support and feedback to students as they make significant progress on the first three chapters of their dissertation.

[] Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership requires the completion of a Dissertation, as well as a Comprehensive Examination. What does each of these requirements involve, what processes do students take to complete them, and what kinds of faculty/peer support do they receive during their work?

[Dr. Daniels] Students in the Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership are required to complete a comprehensive examination. The comprehensive exam is an opportunity for students to reflect and synthesize their learning in the program, explicitly articulating the connections and integration of the topics covered, their personal reflections and growth, and the convergence of their experience for future application. The questions and rubrics are posted on Moodle, so students simply register and begin responding once they complete their coursework.

Students in the Ed.D. Higher Education Leadership program also complete a dissertation, including conducting original research on a topic of their choice. The dissertation is embedded, so each of four research courses throughout the program develop both research skills and individualized dissertation process. At the end of the fourth research course (in fall of year three of the program), students should have an abbreviated rough draft of the first three chapters of their dissertation.

Students have the opportunity to select an advisor best suited to their needs and goals (with significant direction and support from the research specialist and program directors on this selection process). The advisor selection is facilitated in the second research course. Reader selection is facilitated in the third and fourth research courses, again with the support of the research course professors, research specialist, and program directors.

Students are provided with high support in this process, including an academic writing specialist, the Academic Resource Center (for free weekly writing and editing support), a research specialist, research faculty, advisor and readers (compensated by the program), and program directors. Students appreciate this high support that moves them through the process.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while they are enrolled?

[Dr. Daniels] The Bethel University’s Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership program has a full-time program director, who supports and advises students regarding coursework, dissertations, scholarship/research, and professional career decisions and advancement. A mentorship relationship is also really important to and enjoyed by the program faculty, with professors dedicated not only to the successful completion of courses but also holistic development of students and their professional advancement. Professors desire personal relationships and regularly engage with students through email, phone, video, and in-person (depending on the student’s preference and location). Opportunities for peer relationships and networking are also intentionally scheduled.

Regarding research and scholarship, opportunities for collaboration or mentorship are communicated at a program level and also specifically within relevant courses or points in the program.

[] For students interested in Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Daniels] A competitive application for the Bethel University Ed.D. program would demonstrate a missional passion for higher education and a commitment to personal growth and reflection. The purpose of the program is to foster positive change, within institutions and systems, but also within ourselves. Thus, an essay that demonstrates this conviction and capacity is most competitive.

Because the most robust learning occurs within a diverse learning community, admits intentionally reflect and represent a variety of backgrounds: different institutions (public, private, for-profit, community college, four-year, comprehensive graduate, residential, online, faith-based, etc.), divisions/functions within an institution including both faculty and staff (and variation among staff, including enrollment, advancement, student development, academics, technology, etc.), geographic regions (nationally and internationally), faith and no faith traditions (current student faith traditions include Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim), race/ethnicities, gender, age, sex, etc.

[] What makes Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in education and organizational leadership and higher education systems improvement?

[Dr. Daniels] The current tumultuous higher education landscape only heightens the need for leaders who are broadly knowledgeable and informed, confident enough to be inclusive, and inspiring yet humble enough to learn, change their minds, and seek better questions. In our coursework, the combination and intersection of rich content and deep reflection and formation fosters leaders who can re-imagine the possibilities for positive change.

With a primarily online offering, students continue their professional success and reinforce and directly apply their content and learning. The residencies are a highlight, in which deep relationships are formed and professional networks develop. The program is committed to the holistic success of students, and is thus created to layer with pre-existing professional and personal responsibilities. Flexible start times, course sequencing, and program schedules ensure students are able to adapt and attend to their life circumstances.

The student is surrounded and supported by a team deeply committed to each student’s success. Specific and individualized strategies, services, and interventions exist in order to most effectively support the student to graduation and professional objectives. Students feel the individualized nature of the program and the passion and commitment of the experienced faculty and staff.

Thank you, Dr. Jessica Daniels, for your excellent insight into Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership!