Interview with Karim Medico Letwinsky, Ed.D. - Doctoral Department Chair in the School of Education at Wilkes University

About Karim Medico Letwinsky, Ed.D.: Karim Medico Letwinsky is the Doctoral Department Chairperson and an Associate Professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She also serves as the Director of the international graduate education programs. Programs under her management include a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership, with specializations in K-12 Administration, and Leadership Studies with concentration tracks that include International Instructional Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Technology. At the master’s level, she oversees Master of Science degrees in International School Leadership and Effective Teaching. Finally, she serves as an international consultant for the Office of Overseas Schools. In this capacity, she has provided targeted professional development and training to international K-12 classroom teachers and leaders world wide.

Dr. Medico Letwinsky has worked at all levels of education over the past 24 years. Having spent the first 13 years of her career in K-12, she is a certified K-12 mathematics teacher for grades 4-12 and a certified K-12 principal. At Wilkes University, Dr. Medico Letwinsky teaches master and doctoral level courses in Effective Instruction, Curriculum & Assessment, and Quantitative Research/Statistics. Her research focuses on the professional development of K-12 mathematics teachers, effective mathematics classroom practice, and international school leadership. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Finance from Fairfield University, her Master of Science in Mathematics and Secondary Education from The University of Scranton, and her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with specialization in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Phoenix.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Wilkes University’s Online Ed.D. Program in Educational Leadership with Specializations in K-12 Administration and Educational Leadership? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students to step into leadership roles in K-12 education, instructional technology, curriculum design, advanced educational research, and other areas?

[Dr. Medico Letwinsky] The Wilkes University doctoral degree in Educational Leadership began in 2007, offered primarily as a campus-based program. Since then, the program has evolved into an innovative hybrid-online delivery with an annual low-residency, allowing it to be delivered world-wide. While the degree is broadly an educational leadership doctorate, two distinct specializations allow students to study either with the intent to earn a K-12 superintendent letter of eligibility in the K-12 Administration track, or to focus their study of educational leadership with 1 of 3 concentrations. These include Curriculum and Instruction, General Leadership Studies, or Educational Technology.

As a mission driven program, we strive to “empower leaders with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to effect change in educational systems through the synthesis of theory, scholarship, and practice. Our vision is to develop authentic, ethical, courageous, and innovative leaders who transform educational culture and practice.” An ideal student for this program embraces our mission and vision as the foundation for their doctoral learning journey and future practice. US-based cohorts consist of predominantly K-12 educators and leaders from US school systems, while international cohorts consist of the same, only from international schools from around the world. For instance, international students join us from Kuwait, Russia, China, Australia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Nigeria, and Poland, to name a few. When international educators are united online with US educators, the diversity of experience, environment, and perspective is rich and provides a strong global network of like-minded leaders and learners.

[] Wilkes University also offers a unique Online Ed.D. Program with a Concentration in Instructional Leadership for International Educators that is designed to prepare students to enact positive change and improve education systems in global settings. May we have more information on how the curriculum for the International Online Ed.D. differs from that of the Online Ed.D. Program in Educational Leadership that focuses more on education systems in the United States?

[Dr. Medico Letwinsky] The Instructional Leadership concentration includes the same foundational leadership and research content as the US based concentrations. This track, on the other hand, does not require students to engage in topics that may be more US-centric, such as the application of state law. In the international concentration, students have the option of taking courses specific to their environment, some of which include: Governance in International Schools, Situational Awareness and Diplomacy in International Schools, and International School Management and Leadership.

International cohorts do not join the US cohorts for the annual residency at the University, but rather their residency is held annually in Dubai. During this time, doctoral faculty and international cohorts come together in the United Arab Emirates to learn, build community, and have the opportunity to receive in-person mentoring from faculty. Because international students do collaborate in the online space with US cohorts, the dialogue and discussions are deeply enriched by the sharing of such different perspectives during the online synchronous and asynchronous portions of class.

The research contributions from both US and international students have included a wide range of topics, some of which are relevant in both environments such as the flipped classroom model on science education, positive school-wide behavioral interventions and student outcomes, transformational leadership in online education, and cumulative testing in middle school mathematics. On the other hand, some unique topics of research specific to our international community have included Third Culture Kids’ transition to university in a non-fluent language of instruction, technology application in mathematics in the Middle East, and international school onboarding programs.

[] Could you please elaborate on the online learning technologies that Wilkes University’s online Ed.D. programs use to deliver course materials and facilitate interactions between students and faculty?

[Dr. Medico Letwinsky] Wilkes University uses Desire2Learn (D2L), now called Brightspace, as its learning management system. It is very user friendly and we are able to host live synchronous sessions to build community and foster engaging discussions as well as provide asynchronous units of study to maximize convenience. We have students that seek our program from around the globe due to the strong sense of community gained through embedded residency experiences. At the same time, our dynamic model of delivery offers synchronous sessions combined with the convenience of completing asynchronous coursework online. It is a powerful combination of the best of each modality for delivery. Besides the D2L learning management system and the built-in virtual conference tool, faculty have the flexibility to use a variety of technologies to interact with students, including Zoom, Google Meet, and WhatsApp, which have helped enhance the interaction between students and faculty from different locations in the world and multiple time zones.

Dissertation work is done with tremendous support and preparation before getting to “dissertation phase.” Students work directly with their chair from proposal development through dissertation defense. Additionally, students have support and insight provided from a dissertation committee (2 additional members) plus the review of external examiners (2 more additional members). The intent of this support is to provide the student with the insight and guidance to help them develop and implement the strongest study possible to answer the research question(s) they are exploring.

[] Both online Ed.D. programs require students to attend three four-day residencies during which they interact with course peers and faculty. May we have more information about these residencies, and what they entail? How does the face-to-face instruction enhance the online programs?

[Dr. Medico Letwinsky] The Wilkes Ed.D. residency is a cornerstone of the program and has four distinct purposes, all of which are intentionally integrated throughout the four days: to facilitate a trusting and supportive learning community among students and faculty, to examine a wide range of educational theory, to enhance students’ professional practice, and to extend students’ preparation for the dissertation process. The US cohorts meet for residency each August on the Wilkes University campus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and the international cohorts have residency in February in Dubai, UAE. While there are three distinct residency programs (1st year, 2nd year, and 3rd year) with their own specific focus on leadership theory, strategic planning, and dissertation planning, there are several workshops throughout the 4 days in which all cohorts interact with each other. As a result of the deliberate integration of cohorts, personal and professional relationships that develop become the network of support that directly enhances the residency experience and significantly increases program completion.

Our program retention and graduation rates are extremely high and we attribute this to the ongoing support and strong relationship bonds built between students and faculty. When students return to their homes and to the online coursework, the connections formed at residency with faculty and classmates enrich the dialogue in a personal way throughout the remainder of the year. This ensures that the online community is a highly personalized learning environment.

[] Wilkes University’s online Ed.D. programs require 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. Medico Letwinsky] At Wilkes University students have the opportunity to explore possible dissertation topic ideas from day one. They are supported in the refinement of their topic as they take an introduction to research course as well as with great intention in their first and second level research courses. Guidance is provided from faculty members teaching each research course along the way. Additionally, students are encouraged to explore their individual interests and potential topics for dissertation research in their major coursework.

Individualized work and flexible assignment topics allow students to focus on potential areas of research that matter most to them and their unique learning journey. Our students are experienced professionals, educators, and leaders, who have direct experience and great insights into educational issues. This has become a tremendous strength as their research ideas take form throughout the program.

Students also have the opportunity to learn about the proposal development process in depth in the final residency course, Dissertation Proposal Design. This course is infused with alumni insight, guiding research principles, and the opportunity to work closely with prior students who have navigated the research process before them. Our strong alumni network has been a tremendous resource for current students and alumni serve as program mentors, research reviewers, and committee members for current students. Once students become a member of our community, they remain an active member long after graduation. Students also have continuous access to the library services, all of which are accessible online to both US and international students.

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

[Dr. Medico Letwinsky] Mentorship is one of our core values at Wilkes University. As such, it is woven into the fabric of everything we do. We place relationships at the center of the teaching and learning endeavor, which means that you will get to know us just as deeply as we will get to know you. Faculty know their students, their stories, and their reasons for seeking a degree of this level. We invest deeply in each student’s success. Students are not only assigned a mentor on the day they join the program, but they are also given intentional times throughout the program to connect personally with that individual faculty member. This is particularly meaningful during residency, when faculty and students spend unbounded time together for 4 days.

At the same time, the peer support and networking our students provide one another is astonishing to observe. Because of the time spent to build trusting relationships early in the program, student support comes from not only faculty, but also from peers as the learning environment contains no personal or professional ego. Superintendents, long-standing international school administrators, and new teachers alike tackle the same challenging coursework with a shared purpose that is uplifting and elevating to the learning environment. All faculty and students are well versed in multiple ways to connect with each other across states, countries, and time zones. We use multiple video-conference tools, and students create Whats App groups, Facebook pages, team Zoom meetings, active Twitter communities and more to support the learning community’s connection.

Our faculty members provide continued professional support for our graduates as well. For example, faculty continue to mentor and encourage alumni efforts in disseminating their dissertation research through presentations or publications, or writing job recommendations. Many students have co-published or co-presented with faculty or alumni. The support and mentorship for scholarly dissemination and professional growth is purposefully integrated into our ongoing dialogue. Alumni regularly guest speak in courses, present at residencies, and serve as research mentors for current students. The breadth and depth of the network is one of the greatest aspects of this program.

[] For students interested in either of Wilkes University’s online Ed.D. programs, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Medico Letwinsky] The Wilkes University Ed.D. program is looking for competitive applicants who are driven by a desire for growth and are looking for a dynamic learning community to facilitate that growth. The program faculty live and breathe the mission and vision with our students, so those applicants who are willing to join those efforts are ideal. Qualities that we are looking for, which would be appropriate material for personal statements and might be included in applicants’ recommendation letters, include a commitment to improving professional, research-informed practice, high levels of curiosity, interest in innovation, a genuine belief in the value of self-reflection, and a strong desire for meaningful collaboration.

We seek students who value honesty, integrity, and care. Personal statements should be written with this in mind. Letters of recommendation should be requested from colleagues/supervisors who know you well and understand your commitment to these three ideals and the qualities listed above.

[] What makes Wilkes University’s Online Ed.D. Program in Educational Leadership and Online Ed.D. Program with a Concentration in Instructional Leadership for International Educators unique and particularly strong graduate degree options for students? How do these programs prepare students for advanced careers across a wide variety of educational contexts, from K-12 leadership to education technology and curriculum design both domestically and abroad?

[Dr. Medico Letwinsky] Choosing to join this program is more than a decision about earning a terminal degree. Rather, your decision to join us is the first step in a lifelong journey with a global community of learners and scholars who believe in the transformative potential of leadership. Together, the students in this program learn how to effect change in any environment.

Becoming a member of either the US Educational Leadership or International Instructional Leadership Ed.D. programs is both an individual and collective endeavor. As an individual, coursework and residency experiences can be focused on your personal aspirations for research and professional growth in any context. This allows you to dive deeply into unique professional situations while applying the theoretical and research-based foundations learned in program courses. Our students consistently report how coursework directly benefits their professional work from the moment they begin the program. Our goal is to foster realistic connections between research and practice so that sustainable improvements can be made through courageous leadership.

When you join the Wilkes University Ed.D. program, you join a global network of likeminded educators and leaders. After 14 years of growth and refinement of our purpose, our doctoral program’s mission and vision now touch six continents, dozens of countries, hundreds of leaders, and thousands of children. With intentional and refined program design, with innovative minds and an authentic global reach, and with a community of learners who are courageous enough to believe in the transformative power of learning – this program empowers students to make a difference.

Thank you, Dr. Karim Medico Letwinsky, for your excellent insight into Wilkes University’s Online Ed.D. Program in Educational Leadership and Online Ed.D. Program with a Concentration in Instructional Leadership for International Educators!