Interview with Stephoni Case, Ed.D. - Director of Graduate Programs in Education at Southern Nazarene University

About Stephoni Case: Stephoni Case is the Director of Graduate Programs in Education at Southern Nazarene University, where she is a Professor of Education and teaches in the Graduate Studies in Education and Leadership department. In her role as Program Director, Dr. Case led the development of the Online Ed.D. in Administration and Leadership, including the curriculum design, faculty hiring and support, student advising and support structures, and marketing. She serves as a mentor to all students in the program as they progress through their courses, and also supports faculty in the program. Dr. Case earned her Ed.D. in Applied Education Studies from Oklahoma State University.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Southern Nazarene University’s Online Ed.D. in Administration and 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 innovation, academic systems improvement, and other education leadership responsibilities?

[Dr. Case] We have an accelerated program, and our courses are offered one at a time over a six-week period. That is really an advantage because students can take a deep dive into each course and its content, instead of spreading their time between several courses at once. We have both content courses and research courses. Students complete their research courses during the first half of the program, and concurrently complete their proposal and Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of their dissertation. We have what you would call an embedded dissertation, which helps ensure that students have every opportunity to complete their dissertation within the scheduled 32-month window.

Our program starts off with a servant leadership course, which we feel is a very good point of entry. In this course we cover research and different leadership theories and processes. We then transition into a research foundations course, where students start developing their dissertation topic and launch into the research process. Students get started on a research statement and study epistemologies before moving on to a course on organizational history and development, which helps both their work in leadership and their work in research. Additionally, students take a literature review or research traditions class, in addition to taking the typical courses in qualitative and quantitative research.

We also have an organizational leadership theory and interpersonal and collaborative leadership course, a visionary leadership course, and a strategic planning course, all of which cover key elements of being a versatile, multi-level leader within different contexts suitable for educators as well as business leaders, public service workers and philanthropic generalists. We also have a technology course, a law and policy course, and a global perspectives and leadership course, which finish out the didactic coursework. The final course on global perspectives gives students the option for traveling abroad to observe how leadership in various contexts is enacted in an international setting. For the international element of this course, we have plans to allow students to travel to Belize, Eswatini in Africa, as well as Israel.

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

[Dr. Case] The learning management system that we use is Canvas, and we incorporate asynchronous instruction in order to maximize students’ flexibility in the program. Professors are available for office hours through email, phone, and video chat. We use Zoom a lot for appointments with students, and we also hold open houses on campus for any students who want to come to campus, meet a faculty member for coffee to talk about class, or work on their project.

We encourage all online students to attend a face-to-face orientation at the beginning of the program, which is held in Bethany and spans a Friday evening and all day Saturday. This orientation gives students the chance to really connect with each other and build a strong foundation that will sustain them for their entire program of study. During the orientation, we share several meals together, and our University President addresses our cohort. We also meet in smaller groups and share information about our research interests, professional experiences, etc. The orientation really helps people get to know each other and realize that they are all on this journey together. We have had students join the orientation via Zoom as well, and with COVID-19 many students in fact opted to attend online, though typically the orientation is an in-person event. There are also two other on-campus residencies that are tied to students’ dissertation work, which we will discuss in a later question.

In terms of support structures outside of classes, our university is very committed to this entire doctorate program, both face-to-face and online, and as a result our online students benefit from librarian consultations and support, a career center, and other campus-based resources. In addition, each cohort has its own Dissertation Director, who functions as a dissertation counselor and walks all students through the dissertation process, from initial ideation of the research question to the proposal development, research and writing up of results, and final defense. Our Dissertation Directors know each student really well–their research, their story, their progress–and it just makes an amazing difference. The Dissertation Director also teaches one class in the program.

[] Students of Southern Nazarene University’s Online Ed.D. in Administration and Leadership are required to complete a Dissertation. May we have more information about the dissertation and how it is embedded into the program’s curriculum? In addition, what are some examples of dissertation topics students have explored?

[Dr. Case] Students study a wealth of topics for their dissertations, all according to their personal interests and professional goals. We have had students who studied social and emotional learning, and others who have investigated trauma-informed teaching. One student conducted his dissertation on security in cyberspace, while another focused on the impact of prescription medication on veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Other students have examined the importance of diversity in education systems and structures, and even how health care and organizational/educational administration intersect, such as in the case of one student who studied diabetes and the impact of diversity on treatment plans.

Students receive individualized support and guidance, not only from the Dissertation Director, but also from their dissertation committee, comprised of four people: a dissertation chair who is a faculty member in our department, a second departmental faculty member who addresses style and editing issues, a member from outside our department who has scholarly expertise in the student’s project area, and the Dissertation Director who is in communication with each student and his or her committee. In addition to the support structures described above, students have the option to attend two campus residencies for their dissertation proposal defense and final defense. During these weekends, students present their work to their committee and receive feedback in-person. They also participate in social events and can meet with faculty members for meals and coffee to discuss research progress.

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

[Dr. Case] The Dissertation Director really provides a tremendous amount of support throughout the program, and is a form of mentorship that is unique to Southern Nazarene University and for which I am thankful. The willingness of our university administration to support the expense of this position is admirable. Adding in that extra layer of support on top of students’ traditional committees ensures that we give students the support and mentorship they deserve, making this program a really good value for students’ time and financial investment.

From the beginning of the program, students have access to me as the Director of the program as well for advising and support, as well as a dedicated student support person Patty Milford. We have a financial aid counselor who is very approachable and who helps all of our students with different financial aid questions. We’ve built quite a strong team here and we all really get to know our students and prioritize being available for them.

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

[Dr. Case] One of the primary pieces of advice I have for students is for them to have a general idea of what they want to do for their dissertation research. They don’t have to have all of the specifics nailed down, of course, but we do want them to convey their sense of direction by telling us the general idea of what they want to pursue for their research. The other thing that will help them in their success is if they are open-minded to the guidance of the dissertation directors. They may be able to pursue the dissertation topic that they have identified, but they may need to tweak the perspective or the approach in order to develop a viable dissertation topic and conduct research on it.

A prospective student’s vision statement is one of the most important parts of their application–it can include their ideas for their dissertation, but should also include their vision for why they want to complete a terminal degree. Students do not necessarily have to be very formal, because what we want more than anything is for them to be honest about why they want this degree and what it will mean in their lives.

In terms of letters of recommendation, we ask that students ask a professor who has taught them in the past or a past professional supervisor who can speak to their research, leadership, and/or writing skills–areas that as doctoral faculty we are particularly invested in.

Our program is fairly new, and we have been thrilled to see how diverse our student body is. We designed the program to be supportive to all types of learners and people with all types of career trajectories. As a result, we have people from education certainly, and people from public service areas. We have students from philanthropic groups, and those from the medical community and from hospital administration. It’s really interesting the variety that we have, and we’re really enjoying it because it makes our student groups and our discussions even richer.

[] What makes Southern Nazarene University’s Online Ed.D. in Administration and Leadership unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in education leadership, education systems improvement, organizational change, and cultural leadership?

[Dr. Case] What makes our program stand out is that it is intense and you can earn your doctorate in 32 months. It is rigorous, and you do have to commit to keep up with everything, but you have so much support in place. If you are dedicated, you can finish in 32 months with a terminal degree and that is something you can be very proud of and which will help you personally and professionally.

Thank you, Dr. Case, for your excellent insight into Southern Nazarene University’s Ed.D. in Administration and Leadership!