Thursday, April 11, 2013

Steps in a direction

It is said that before you go on a journey you must know where you want to know but where you are is just as important.  I desire to complete a dissertation.  However, figuring out where I am is a bit more challenging.  My first steps are writing chapter 2, then 1, then chapter 3.

Since returning from class I have progressed towards my chapter 2 literature review.  Today I had a quick conversation with my chair and realize how far I have to travel.  Much of my previous work is not detailed enough for a literature review.  However, it may be usable in chapter 1.

With weekend plan both Friday and Saturday I am planning on working as much as possible tonight.

Trying to work full-time, be a full-time student, be a husband, father, and sane person while writing a dissertation is challenging.  After summer school the full-time student will be complete. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Dissertation Journey

      For the past twenty months I have been enrolled in an executive doctoral program.  I will be enrolled in nine hours this summer and then will be finished with course work.  I then will join the large group of ABD individuals.  All but dissertation. 
     Dissertations are five chapters long and vary in length but my program expects a minimum of 120 pages and desires at least 150.  In order to collect data (Chapter 4) the preliminary proposal must be defended and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) must give their approval.  The preliminary proposal includes the first three chapters which include the statement of purpose, literature review, and methodology.

     I am hoping that by blogging about it then it will help keep me on track.  In my program we had two adjunct professors and one of them gave us some advice.  She said, “Take advantage of every opportunity to write. Write something every day.  Write ate least one sentence a day.”

     Though I hope to follow her advice and write every day I have no plans to update my blog that frequently.  I will update the blog every few days with the goal of having the preliminary proposal complete by June.

     Different programs encourage various methods for writing.  In my program it is theorized that chapter two, the literature review, will help form your purpose and determine how you frame the methodology.

     This semester we have taken a course titled ‘Reading in Higher Education’ in which we have been writing chapter 2.  I am in my final class session of the spring semester now.  The instructor has been covering a power point on citations, references, quotations, paraphrasing, and other writing tools that we need to make sure we understand.  Following her advise we are working individually on our own assignment.

     Our final draft of Chapter 2 is due by May 1st.  As of today I have about twenty pages and need to have at least thirty.  My current twenty pages needs significant editing.  My topic is examining academic and social integration within freshmen college students that enroll for the first time in a summer school bridge program.

*The above picture is from class where all 12 of us have laptops open as we work away.


Monday, July 9, 2012

June 9 Return Trip

June 9 Return Trip

Departure day from Europe.  We took an early train from Leiden to the Amsterdam airport.  We had a long lay-over in Chicago before landing in Birmingham.  It was exciting for us to finally see our kids since they were able, with my parents, to meet us at the airport.

On the plane back I did have a chance to reflect on my experience.  Getting to tour four colleges and one high school over the past week has been a wonderful educational experience for me.  The trip made me even more aware of how little I know about other countries and how they educate their students.  Also, it made me appreciate international exchange students even more.  With the language barrier and financial considerations to come to the US takes a special student.

I would also strongly encourage any undergraduate to study abroad.  The excuses of missing friends, American food, and football games are small compared to experiences that will be gained.

We left Europe with some cheese and a few duty-approved bulbs.  However, we also left with memories to last a life-time.

Flight track shows that we are almost to Chicago for our long lay-over.  Once I arrive back in the States I will depart Monday morning for a three-week work trip.  Laundry, packing, and loving on my kids will be the next two days for me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

June 8 University of Leiden

June 8  University of Leiden

We took a morning bus from Ghent to Leiden which took a couple of hours.  We arrived at the hotel and were able to put our bags in our room before we walked to University of Leiden.  We are excited about the visit but also tiring from our travels and time away from family.

The university was a short walk from our hotel and we were scheduled to be there to tour before lunch.  We crossed one canal and walked a couple of blocks to arrive outside a building courtyard with one building labeled University Club.  We met a sociology professor there who would be our guide for the day.  He was very intelligent and knew a lot.  He was a little odd but certainly likable.

From our studies on Leiden it seems to be more similar to a US institution than others that we have visited.  There are 17,000 students and 4,000 faculty or staff.  My college, Mississippi State, has 21,000 students and 4,600 faculty and staff.

Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and led us into the building opposite the University Club.  He gave a brief history of the building.  It was constructed in 1532 for governmental purposes as the university was not founded until 1575.  

In 1574 the Spanish were invading the Netherlands and Leiden resisted.  After a siege the Spanish eventually retreated.  Prince William of Orange to reward the town offered either a college or a 10-year period of time without taxes.  The town council wisely chose to found a college.

The building we were in was the 'heart' of the University from 1584 until 1930's.

We were told the annual budget of University of Leiden was 475 million Euros (583 million US).  For comparison purposes the annual salary, wages and benefits at the University of Alabama is $466 Million.

One of the interesting things that we saw was the Sweat Chamber.  This room was located adjacent to the doctoral defense room and students would wait in there to be called for their defense.  After successful completion of their defense they would sign the wall.  The wall was covered in signature with some of them being quite old.  Nelson Mandela was awarded an honorary doctorate and got to sign the wall.  His signature and the signature of another honorary doctorate (someone from the Orange family) were both covered in a protective plate.

University of Leiden was ruled by Senate until 1940 and we saw the senate room.  It looked similar to a church you would find in the US.

We toured each of the rooms that house meeting space for faculty on doctoral defense days.

The picture below shows the doctoral defense room.  The three chairs in the middle are where the candidate, his dissertation chair, and other supporting faculty would sit.

For lunch we ate in the Faculty Club with a number of staff members from Leiden.  At the table I was sitting was a staff member from housing.  You may remember from previous posts that housing office only offer services to international students.  I do wonder about their reasoning for not serving Dutch students and wish that I had inquired into that.

After lunch we walked in the 'student union'.  There was a career counseling center there that is even more interesting to me as I reflect on my experience.  The student recreation room was also in this facility and by American standards would only be acceptable in a hotel.  The 'book store' here was only slightly better than what we saw at University of Ghent.  This bookstore included three choices of shirts and two choices of coffee mugs.

We ended the day with a nice meal together.  As a group we went around talked about things we had learned and what had made the strongest impressions on us.  To some degree our comments were influenced by the area we were currently working.  It was interesting to me how students select colleges and how little money was spent on recruiting.  One of my fellow cohort members talked about how the university focus on the courses within the major could have significant impacts on what is considered 'educated'.  With the high schools bearing the weight of core curriculum there is pressure on students to mature quickly.

We have had a great time and have had fun getting to spend even more time with wife and cohort members.  I know this experience will shape the next year of course work and likely my career.

Monday, July 2, 2012

June 7 University of Ghent

June 7 University of Ghent

Today we are visiting the University of Ghent.  It was founded in 1878.  Belgium has two main languages...Flemish (a form of Dutch) in the north and French in the south.  In Ghent (which is located in the north) the main language is Flemish though many citizens speak French as well.  English is also widely spoken.  At U Ghent, Dutch became the official language of instruction in 1930.

There are 4 universities in Ghent enrolling more than 66,000 students, being served/taught by 10,000 staff, and offering more than 340 bachelors degrees.  U Ghent has the majority of those numbers with 34,000 students and over 7,000 staff.
At U Ghent they have 9,000 new students each year and award 9,000 'qualifications' as well.  There are 18 degrees of study and 44 bachelors courses, 88 masters, and 34 advanced masters doctoral studies (across 5 doctoral schools).  They are one of the few veterinary medicine schools in Belgium.

While at U Ghent we were shown to an extremely nice lecture room with four projectors around the room.  Each seat had a microphone (that we did not use).  Four staff members from U Ghent spoke to us about their policies, students, governance, finances, and nuances.

Some of the highlights of their lectures:

-University governed by a 'Rector' and 'Vice Rector' that serve four year terms.  The candidates for these positions come from the faculty and are elected by the faculty.

-There is a Board of Governors with 38 members that meet monthly.  Students do make up two seats of the board.  They rule on big policy issues and tenure.

-Executive Committee also has some presence but don't meet often.  This includes Rector, Vice Rector, a non-voting government official, and two other committee members.

-'Tuesday Meeting Group' -same as Executive Committee (except no government official) and directors of both education and research.

-Student services at U Ghent funded by government and intended of Belgium students and international students are not served.  Cafeteria and sports/recreational center can be used by international students.

-Slogan of U Ghent:  A creative community for a changing world.

Next speaker was Chief Administrator of Logistics.  He was in charge of finances, buildings, and infrastructure.

-All students have an 'account' with 140 credits.  Students 'spend' 60 credits per year on courses.  They are refunded for each credit they pass.  If they 'run out' of credits they may not return or may have to pay significant extra fees.

-We also talked about curriculum that students take for their degree.  The impression we were given is that courses are primarily related to their major and there is no 'core curriculum'.

At left, two of the cohort attempt to figure out one of the many slides with charts and formulas.  I think that we need a flow chart!

The next speaker was from the Department of Educational Affairs.

-Anticipate 20% growth in students for fall 2013.

-How?  Because Flemish Belgium is 'integrating' universities with university colleges (see previous posts for explanation of differences).

-Why?  Match dichotomy of two institutes (time taken to graduate).
             Increase quality in programs.
             More rational distribution of resources.  There are 6 Universities and 21 University Colleges in Flemish portion of Belgium.  The six Universities will absorb the 21 UC...based primarily on geographic location but institute type also strongly considered (Catholic UC absorbed by a Catholic University).
             Fair appreciation of diplomas.   The everyday perception is that UC < C but Flemish Belgium wants to change that.
            Not a physical integration.  Just removing some duplication of resources.

After these discussions we toured campus and even got to visit the top floor of a building that is being renovated.  One of our speakers had talked about how challenging it is for colleges to do fundraising among alumni.  With such a high tax rate and the structure of college selection there seems to be little college spirit.  I am sure the absence of intercollegiate athletics also contributes to the lack of school spirit.  Funds were being raised for the stairs in this building.  Alumni were asked to donate 250 Euro for 1 stair.  Though I am unsure how many stairs were in the building it was around 20 stories high.  Two of my cohort walked to the top while the rest of us took the elevator.  The picture below is from the top floor.  It offered great view of the city of Ghent.

After our wonderful day on campus we visited the campus bookstore which was much smaller in scale and selection than you would find on any US campus.  While there we decided, as a cohort, to each donate money to sponsor a stair.  So if you visit University of Ghent you will find our name on one of the stairs.  We thought it was a nice way to show our appreciation for the tour.

One of the most interesting items to me was the consolidation of the colleges.  I don't fully understand the differences in University and University College and how a students selects one and I think this merger will help with some of the confusion.  I agree that duplication of services is a valuable concept for the government to examine since education is relatively free.  As the state of Mississippi considers college mergers (and Georgia just completed some) there are challenges in the US that do not exist abroad.  In the US there is much more school loyalty and alumni pride.  The presence of sports teams also add to the confusion as US schools consider mergers.

The other concept that I enjoyed was the 'account' with a limited number of credits that are replaced with successful completion of classes.  This certainly keeps students on track.  With a finite amount of financial aid the US does have a form of this but with free education I am sure the government wants to ensure the students are taking courses seriously and this appears to be a sound concept.

The unofficial mascot of U Ghent was 'Stunt Brain'.  It was the first time that we had seen a mascot so coming from the land of Bulldogs, Commodores, and Crimson Elephants we were all excited.  The picture we were shown had a 'real' mascot in costume with the Rector.  I was not able to find that picture but did find a comic drawing of him.  Little was shared about him during the presentation but my research has found that he was used in a capital campaign for one year.

After the tour we enjoyed a nice lunch in the cafeteria with four staff members.  It was enlightening to speak with them about their experiences and share what is happening with higher education in the US. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 6 University of Kent, Brussels

June 6- University of Kent,Brussels

This morning we took a bus to Brussels which took about 45 minutes. As we approached the city Ingeborg told us that most street signs and business signs in Brussels would be in both Dutch and French. I attempted to take a picture but since it was raining steadily I was not able to get a good shot. We drove through down town and arrived at an office building. I was most familiar with Kent, Brussels since my outline for Orientation was on this campus. I knew that it was a post-graduate campus with around 200 students from all over the world.  The campus advertises themselves as the Brussels School of International Business (BSIS) and with their location near NATO allows for countless internships.  The classes are taught in English.

 From the sign you can see that there are several other things located within this building including another college...Vrije Universiteit Brussels which BSIB has agreements for use of their libraries and student recreation facilities.
We arrived in the rain to this office building and were met in the lobby by the site director, Roger Vickerman.  He and another man spoke to our group for about two hours.  We had lunch and then continued discussion after lunch.

Some interesting information about BSIB:

-Had to be accredited by both UK (since Kent is located in England) and by Brussels (have to be accredited for US students to accreditation= no federal loans).

-Almost all faculty have PhD except for two that are CEO's of their companies.

-One faculty works for NATO (and by law can't earn outside salary) so teaches 1 class per semester for free.

-Students can be full time or part-time...range of options

-No GRE required.  Students judged on 'past performance and future potential'.

-Students have 2-3 hours per week of 'formal contact' with professors.  Other time spent in individual projects or dissertations.

-Goal of programs are to teach students how to think and analyze problems.

-Some of the more interesting concept that we talked about was with loans.  (Looking at my notes now I have new questions but will post what I wrote.)  Students don't have to repay student loans until their salary is above median salary which is currently 21,000 Pounds ($32,000).  Loans not paid after 30 years are forgiven. **Think this was talking about U Kent loans for undergraduates.  **UK tax structure not as high as Belgium so tuition is higher.

Buzz words in UK education currently:


-Student Experience


-Most interesting to me...UK operates on a 14 month calendar.  (Get a double pay check at Christmas and in July.)

**Some take aways from all those discussions:

-Graduate education here is much different than US.  PhD focus on dissertation and don't take classes.  I see value in the classes I am taking as they are preparing me to research and write a dissertation.  However, I can also see value in spending three years considering and writing about a problem.

-Remote campuses all have challenges with students thinking they are missing out on something on the main campus.

-Colleges have to be careful about issuing Visas to students.  If a college is issuing too many to unsuccessful students then it could lose the ability to issue any.

-Buzz words in UK are also in the US.  With the rising cost of tuition students want to make sure they are getting a quality education and are being prepared for the job market. 
After three days we have seen three very different types of schools.   We started with the traditional college then visited a high school.  Today was spent in a graduate school.  The next two days we will be back on more traditional campuses.  Tomorrow will be at Ghent and then Friday at Leiden.

After the bus back to Gent we had some time to walk around before things closed.  We are enjoying French fries (invented in Belgium), chocolate, waffles, and Belgium beer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 5 Ghent High School Visit

June 5       Ghent High School Visit

Today we are visiting a high school in Ghent.  This is a first-time event for the cohort and Ingeborg does not know what to expect.  Since I work full-time with high school students I am excited about visiting and learning more about high school education in Belgium.   In Belgium higher education there are two levels; University and University College with the latter being slightly more prestigious.  There are also different tracks within high school which starts in the sixth grade.  High school selected will have some impact on the type of college or college major that the student may select

At the high school we were escorted by the principal to a room in the back of the school.  The principal had been there 30 years with the first 25 as a teacher.  He spoke to us briefly then gave us a tour of the facilities. Some take-aways from the conversation with the principal:

-High school does prepare students for some types of employment.  Only those with bachelors degrees can become the ‘bosses’.

-Only a small percentage of students go onto University or University College.  -Students select college based upon location.  Scholarships do not exist since schools all cost the same.

-Colleges may mail some promotional material but very little.

-Parents don’t influence college decisions. (Per Ingeborg the selection of high school is more important since it determines what colleges they can choose)

-High school is ‘free’ but students have to pay for books (can rent) and field trips.

-Only some colleges have entry tests.  He mentioned art and film as two of these.

-High school offers ‘inclusive’ education for students with physical and mentally disabled.  For deaf students, Denmark would provide interpreters.

-Students ‘know’ a lot but need to ‘do’ more.  Principal worries that high school does not prepare them for college.

-Teachers are evaluated by law every 4 years and are tenured after the first 4. of employment  The evaluation determines their teaching plans.  Difficult to fire a teacher with tenure. 

-No fundraising permitted.

-Capital improvements must be made with yearly budget.

He had three current seniors come in to speak with us.  The conversation was dominated by one of the three who spoke perfect English.  She spoke so much that she really did not give the other two students an opportunity to speak.  The students were dressed in typical teen-age fashion with all three wearing jeans.  The English speaking student spoke of her dream of going to Stanford but honestly knew little about it.  My take-aways from that conversation:

-US colleges are all about parties.  Parties in houses instead of the street sounds appealing.

-College like a village…fraternities and sororities.

-Feel they are prepared for college based on what they have learned so far in high school.

-Some students have jobs but only work a few hours after school.

-They were confident in their career choices.

I enjoyed the high school visit.  I think that it helped with our understanding of how students prepare for college and what they are thinking as they make decisions.  Since my full-time job is visiting with high school students I have the opportunity to go into many American High Schools.  I thought that the physical structure and classrooms looked similar to high schools that I visit in the US. 

Another positive thing about Ghent is not all toilets require a 'toll'.  However, I think they are just for men.  Yes, that is on a public street.

Ghent also has pretty canals and this picture is of the cohort as we walked back from our visit to to the high school.