Tisha Doohen has worked in education for a number of years. As a current online doctorate in education student at Saint Leo University, she says the doctoral curriculum has positively transformed her approach in her work now as an assistant principal.

Doohen, who originally hails from Smithton, PA just outside of Pittsburgh, has a 14-year-old son, Isaac. She is married to her husband, Terence, and the family resides in Land O'Lakes, FL with their two cats.

For her undergraduate studies, Doohen attained a bachelor's in biology with a chemistry minor from Carlow College in Pittsburgh.

Pursuing Her Graduate Studies with Saint Leo University

In May of 2007 while teaching, Doohen went on to pursue her Master of Education in Educational Leadership, a graduate degree which she completed in December of 2009.

"I had just gone back to teaching, and it was the first school year after my son was born," she recounts. "I attended an education fair and spoke with a Saint Leo recruiter about the master's program. The Pasco County Schools leadership team really does a great job of connecting their teachers with continuing education opportunities."

She was immediately sold on the benefits of the program and decided to enroll with a good teacher friend of hers, Michelle Frankman.

"We started and finished the program together," she says. "We were in the same classes and would always study together. We spent a lot of hours at Panera Bread. We were very self-motivated and organized, but having that buddy person helped a lot."

In the years following this master's program, she kept checking to see if Saint Leo had launched a doctorate in education. Her wish finally came true in 2018. That summer, she attended a leadership retreat at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, FL. That's where she found out about the new Doctor of Education in School Leadership being offered by Saint Leo.

"I spoke with an enrollment counselor there, took home the paperwork on the program, and briefly thought about it. Then I spoke with Ivy Pierrelus, who is a very helpful enrollment counselor, and I decided to go for it. I didn't have to worry about getting my transcripts since I had already done the master's program with Saint Leo."

She enrolled in the Doctor of Education program in the fall of 2018.

Convenience of the Online Doctorate in Education Program

According to Doohen, the online format with a short residency each summer has been perfect for her lifestyle as a mom and full-time professional.

"There was no way I could go sit in an actual classroom for several hours per week. This program had to be on my time. Otherwise, there was absolutely no way I could do it since my husband owns his own business."

Excellence in Academic Support

She says all of the faculty in the doctoral program have been so helpful and encouraging.

"Dr. Fern Aefsky is definitely my favorite professor," she says. "She does such a great job promoting Saint Leo and why it's so important for educators to pursue continuing education to improve their skill sets. We all love Drs. Jodi Lamb, Melinda Carver, Keya Mukherjee, Karen Hahn, and really all of the faculty in this great program."

Plus, she says a course on qualitative design was such a big help.

"This class was so impactful on how to word our research questions for our dissertation."

While it is primarily an online doctorate in education program, Doohen has lots of praise for the short summer residency within the program held at University Campus for a few days each year.

"I got to spend a week at Saint Leo and have face-to-face interaction with the professors. It was great to really put a name to a face. They had us do research on a potential dissertation topic and we got to use all of the great resources in the library."

In the summer of 2019, she went on the study abroad trip to South Africa with other graduate students in education and across other programs like social work and criminal justice. She received credit for the trip, which focused on safety, human trafficking, and social justice and included a three-day conference in Durban.

"It was such a great experience," she recalls.

Recognizing Saint Leo University's Core Values

According to Doohen, Saint Leo University's core values are an integral part of her doctoral curriculum.

"For every class, there's always a core value incorporated into it in some fashion. For me, excellence stands out the most. As an academic leader in a high school setting, I try to apply excellence to my work every day to give my students the best opportunity to be successful. This is a core value of mine that I will always strive for in my career."

Advice for Prospective Doctoral Students

Based on her experience in the Doctor of Education program, Doohen offers up some insight into what it takes to succeed.

"You need to go into a doctoral program like this with an open mind. It's a lot of work, but you just have to own it and do your best with it. The good news is that with this program, the professors at Saint Leo do an impeccable job of providing support from start to finish. They are there to support, assist, and guide you along the way. It's not just having you do research and assignments on your own and if you don't make it, oh well. They are truly willing to help put you in the best position for you to do what you have to do on your own."

She describes her own personal strategies on making sure she devotes enough time to her classes on a consistent basis.

"For me, I set aside time for my classes on Sunday mornings. I get up, get my coffee, go sit at our picnic table outside, review the module I am working on, take notes, and make a schedule of what is due and when it is due."

Professional Work in Education

Doohen initially started out as a middle school science teacher for 11 years. Her career began at DeLay Middle School in Lewiston, TX. After moving to Florida, she taught at Gulf Middle School and Weightman Middle School. Mostly teaching in the classroom, she briefly taught online for the Florida Virtual School as well. She became an administrator in 2014 at Ridgewood High School. Since 2016, she has been an assistant principal at Land O'Lakes High School.

Relevant Research in the Doctor of Education Program

She talks about the numerous ways in which her online doctorate in education coursework has applied to her practical work as a high school administrator.

"There are so many things I've learned in my classes that I'm applying to my job. I honestly view things completely differently because of what I have learned."

Before she started overseeing the freshmen class as an assistant principal at her high school, she conducted some relevant research.

"I was working on the freshmen orientation program for our school and I started doing research on the transition a student goes through from middle to high school. It's such a big step in a student's life in terms of academics. At the time, I had 460 incoming freshmen. I set up campus tours for the students and tried to give them a nice introduction to high school before their classes actually started. I'm proud to say that a large percentage of them actually participated."

After the school year began, she noticed a trend in some of the students.

"I started seeing that some of our freshmen were struggling academically," she says. "I found out which ones had not attended our orientation and also which ones had struggled in middle school prior to entering high school."

Because she was so passionate about this, she decided to do her dissertation on the topic of the transition from eighth to ninth grade.

"I started looking at the data from how the students performed in middle school. Then I tried to identify what we could do in those weeks leading up to a student starting high school and how to help that student be successful during their freshmen year."

Thanks to her work and research in the doctoral program, the school now reviews data at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year to determine what can be done to put students in a better position for academic success.

"We want to see which specific classes the students are struggling with and see if there are other options for them. We look at mentorship opportunities for students and also that connection to parents. Many parents think once their kids are in high school, they can kind of let them be more independent. This is true in some cases, but many kids at that age need more parental support than ever."

From Doctoral Course Assignments to Practical Application

When thinking about how practical the Doctor of Education coursework has been, she recalls a specific class assignment that she actually used in her job.

"I got to create a little infographic that I made copies of and passed out to the freshmen class at my school. It was basically a roadmap outlining everything they needed to do in high school, from the credit and GPA requirements to the various tests they would be taking."

Ultimately, she is so grateful for everything she has learned in the doctoral curriculum.

"In this program, I've learned so many valuable tools and pieces of advice that you can apply to any role in education."

Her career goals are to become a school principal and to possibly teach for Saint Leo University in its education programs.

When not at school or working on her EdD coursework, Doohen loves the outdoors. She says her family lives on a lake. They enjoy boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, feeding ducks and birds, and maintaining their garden.

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Tisha Doohen and is used with permission.