Leadership in Schooling Ed.D. Online Cohorts Build Community on Campus

Two women smile while sitting at a table Image by Ed Brennen
Leadership in Schooling Ed.D. student Jaleesa Anselm, left, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Tenacre Country Day School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, gets to know her cohort during the first day of Summer Residency Week at Coburn Hall.

By Ed Brennen

For doctoral students in the School of Education’s online Leadership in Schooling Ed.D. program, the annual Summer Residency Week at UMass Lowell is a welcome chance to engage face-to-face with their fellow cohort members and build camaraderie.

Held online the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the residency returned in-person to campus this summer — much to the delight of the 110 students in the first-, second- and third-year cohorts as well as the faculty.

“It’s great to meet people I’ve been corresponding with online for two years. It gives us the boost we need,” says Samantha Lynch, a middle school math and reading intervention teacher from Lexington, Kentucky, who is entering her third and final year of the doctoral program. 

Started in 2016, the Leadership in Schooling Ed.D. program is designed for teachers and administrators who want to enhance their skills as researchers and instructional leaders from the pre-kindergarten to high school levels. It offers a STEM Education option designed for science, math and engineering educators who wish to move into leadership roles.

A woman takes a group photo of people in green T-shirts gathered around a sign for Coburn Hall Image by Ed Brennen
School of Education Assoc. Prof. Phitsamay Uy takes a group photo of one of the Leadership in Schooling Ed.D. cohorts outside Coburn Hall.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are a primary focus of the curriculum — something that was a major draw for first-year student Josh Yankell, a high school instructional technologist in Needham, Massachusetts. Yankell’s dissertation will look at why there aren’t more women in STEM fields and propose possible solutions to address the inequities.

“This is an opportunity to further my own education and explore that issue with this equity lens,” says Yankell, who found it helpful to see the progress of the second- and third-year cohorts at the residency.

“It’s a lot of work, but people are getting there,” he says. “You can see the fruits of those labors, and it really inspires me to push forward.”  

This marked the first year that Summer Residency Week was held at Coburn Hall, the historic home of the School of Education, which reopened last year after a $47 million renovation. 

A man holding a beverage laughs while standing outside with people Image by Ed Brennen
Leadership in Schooling Ed.D. student Nick Freathy enjoys a laugh during a lunch break outside Coburn Hall.
Each cohort was tasked with completing specific benchmarks. Third-year students presented their dissertation proposals in hearings, receiving feedback from committee members and audience members; second-year students took oral qualifying exams; and first-year students worked on their white papers (20-plus pages of introduction to the topic they planned to explore that was due the following week) while also observing the dissertation hearings and qualifying exams.

The residency included a panel discussion on identity and equity, tours of the city and social events during the evenings. An alumni panel also offered tips on “how to survive” the doctoral process.

“Making connections with others and forming a learning community is very important so you don’t feel like you’re going on this journey by yourself,” said alum William Goldsworthy ’22, a high school math teacher in Nashua, New Hampshire, and new adjunct faculty member in the School of Education.  

Second-year student Scott Connery, an assistant high school principal in Gardner, Massachusetts, found the week to be “rejuvenating.”

A woman writes a letter on a piece of white paper at a table Image by Ed Brennen
A Leadership in Schooling Ed.D. student writes a letter to her future self during Summer Residency Week.
“In classes, you’re so focused on the topics, and everyone’s time is valuable in Zoom meetings,” he says. “Here, there’s more downtime, a chance to be together and laugh. It’s a lot of hard work, but knowing these people are going through the process with you is an important step.”

On the final day of the residency, before a celebratory lunch on the South Campus lawn, several of the Leadership in Schooling faculty members became emotional while addressing the cohorts.

“For me, this is a labor of love,” said Assoc. Prof. Phitsamay Uy, graduate coordinator for the Ed.D. programs. “As leaders, we need to be able to sit at the table and recognize other people’s suffering. … Justice, equity, diversity and inclusion is not about the words, it’s about the relationship.”

“Your strength and commitment as professionals, as people committed to leadership, to education, to justice — to have that level of commitment all in one space is frankly overwhelming,” added Faculty Chair James Nehring.

A woman plays croquette on a lawn while a woman and a man look on Image by Ed Brennen
School of Education Faculty Chair James Nehring plays croquet with students on the final day of Summer Residency Week.
The Summer Residency Week included a group of special guests from Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Martin Hagan, head of education at St. Mary’s University College Belfast, has had “a longtime connection with Lowell” through Nehring. He brought five of his master’s students to observe the residency. They were joined by Rose Dolan, an education lecturer at Ireland’s Maynooth University.

“What I really took away was a sense of collegiality here,” said St. Mary’s student Siobhan McNeice. “Seeing how generous students are in sharing their ideas and feedback with each other, that’s something we would like to see a wee bit more of in our program.”