Graduates share the big concepts they developed at Walden that are having a very real impact.

By Christine Van Dusen
January 2012
 
What’s the big idea? Walden University alumni can answer that question. Whether it’s using ebooks to help struggling readers or color-coding lifesaving supplies to speed them to disaster victims, these recent graduates have developed and applied more than a few big-time ideas through their dissertations and doctoral studies. Each was driven to pursue answers to specific questions, and, at Walden, each found the freedom to develop an idea through rigorous research, all with the support of their faculty mentors. The results? Actionable ideas that are capable of changing the world. Here, we offer a look at nine that emerged in the last year.

1. IMHO
THE IDEA:
Make curriculum mirror texting to help students transition to formal writing.

LOL. BRB. The use of text messaging shorthand hasn’t just affected the way we communicate on our cellphones, it has infected students’ academic writing. “As an English instructor, I read shortcuts in students’ writing assignments. I thought it would be worth researching,” says DR. SHERRY L. RANKIN ’10. Through her Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) doctoral study research at Walden, Rankin asked university-age students whether they use shortcuts in their academic writing, how frequently, and if this use has impaired their writing and spelling skills. “Students were frequently unaware they used the shortcuts until their graded papers were returned,” she says. With this in mind, Rankin went back to her own classroom at Jackson State University in Mississippi and tried a new approach: Students can use any form of writing to record their initial thoughts. “When students try to spell every word correctly while generating ideas, it detracts from their creativity,” she says. “Instead, I ask them to proofread once their thoughts are on paper.” The system seems to be working, and Rankin hopes to share this approach with other educators.

2. Up to Speed
THE IDEA:
Prepack and color-code supplies to speed delivery to disaster victims.

In 2005, DR. SARA KATHLEEN GEALE ’10 was a supervisor in an emergency room at a hospital attached to a large oil-and-gas distribution plant in Saudi Arabia when she was approached by the ER’s head physician, Dr. Derek W. Hargis, who realized the facility’s disaster supplies were not well-organized for disaster response. Originally, the supplies were separated in big boxes: IV fluids here, blankets there, gauze somewhere else. Creating a complete disaster-aid kit on the fly was a challenge. So, the Ph.D. in Health Services graduate teamed up with Hargis to create a better system for distributing emergency supplies to disaster victims. The team determined that a scalable and flexible supply system at the local level would work for healthcare providers in the field. One color-coded bag contains enough supplies to treat five victims. The bags have since been used during motor vehicle accidents, explosions, and other disasters. “By studying the total picture of disaster response we were able to focus on effecting social change,” Geale says. It has profoundly improved disaster response.”

3. Operation Mental Health
THE IDEA:
Create a culture that encourages soldiers to seek help.

Mental health is a significant issue in the military; in July 2011 alone the U.S. Army investigated 32 possible suicides, more than in any previous month since 2009. This issue hit home for DR. MICHAEL TOLAND ’11. “I spent more than 16 years as a member of the active-duty military. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the service, I experienced a culture that made it difficult for servicemembers to pursue mental healthcare,” he says. “Stigma is a leading reason why military personnel do not seek care when they need it. I wanted to determine if the Army was trying to reverse this trend and reduce the stigma associated with mental healthcare.” Toland’s Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration dissertation research, as well as guidance from faculty members at Walden, helped him conclude that the stigma remains—but can be reversed through comprehensive training. He hopes to share these results to improve the resilience training offered by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. “Ultimately the value of effective mental healthcare training is a win-win for everyone,” he says.

4. A Breath of Fresh Air
THE IDEA:
Improve student learning by giving them access to the outdoors.

From bell to bell, DR. CYNTHIA LYNN SKINNER EDLUND’s ’11 students aren’t sitting at desks, confined to four walls. The most important classroom for her students is an 80-acre parcel of land that was donated to her school district, located in a small community in Wisconsin. “I have been taking my students outdoors for years to teach environmental concepts,” says Edlund, a high-school science teacher and coordinator of the district’s forest program, including its outdoor classroom. She has seen the benefits firsthand, but wanted to document the findings. In her Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) doctoral study, Edlund focused on students’ experiences and saw they were gaining a great deal from their time outside. “Taking students outdoors, no matter what concept is being taught, promotes cognitive freedom—an attitude of questioning and seeking possibilities,” she explains. Through her research, Edlund improved the structure of the outdoor classroom to suit an array of student groups. “Students are now able to use this facility to improve their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities in addition to building knowledge and skills,” she says. “As a result of this work, more teachers across our district are taking their students outdoors.”

5. Hands Across America
THE IDEA:
Prevent infections by placing hand sanitizer inside and outside patient rooms.

When a friend of DR. BABATUNDE K. OLOYEDE ’10 contracted an infection at a local hospital, he decided something needed to be done to stop the spread of dangerous infections. Oloyede focused on Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—a strain of bacteria that is often transmitted by healthcare workers and does not respond to some antibiotics commonly used to treat staph infections. During his Ph.D. in Public Health studies at Walden, Oloyede researched whether hand-sanitizing stations were effective in reducing the pathogen counts on the hands of healthcare staff and if it would help reduce the spread of MRSA in hospitals. At Rose Manor Healthcare Center in Durham, N.C., hand sanitizers were placed in prominent locations inside and outside hospital rooms. He discovered that the strategic placement significantly reduced the spread of MRSA. “The idea was adopted by the hospital,” Oloyede says. “My goal now is to eradicate the transmission of MRSA by healthcare workers by sharing this system with other hospitals.”

6. A Clean Slate
THE IDEA:
Teach dental students how to help patients cope with anxiety to improve oral healthcare.

Many patients dread going to the dentist, but why? And what can a dental professional do to alleviate patients’ anxieties? These were the questions that DR. JUNE FALAGARIO-WASSERMAN ’11 sought to answer through her Ph.D. in Psychology dissertation research. “After seeing patients painfully bringing themselves to treatment after years of avoidance, I wanted to find out more about the way they saw the situation,” she says. Falagario-Wasserman determined that a key to managing a patient’s anxiety is simply listening. “Once patients started sharing their stories, they realized how powerful it was to communicate what they were thinking and feeling,” she says. “Dental professionals could then ease their anxiety. It gave patients a better sense of control and made them feel like part of the treatment.” Her research is now part of the curriculum for dental students at Stony Brook University in New York. The school will continue to use this study and others like it to enhance the curriculum in the area of behavior management, lessening patients’ fears one at a time.

7. Paper vs. Pixels
THE IDEA:
Use ebooks to close the reading gap.

In her Ph.D. in Education dissertation, DR. MICHELLE R. GONZALEZ ’10 investigated whether students at risk for reading failure, particularly those with reading disabilities in third and fourth grade, could improve their reading skills faster by using ebooks instead of traditional paper books. “I was constantly trying to figure out why students with disabilities were not always having success in the general education classroom,” she says. While sitting in a seminar during a Walden residency, she had an epiphany: At-risk students might fare better by using technology to help develop their reading comprehension skills. Her ensuing research showed she was onto something. “The ebooks have text-to-speech support and some vocabulary support,” she says. “And some have animations and sound effects, while all have color illustrations. Ebooks better meet students’ diverse needs.” She has continued using ebooks in her own classrooms and has encouraged colleagues to use them to supplement reading instruction. Now an assistant professor at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., Gonzalez plans to bring ebooks to higher education.

8. On the Case
THE IDEA:
Prevent corporate fraud by identifying new early indicators.

The headlines have been dominated in recent years with news of corporate fraud and other white-collar crime. Sometimes the perpetrators are caught and punished; other times the criminals get away scot-free—but not before wreaking havoc on the financial markets. DR. TANAE WOLO WILLIAMS ’11 wanted to develop a better system to identify fraud by using multiple investigative approaches to spot fraud before it occurs. In her Ph.D. in Applied Management and Decision Sciences (now Ph.D. in Management) dissertation research, she decided to follow the numbers—and found that the best place to look for nefarious activity was in financial statements. “The tried-and-true way of identifying fraud hasn’t been working. We need to use new methods,” she says. “Earnings management and white-collar crime lead to financial statement fraud. That’s what we need to focus on.” Williams has since formed an accounting consulting business, which includes forensic accounting services, and hopes to teach accounting and fraud-identifying techniques to a new generation of number crunchers while encouraging more students to earn a doctorate in the accounting field. “A faculty member at Walden inspired me to follow this path,” she says. “Walden helped me become a scholar, and I want to encourage others to do the same.”

9. Student Communications 2.0
THE IDEA:
Use online resources to encourage positive relationships among students around the globe.

The world is flat, or ought to be, when it comes to educating our children, says DR. CRAIG D. UNION ’11. He studied whether using online tools like Wiki pages could help students communicate across countries, cultures, and ethnicities and, in turn, create healthier global perspectives. The concept is an offshoot of the Flat Classroom Project, which brings international middle school and high school students together virtually. “The idea is to use online technology to connect classrooms in the United States, Pakistan, Canada, South Korea, and beyond to foster communication and collaboration among students and teachers,” says Union, whose own global perspective was cultivated through more than 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy. His Ph.D. in Education dissertation research revealed that when students have the opportunity to communicate with students in other countries, they focused on their similarities instead of their differences. “In most cases, Web 2.0 technology created positive working relationships among students,” he says. Union’s goal is to help internationalize learning and offer teachers around the world a road map to enhance student learning.

Bring your big idea to life with a doctorate from Walden. See what programs are available at www.WaldenU.edu/Doctoral.