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Walden Magazine // Aug 23, 2013

Rita Turner Award: Nurturing Groundbreaking Research

September 2013—“My role on doctoral study committees is to help students see they have to create a solution they can implement within their sphere of influence,” says Dr. Pamela Harrison. “Their studies should address local problems and create social change.” In other words, Dr. Harrison helps students cultivate scholarship that can be put into practice.

Walden’s 2013 Rita Turner Award was presented to Dr. Harrison, a faculty member in the Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership, for her work as chair of the doctoral study committee for Dr. Lynn Lysko, a Doctor of Education (EdD) graduate and the recipient of the 2013 Frank Dilley Award for her research, An Analysis of Governance Policies and Practices in One School District Regarding English Learners.

“Lynn’s study is groundbreaking,” Dr. Harrison says. “This is one of the first policy analyses on the subject, and it will set a precedent.” The study found that the policies in California have remained static, which means there’s no response to the influx of English as a Second Language (ESL) students who need new policies put in place. “They have not kept up,” she says.

“Secondly, the policies we do have in place are not communicated effectively across the spectrum. An ‘aha finding’ was that the people who did not know anything about the policies were the ones at either end: the governing bodies that create the policies and the teachers who implement the policies,” she continues. “The people in the middle knew the policies,” but ultimately failed to communicate them, which translated to inaction within the school district.

“That’s a huge takeaway for everyone involved,” Dr. Harrison says. “Having been a superintendent and working with those who make policy, I know it is incumbent upon administrators to make sure teachers really understand what they’re implementing.”

Shaping a Scholar-Practitioner
The pair first collaborated at the beginning of Dr. Lysko’s doctoral journey, when she took a course with Dr. Harrison. “I really appreciated the quality of work she did and enjoyed my communication with her,” Dr. Harrison explains. “I was very excited to chair her committee.”

Dr. Harrison began working at Walden in 2007 after serving 27 years as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in the Texas public schools. Not only did they find immediate parallels in their professional backgrounds, they truly connected via regular phone conversations throughout Dr. Lysko’s doctoral study.

“Lynn's doctoral journey is a great example of how Walden's process works,” she explains. “Although the details of her methodological design evolved throughout her journey, her passion for her original topic never wavered. At every point in the process, she was open to feedback from her course instructors, residency faculty, and committee members, resulting in a study that embodies all of her experiences.”

Dr. Lysko’s study is an example of Walden’s scholar-practitioner model in practice, Dr. Harrison says. She saw a need in her district and drafted a change through scholarship.

“Our students don’t lose that practitioner piece. They enhance it with scholarship to support what they’ve learned and experienced with theory and research. In time, they move from thinking only as a practitioner to thinking as a scholar-practitioner,” Dr. Harrison explains. “One enhances the other equally. Without both pieces—practice and scholarship—we only reach a portion of our potential as professionals.” 

About the Award 
One of two awards honoring the founders of Walden University, the Rita Turner Award is bestowed annually upon the faculty chair of the dissertation committee of the recipient of the Frank Dilley Award. This award honors the total commitment to the founding and sustaining of Walden by Rita Turner, co-founder of the university. Mrs. Turner’s shared vision of the university, careful attention to major organizational issues, supervision of complex operational details, and concern for fiscal accountability made it possible not only for the university to flourish during its first two decades but to grow into a global institution.

Read more about the Rita Turner Award and past recipients.