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Spotlight on Walden // May 14, 2021

The Marriage-Building Doctorate

Robin and Troy Palmer
Drs. Robin and Troy Palmer (left to right)

Drs. Robin and Troy Palmer met 27 years ago. Troy was in the Army and took his uniforms to the dry cleaner where Robin worked. Five months later they were married. Twenty years later, the Palmers enrolled in Walden University’s Doctor of Education (EdD) program.

“After spending so much time in the military and having so many deployments, we could start doing things as a couple for the first time,” says Troy. “It was a marriage-building experience instead of her just doing the things she’s responsible for and me having things I have to be responsible for.”

“We got into a doctoral program for fun,” laughs Robin.

Robin had 25 years of experience at small schools, teaching multiple subjects across grade levels. She earned a Master of Arts in Education and had been an assistant principal, principal and director of education. Creating a 12th-grade dual credit program made her realize she wanted to try higher education. To do that, she needed a doctorate.

Troy also needed a doctorate for his role. After rising to a head nurse position at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, he started teaching in college programs. He is currently a full-time instructor at Lamar University.

“I knew the whole time I was in the military that I wanted to teach, so I made sure to get a master’s in nursing education,” says Troy. “After I got out, it became very apparent that I really needed a terminal degree if I wanted to do all I could in higher education.”

They ended up reaching career crossroads at the same time. As adult learners, they knew they needed a flexible online program that could match their lifestyle.

“We looked at several schools, but we knew we would be moving and needed a program that would travel with us,” says Robin.

Indeed, during their first semester, they moved 864 miles from El Paso to the other side of Texas for Troy’s job as nursing program director at Vista College, where Robin is also an instructor and curriculum tech. Being in the Walden doctoral program together gave each of them someone to lean on.

“Even though there are a lot of similarities about us, there are a lot of areas where one shines and the other doesn’t,” says Robin. “We felt like if we went through the program together, we would accentuate the positives and negate the negatives. That’s why we did it together.”

“I often advise students to find a study buddy,” says Dr. Sydney Parent, a faculty member in Walden’s EdD program who served on their dissertation committees. “Troy and Robin had each other as built-in study buddies right from the start! They were independent thinkers and workers, but they always had someone to talk to who understood the academic demands that were being placed upon them.”

“Anyone can say ‘I understand,’” adds Robin. “When you are actually going through it at the same time, you absolutely understand how tired you get. The brain blocks to a point where you can’t think your way through another paper. We were able to bounce ideas off each other. In fact, I gave him the idea for his dissertation.”

Although they started together, Troy finished his doctoral degree in 2019, with his dissertation focused on the “Barriers to Male Faculty in Nursing Education.” The study investigated the associations between the percentage of male nursing faculty by geographic region and institution type, along with four career variables: education level, rank, tenure and administrative position. His hope is that by uncovering discrepancies, he can help increase the number of male nursing educators and provide more role models for male nurses.

A year later, Robin finished her dissertation, “Adjunct Faculty Employment and Student Success in Texas Institutions of Higher Education.” With a little more than half of faculty members in the U.S. working part time, she wanted to determine if that, along with institutional variables and student demographics, could predict retention rates. She found that “smaller percentages of part-time faculty might result in higher retention rates at 2-year institutions and higher graduation rates at both 2- and 4-year institutions in Texas.”

“Troy and Robin have been a team now for over 25 years, raising six children to adulthood and with three grandchildren,” says Dr. Vicki Underwood, a faculty member in Walden’s EdD program who chaired their dissertations. “Each became an ancillary member of the other’s dissertation committee in the most appropriate ways, supporting and helping each other with tasks like editing and checking references.”

Troy and Robin even acknowledged each other in their dissertations. Robin thanked Troy for “never giving up on me, for giving me love, support, [and] encouragement.” Troy wrote, “Most of all, I want to thank my wife, Robin, for supporting me in every way throughout this entire endeavor.”