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NCU Student Profile: Education Is a Marathon Not a Sprint


Sheila Thomas (Ed.D., Higher Education Leadership, candidate) has nearly 30 years of experience in higher education, working at both public and private institutions. During her career, she has been able to combine her passion for education with her interest in professional development.

NCU student Sheila Thomas is the State University Dean of Extended Education at the California State University Chancellor's Office.

NCU student Sheila Thomas is the State University Dean of Extended Education at the California State University Chancellor’s Office.

“My area of expertise is continuing education,” explains Thomas. “My current position [is] State University Dean of Extended Education at the California State University Chancellor’s Office.  I am responsible for facilitating workforce development, strategic communication, policy review [plus] advocating for extended and continuing education.”

While many academic administrators get their start in the classroom, and move through faculty ranks to dean and provost, Thomas, who earned her B.A. in Communications from Azusa Pacific University and her M.A. in Humanities from Cal State Dominguez Hills, never had a real interest in teaching.

“I think teaching and administration are both rewarding careers,” admits Thomas. “But for me, I like helping people. I think of my office as ‘information central’ and my staff and I do our best to answer questions and provide information.”

Educational conversations today often center on how higher education institutions are preparing students for the workforce, and Thomas’ office is at the forefront of facilitating solutions.

“I enjoy interacting with the workforce development community in the field and building… valuable partnerships,” she says.

“I have [also] made professional development for emerging leaders a priority,” adds Thomas, who serves on state and national boards and is active in professional associations, including the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, Association of Continuing Higher Education, American Association for Adult and Continuing Education, and the National Professional Science Masters Association.

When it came to her own professional development and earning that coveted doctorate, Thomas relied on her experience working for an array of higher education institutions, including her current role at the largest university system in the country. Her calculated approach to finding the right school included the necessary combination of quality, flexibility and affordability.

“Having worked in higher education my entire career, I know the importance of regional accreditation,” states Thomas. “I also needed a program that was online and had flexible scheduling, and that I could pay for every month without needing student loans.”

Thomas began her journey at NCU in 2007 when she enrolled part-time. While her progress has been slow and steady, she’s thrilled to have made it to the dissertation stage.

“My dissertation is entitled Defining a Successful Leadership Pathway: Women in the Academy and the Role of Institutional Support,” shares Thomas. “I’m really enjoying my research and I love the fact that my program fits well with my current position and career goals. I can use the information and my research immediately in my job.”

So what would be her advice to students when it comes to staying engaged and motivated in a program (or extensive project like a dissertation) over a long period of time?

“I learned early on that pursing a doctorate is a marathon not a sprint. There are stops and starts along the way, and sometimes you feel you are taking steps backward. I have tried to keep my goal firmly in mind and visualize that diploma hanging over my desk,” explains Thomas. “And…have a plan for your education. If you are in a doctoral program, choose a dissertation topic that you are passionate about and can sustain your interest [in],” she adds.

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

Organizing Your Research


Writing a dissertation requires managing hundreds of citations and sources. Careful organization will save you countless hours rummaging through your research, but the million dollar question many students ask is “how do I do that?”

To answer this question, we asked NCU students, faculty and alumni — via Facebook and LinkedIn — how they keep track of their research. Their recommendations: Mendeley, Zotero, EndNote, Evernote, and of course, RefWorks:

  • Mendeley organizes documents and references, suggests related research, shows readership statistics and allows collaboration with groups. The basic version is free, but premium features can be added for a cost.

“I have been using Mendeley… it is great for being able to access material from different devices such as my iPad.” Denise Parker (Ed.D., Educational Technology & E-Learning, candidate)

“I use Mendeley as my main repository for articles and citations…I find that this is the perfect way to keep track of my materials.” Alan Jackson (D.B.A., candidate)

  • Zotero is available as a Firefox plugin or as a standalone application. By creating an account, you are able to sync your research information with other computers and an online library that is accessible from any computer connected to the Internet. Zotero is capable of identifying bibliographic information on web pages and, with a click, automatically saves it.  In many cases, Zotero will automatically capture citation information.  Items saved in your library are searchable. You can identify duplicates and insert citations directly into your research paper using a word processor plugin. There is a $20/year charge for 2G of server-based storage, but up to 300MB of storage is free.

“Zotero.” Susan Stillman, Ed.D. (NCU faculty)

  • EndNote groups citations into libraries with the file extension *.enl and a corresponding *.data folder. Access to certain searchable library catalogs and free databases are included in the software. EndNote offers automatic citation formatting with a list of 2,000 different styles. You can purchase EndNote for $113.95.

 “I’m a big fan of EndNote. It allows for organization and filtering by name of the author, title, year, etc. It allows you to take notes right through the program or you can attach your own notes to each article. For each reference I pull in I attach the PDF file, a notes page and a bibliography at the minimum.” Christopher Boulter (Ph.D., Psychology, candidate)

  • Evernote allows students and researchers to collect information from anywhere and save it in one single place: from notes, web clips, files, images and more, on any device. They offer MAC and Windows versions. Evernote offers free and premium accounts.

“I used and continue to use Evernote. Great for annotated bibliographies that are easily searchable – and by always using proper APA format, I only have to type the full citation once. The other times are just copy and paste.” Wayne Perry, Ph.D. (Director of Clinical Training, School of Marriage and Family Sciences, NCU)

“I tried EndNote and just didn’t find it to be a good fit for me (no specific issues, just felt a bit too structured). I ended up keeping references and notes in Evernote, which I could use from anywhere including on my phone and iPad. I saved PDFs into a system of folders set up by topic, and often used the Spotlight search feature on my Mac to search within these for authors or keywords.” Russell Walker (Ph.D., Business Administration, 2012)

  • RefWorks is a research management, writing and collaboration tool offered through the NCU Library’s institutional subscription. NCU began offering RefWorks in 2009. Workshops and tutorials on RefWorks may be accessed from the Library Workshop Videos or Quick Tutorial Videos pages.  Or, check for the availability of live training on RefWorks by visiting the Library Workshops Schedule page.

“RefWorks is a good tool for organizing research within the Library and is commonly available among databases making it easy to export citations directly into a RefWorks account. Within RefWorks you can organize citations into folders for easy reference and quickly produce an APA formatted reference list as well as create in-text citations within a document. Although we highly recommend students still consult the APA manual for confirmation.” Ed Salazar, M.A. (NCU Librarian)

 “When I wrote my dissertation, I used RefWorks. While there is a learning curve, it also provides the greatest amount of flexibility in the longer term. However, today I generally use Zotero for scholarly/academic work. While there is a free version, it is worth the $20 per year charge for the security of having a cloud-based backup of your reference database and notes.” Frank Cervone (Ph.D., Business Administration, 2007)

“RefWorks has developed a tool called Write-N-Cite, which not only converts Word’s XML file and synchronizes it to the online references, but allows in-text citation and reference list building in APA 6th ed. format. I highly recommend Write-N-Cite, because then your citation database isn’t limited to your device. There are drawbacks with this setup, as you must edit and organize your citations through RefWorks online.” David Czuba (Ed.D., Leadership in Higher Education, candidate)

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

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