First Students Complete Education Doctoral Program

May 19, 2009 -

Four University of Redlands School of Education students have successfully defended their dissertations, becoming the first-ever graduates to receive the university’s Doctorate for Leadership in Educational Justice, a program with a unique focus on educational and social justice.

As part of the program, students study and explore ways to help create more equitable classroom and school settings, where all students, regardless of their backgrounds, have access to a quality education.

The university launched the program, which is the university’s only doctorate program, in the summer of 2006. Its one-of-a-kind emphasis on educational justice sets it apart from other educational leadership doctorates in Southern California and nationwide. Redlands School of Education Dean Robert Denham said the program is drawing passionate, enthusiastic students with a strong interest in the tenets of social and educational justice, including equity and equality. The program’s students also are diverse, drawing from across cultures and professional backgrounds.

That enthusiasm and shared vision is leading to high student retention rates, Denham said. In the first cohort, all 19 members completed the coursework. Cohort members are now either working on their dissertations, or preparing for graduation. Redlands’ Ed.D. program is structured to accommodate the lives of working educators and has appealed to students from a variety of backgrounds, including teaching, counseling, administration, higher education and the non-profit sector. It is structured so that students can finish in three years, with coursework organized into trimesters during the first two years. Students spend the third year working primarily on the dissertation.

Students set to graduate during a ceremony on Thursday, May 21 at 6 p.m. are John D’Silva, Nirmla Flores, Marina Gillmore and Monique Harrison-Henderson.

D’Silva has spent more than 20 years studying and advocating the study of chemistry and mathematics for disadvantaged students. He studied chemical engineering research as a National Science Foundation Research Fellow and graduate student at USC. He also has tutored disadvantaged students in chemistry, mathematics and physics.

He has held positions in private industry as an engineer and project coordinator for facilities with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California for 13 years. His most recent position is with Watson Pharmaceuticals in Corona, where he is a chemist and stability coordinator. He hopes to use his degree to help low-income students learn science and math skills and to encourage more students to pursue careers in science. D’Silva’s dissertation explored what trainers learned and how they changed through their participation in a program designed to help them understand poverty.

Flores has taught elementary school for 12 years, working in multicultural urban settings. She has been a grade-level team leader and served as a site technology coordinator for three years. She has conducted a number of staff development programs and parent training workshops, particularly in the area of computer technology.

She co-presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) on "Educational Justice Agenda for Change" and co-facilitated the education forum, "Closing the Achievement Gap" at the University of Redlands. She also presented at the California Association for Bilingual Educators (CABE) and is an adjunct professor for the University of Redlands School of Education. Flores’ dissertation examined Gillmore has taught English at Colton High School and Palm Springs High School, where she also coached the water polo and swim teams, served as an Associated Student Body leadership advisor and was instrumental in the development of the school’s Arts Institute. She served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Redlands, where she recently taught a course that emphasized the importance of incorporating social and educational justice into curriculum and instruction.

Gillmore also teaches for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ Tribal Educational Services, working one-on-one and in small groups with students of all grade levels across academic disciplines. Her dissertation investigated how Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) teachers’ life stories and beliefs shape their teaching practices.

Henderson has spent more than 15 years analyzing, studying and advocating for education in Mississippi and Southern California. She has covered public education for newspapers in Meridian and Tupelo, Mississippi as well as in the Inland Empire of Southern California. She served as public relations director for the Mississippi Department of Education, handling media relations, publications and speech writing duties. She also worked with the Mississippi Legislature to advocate for the passage of key education laws.

Henderson served as editor of the University of Redlands alumni magazine and operates a public relations and marketing business. She also is an adjunct professor at the University of Redlands. Her dissertation explored the academic, social and emotional needs of homeless students.

Denham, the dean, said he was pleased to see the four students of the first cohort defend their dissertations, and looks forward to seeing how they contribute to public education, either in Southern California or nationwide.

"We are very proud of this group of students," he said. "We have consistently been impressed by the quality of their work in the classroom and in their research. They are well equipped to do what it takes to improve public education for all students. Their graduation will be an exciting day for us."

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There are more than 1,700 trees on the University of Redlands campus.

In April 2010, it was designated a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. Redlands is among just three other colleges or universities in California to receive this designation.

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