Dear Morgridge College of Education Students, Faculty and Staff,

The Morgridge College of Education stands against hate and racism. As a community of individuals committed to social justice we are dedicated to going beyond words to take action. Over the past few weeks, leaders across the College have worked collaboratively to continue existing efforts and to initiate new efforts to affect change within the College, the academy and the broader community. The following action items represent the overall areas of focus for the College. These have been identified as tangible, actionable steps toward building awareness of and dismantling systemic and institutional forms of racism. We will be working together throughout the summer to create more granular programming and action steps under each.

  1. We will continue to review and amend our recruitment processes to increase the diversity of our faculty, student and staff representation at MCE.
  2. We will continue college-wide training on issues related to systemic racism, institutional racism, and intersystems approaches to address these enduring forms of racism and discrimination that have marked the history of education in the U.S.
  3. We will collectively engage in Summer reading of How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, to be followed by programming and small group discussions throughout the upcoming academic year. We will be providing more information soon on how students can acquire a copy of the book from the College.
  4. We will provide additional support and training for faculty to re-examine their courses to ensure integration of inclusive and critical approaches to subject matter content and its application.
  5. We will work with COESA to develop student-based programming that addresses training and education on systemic and institutional forms of racism.
  6. We will continue leadership training for Chairs, Directors, and Deans on dismantling systems and policies that reproduce inequities in the College.

The list above is not exhaustive. We will add and update these action steps as we continue this important work. Further, we want to hear from you (e.g., what could we do differently, what more could we be doing, what shouldn’t we be doing, what needs to happen first before other actions). Consider sharing your thoughts using this anonymous survey by Friday, June 19.

Thank you,

Dean Karen Riley

Associate Dean Mark Engberg

Members of the Inclusive Excellence Committee

Members of the MCE Leadership Team

President and Vice President of the MCE COESA

Cecilia Orphan, PhD, assistant professor in the Morgridge College of Education’s Higher Education Department, is co-leading a Joyce Foundation grant-funded study totaling $101,000 with the newly-launched Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges to identify how rural public higher education institutions are being impacted in real-time by COVID-19 budget shocks due to state funding cuts and rising costs associated with virus mitigation.

“Many rural public higher education institutions were vulnerable before COVID-19 due to enrollment declines and chronic underfunding from their states,” said Orphan. “These institutions are vital to their regions, because they serve students who would be unlikely to leave their regions to pursue education and educating public health workers and teachers to fill shortages in rural communities.”

The study will showcase the contributions of rural public higher education institutions, focusing on access, attainment, equity, public health, and regional wellbeing, and then shift to explore how such contributions are at risk due to COVID-19. By studying rural postsecondary institutions in real-time, the findings will inform policy recommendations for federal and state policymakers so that they can ensure these institutions survive and continue to fulfill their vital missions in rural regions. At the close of the project, the research team will also create an interactive website with data about rural public colleges that will be available to policymakers and the public.

To conduct the study, Orphan will work with collaborators Kevin McClure, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Watson College of Education, Andrew Koricich, associate professor at Appalachian State University and Alisa Hicklin Fryar, associate professor at The University of Oklahoma.

The study is currently underway. Findings will be described in a policy brief and website set to be released in November, 2020. For more information, visit the Open Campus Weekly Dispatch.

Measuring creativity has historically been a difficult and expensive endeavor, one which psychologists and educators believe is important, but is often out of reach. Since the 1970’s, many in the industry have used The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a fantastic resource but a significant cost for a budget-limited school district. Enter University of Denver (DU) Morgridge College of Education professors Drs. Denis Dumas and Peter Organisciak, who are launching a free website to score creativity assessments.

Drs. Dumas and Organisciak

Drs. Denis Dumas and Peter Organisciak, Assistant Professors of Research Methods and Information Science and developers of the free Open Creativity Scoring website.

Dumas and Organisciak, both Assistant Professors of Research Methods and Information Science, have found a powerful synergy for the scientific study of creativity. Dumas’ previous research has focused on educational and psychological measurement, and Organisciak focuses on large-scale text analysis rooted in information science. Dumas’ office in Morgridge College is adjacent to Organisciak’s, and the two realized that they could collaborate on something big.

In the past year, Dumas and Organisciak have focused on automatically and reliably scoring creativity assessments such as the Alternate Uses Task (AUT). The AUT is an activity where participants are given an object—a boring, everyday object, such as a book or a cup—and have a time limit to list as many ideas as possible to use that object in an atypical, ‘alternate’ way.

Their collaboration works like this: Dumas administers the AUT to participants, and Organisciak developed code for an online algorithm, where Dumas can upload the responses he collects. The algorithm scores the alternate uses task – something previously only done by a handful of other institutions, typically at significant cost. The two realized their creation could change how psychologists approach creativity testing. No longer limited by cost, this could open doors for universal testing in vulnerable school districts or psychological clinics with little resources.

With funding from a Morgridge College flowback grant, Dumas and Organisciak built a free and open website where individuals using the AUT can upload their responses and have them scored. This week their website, Open Creativity Scoring, is set to launch, and they could not be more excited.

Dumas and Organisciak see this work as one step in a larger trend of using computing to break free of the restraints of close-ended responses in psychological testing.

“One of the biggest limitations in educational and psychological testing is our reliance on multiple choice items,” said Dumas, explaining that often psychologists or educators use multiple-choice tests because open-ended scoring is too expensive to be within reach.

“We’ve spent the past few years focused on improving what we know about measuring creativity. With the website, we can make that work accessible to practitioners and other researchers,” said Organisciak. “Both testing and studying creativity has been difficult in the past, and we’re eager to see what others can do with access to a reliable, consistent way to measure it.”

“Our work, when you put it together, opens a really important door,” Dumas continued. “We are greater than the sum of our parts and I think it has to do with Morgridge. At most universities, we might have been herded into our own disciplinary silos and never met each other, but here we are really encouraged to work in an interdisciplinary way. Had our offices not been close, we would not have realized our potential.”

So far, everything from their research has been made free, something they prioritize in order to make an impact. According to Organisciak, this is a way to make state of the art research assessible to everyone. He stresses that many people don’t have access to an academic journal to read a paper about writing an algorithm, but with this website, they don’t have to.

June 17, 2020 — “Normal” is a word I hear often these days. It carries with it the allure, of well, normal. I sense that it is often used with good intention. A longing for stability and certainty about the world and our place in it. And as a leader and teacher I think there is a good reason to express a certain degree of skepticism about its meaning. Especially in the current context of a global pandemic, world-wide economic decline, and the calls for justice by Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. A return to “normal” feels to me inadequate for the deep work that I need to do and that the institutions that I’m part of and love also need to do. In my head I hear the lyrics to a Bruce Cockburn song: “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” And by worse he means the divide between the haves and have nots, the rich and poor, and the empowered and disempowered. His song from 1983 is a prophetic warning to question normal as an operating principle, then and now.

This moment, now, compels me as educator and leader to address the realities of structural racism in every institution, especially schools, that support and perpetuate the pandemic of whiteness as normal. I don’t know how you are doing with this moment. Perhaps you carry sadness with you or fear. Rapid change and loss may well have brought weariness, bone weariness and a sense that you don’t know how to keep moving forward. Or even what forward looks like right now. You may be welcoming the change that is sweeping the world and the possibility found in chaos. You might sense that disruption is clearing away old habits and offering new ways to grow and heal. Regardless, I invite you to be fully present to your emotions. To feel them in your body. To know that they are real and contain the energy of transformation for self, others, and the field of education.

The questions I’m holding today are many and varied. Where should I look for wisdom, sense making, or something tangible to anchor to in hard times? What can I do when it feels like everything around me is in turmoil? Faculty, staff, students, and administrators are preparing for the fall quarter. I wonder how anyone can really plan amidst all the changes we are going through individually and collectively? I wonder how can we pick up the shattered pieces of social structures that empower some and disempower others—without recreating systems of oppression? I feel simultaneously charged and disoriented. I don’t really know what the best course of action is. I find myself searching for the generative space between deconstruction of power and privilege; and the construction of newness grounded in liberation and freedom for all. What can I do, is a daily question for me?

Two sources of wisdom have helped center me lately while keeping me open to personal and social change. The first dates to 1948 and the eve of the atomic revolution and potential world destruction. Four elders were appointed by the Hopi Nation to share ancient wisdom and prophecy. One story tells that now, a world in crisis, is like a mighty river. The eleventh-hour is here and so is the time to act.

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.  And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.

I hear in the prophecy of the Hopi elder that fear plays an important role in the way I and others choose to respond to this moment. The pain and loss associated with climate change, COVID-19, economic collapse, and the death of so many Black, Brown, and indigenous people feels like a mighty river. It is sweeping normal away and flushing out the no longer useful ways of being.

What can I do? I can let go and join the river as it flows to its destination, not my hoped for normal, but the river’s natural end point. What is of most use to me is the truth that once I let go and stop hanging on to my white-male-heterosexual privilege, for instance, I will find myself in the company of many others. In community we can celebrate and rejoice together as power is reconfigured in service of everyone, and every learner. Now is the time for me to give up privilege in order to give it back to all.

The second wisdom story comes from a June 5, 2020 National Public Radio StoryCorp conversation between a Black father (Albert Sykes) and his 9 year old son (Aiden).

Aiden: So, Dad, what are your dreams for me?

Mr. Sykes: My dream is for you to live out your dreams. There’s an old proverb that talks about when children are born, children come out with their fists closed because that’s where they keep all their gifts. And as you grow, your hands learn to unfold because you’re learning to release your gifts to the world. And so for the rest of your life, I want to see you live with your hands unfolding.

I like thinking in metaphors. They help me get beyond my rational mind to the living heart of truth. Albert Sykes offers me an understanding of change that combines the destructive and constructive image of a fist. What can I do? Now is a time, as many social justice educators argue, to raise a fist and break apart the power structures that oppress and kill (emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically) so many. At some point, the closed fist will open, in its own time, to reveal gifts. New ways of knowing and being that the wounded world and broken schools need for healing.

Neither wisdom story offers a systematic and structured plan for change. They can’t be condensed into an email of next steps and phases or written as a five-year strategic plan. I find the wisdom that speaks to my heart takes its own time to settle in and create the conditions for growth and change. I need to sit with this wisdom and let it work me, rather than me applying my expectations and timeline to it.

Now is the eleventh-hour, a time to act. For some that means jumping into the river and swimming with fellow radical educators and protestors. For some that means sewing masks, painting slogans of empowerment, or pursuing other ways to disrupt and deconstruct the system. For others it means writing scholarly articles or leading professional development grounded in social justice practices and principles.

What can I do? I can look for companions with closed fists waiting for them to open and reveal gifts of insight, change, and the way forward to a more humane, compassionate, and just world. What can you do? What is in your fist today? What gifts do you carry? What is your unique wisdom to share with all of us?

The graduating president of the College of Education Student Association is ready for his next chapter.

When Sajjid Budhwani arrived at Morgridge College of Education in 2016 to get his PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, he never wanted to be a teacher. He never wanted to work in a school system. He came to Morgridge from Mumbai with an MBA in Marketing, an undergraduate degree in finance and auditing, and years of experience in the business world. What was Sajjid doing at Morgridge, exactly?

Sajjid’s research interests led him to the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program. His dream is to be an educational researcher, focused on improving educational equity and close the opportunity gap through leveraging geospatial research methods, tools, and statistics.

“I want to focus on leveraging Geographic Information System (GIS) to be able to visibly show my research to educators,” Budhwani said. “This is a powerful tool. Social science research can make the most out of GIS. Through asking space and place-based questions, educational researchers, policymakers, and leaders need to continue to grow their capacity in this domain.”

When it came time to decide on his dissertation research, Budhwani wanted to take a transdisciplinary approach.

“I presented my case to my advisor, department chair, and to the Associate Dean, Dr. Mark Engberg,” he said. “They were truly very kind and supportive. Of course, there were hiccups on the way. Challenges are inevitable, especially if you choose to walk the road that is less travelled by others. You need to be persistent and goal-oriented if you need something that badly!”

His dream got one step closer to reality when he was selected by the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) as part of the 2018-2020 Jackson Scholars Network (JSN). The JSN develops future faculty of color for the field of educational leadership and policy. UCEA facilitates the development of a robust pipeline of faculty and graduate students of color in the field of educational leadership. As a result, Barbara Jackson Scholars and Alumni enhance the field of educational leadership and UCEA with their scholarship and expertise.

“This has been sort of a dream for me,” he said, referring to the scholarship. “Through the JSN network I am connected to my mentor, Dr. Jayson Richardson [University of Kentucky]. He has been incredibly supportive of my goals. His research interests includes Educational Leadership, School Technology Leadership, and Comparative Education to name a few.”

Besides his mentor, Sajjid also has very high regards and appreciation for his advisor-cum-dissertation director, Dr. Erin Anderson.

“She walks along with you and makes effort to ensure we cross the finishing line,” he said.

His mentor and dissertation director provided several opportunities for Sajjid to leverage his GIS expertise through publication, several paper presentations, and inter-university research collaborations.

Sajjid is graduating this Spring, 2020. “I have just a few days left before I graduate. As I reflect on my journey here at the University of Denver (DU), I think that it was incredible and the most stupendous one. I feel extremely privileged and blessed to have such a wonderful family here at Morgridge College. Our deans are fantastic! Department chairs are truly amazing. Faculty, staff and the Ricks Center for Gifted Children – all have been extremely supportive of my goals, interests, and aspirations! It didn’t feel like I was alone in this journey. Morgridge College was my village, my true asset!”

After graduation, Sajjid’s new and permanent home will be in Toronto, Canada, the dream city of his childhood. He will be working remotely for a company in the United States and feels fortunate to be able to do so. According to Budhwani, he was able to secure his job because of the opportunities presented to him through his time at Morgridge College.

“Although I will be moving to a neighboring country,” he said, “I’m indebted to Morgridge College and University of Denver at large.”

This year, we held the MCE Day of Celebration to celebrate our graduating students on Thursday, June 11 at 3 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time). While we couldn’t celebrate in person this year, we have recorded a very special video to honor our students. Watch the video on our MCE Day of Celebration page.
This year’s MCE Student Awards Ceremony took place virtually on Friday, June 5 at 4 p.m. While we coudn’t celebrate in person this year, we recorded a very special online ceremony to honor our student awardees. Watch the video on our 2020 Student Awards Ceremony page.

Dr. Mike Hoa Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, was selected as the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Dissertation Award by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Research on the Education of Asian and Pacific Americans Special Interest Group (REAPA SIG). REAPA promotes inquiry into educational and equity issues affecting Asian and Pacific Americans, facilitates interdisciplinary discussions around these issues, and provides members with colleagueship and support. We recently talked to Mike about his award, what is next in his career, and advice he has for students entering the writing phase of their academic journey.

First, can you tell me your dissertation title? My dissertation is entitled: “Building Capacity at Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI): Cultivating Leaders and Civic Engagement through Federal Policy.” And per the legislation that created AANAPISIs, capacity building is one of their primary charges. Thus, and quite simply, my study uncovers and explains the process in which AANAPISIs build capacity. However, I wanted to get a deeper sense of how these institutions build capacity for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and what that means to those who are involved with this initiative on campus. In doing so, I found that AANAPISIs, through a very intentional and methodical process, develop and cultivate leaders – these are leaders within the student population, but also among staff, faculty, and administrators. Many provided leadership within their own academic units, but also in their local communities and for national projects – all with the desire to enhance equity and justice for AAPI populations. And so, an argument that I make is that AANAPISIs are a race-conscious federal policy that can fulfill its legislative requirement, of building capacity in order to serve AAPI students, but in doing so, AANAPISIs can simultaneously develop leaders who are driven to serve their communities, both internal and external to the institution.

Why did you pick this topic for your dissertation? Prior to starting graduate school, I worked as a Congressional staffer in United States House of Representatives. During that time, I worked on a number of exciting projects, where my most favorite initiatives revolved around higher education; and specifically, on Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), including AANAPISIs. In that position, I was able to serve as a liaison for several institutions as they strived towards becoming an AANAPISI. From there, I knew that I wanted to study these very special colleges and universities. I observed that they were able to do so much with so little, while building environments that validated the lives of their students, while also enhancing the capacity of their staff and faculty towards these efforts.

How does your life experience play into your work? What draws you to this subject and research area? My background in government and public policy greatly informs my work. I certainly bring my lens as a former Congressional staffer to my research. And without a doubt, that impacts the way I think about educational issues and the types of questions I’d like to answer. Given my approach, I’m fascinated by MSIs and AANAPISIs because of their ability to help us rethink the potential of postsecondary education. Additionally, given that MSIs are a federally designated and funded initiative, that specifically focuses on students of color, it is one of the few areas where our government affirmatively declares a commitment to race and issues of great importance for communities of color (i.e., a federally funded race-conscious policy). With that in mind, can the federal government do more and do better? Certainly, with federal policy there is always greater potential, and my research aims to engage with policy makers in order to provide precise interventions – so that we can collectively enhance this critical work.

How does it feel to win? It is a great honor to be selected by my peers and colleagues for this award. I hope that it helps bring much needed visibility to AANAPISIs, and to their students, staff, faculty, and administrators. If you are ever able to visit an AANAPISI, or any MSI, chances are you will find some really amazing and resilient students, and a committed team of staff, faculty, and administrators who will do anything to support them. As I wrote in my dissertation, I am grateful to all of those who have labored to advance the important work of AANAPISIs, and have great hope for their AAPI students.

What is next in your career? From a professional standpoint, I hope to continue partnering with more AANAPISIs and MSIs, and build upon this work. From a personal one, I hope that my research will benefit those who study and work at AANAPISIs, as well as help policy makers who are charged with oversight and appropriations. Additionally, I will continue to bring this work into the classroom. A bit of an unashamed plug, but I teach the MSI seminar and hope that students who are curious about this important institutional type will join us!

What advice can you give to those entering the dissertation-writing phase of their education? For my runners out there, and at the risk of sounding cliché, the dissertation is a marathon not a sprint. And while you are developing your proposal, collecting and analyzing data, or writing up the findings, or really at any point or stage, it may actually feel more like an ultra-marathon. And so, it is so important to find a topic that you are passionate about and drives you.  That will sustain you. Additionally, as isolating as it may feel, be sure to engage with your classmates, staff, faculty, other scholars in the field. Doing so will bring context, perspective, and energy. Finally, I can promise that if you put in the work, it will be a great dissertation – something that you will be proud of. But on the other hand, as one of my professors told me, “a great dissertation is a completed dissertation!”


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