First in Their Class

In a flurry of pomp and ceremony this Spring, the first cohort of the Executive Ed.D. in Professional Leadership walked across the commencement stage. But these graduates represent more than a wave of newly degreed professionals; they are also part of a national initiative and a learning community that will persist long after the celebrations have ended.

Alief administrator Lesli Fridge said that in the course of their education, “Students grow in terms of their education and also as people.”        

This innovative program provides tailored, relevant learning experiences that address real-world problems and encourages students to apply their learning in the communities they serve. The degree offers a streamlined learning experience that qualified applicants complete in as little as two years while remaining employed.

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New Foundations

Faculty developed the Executive Ed.D. program informed by a national initiative. The University of Houston belongs to a consortium of 25 colleges and universities who are part of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED). The intent is to redesign the Ed.D. to make it a stronger and more relevant degree for the advanced preparation of school practitioners and clinical faculty, academic leaders, and professional staff for the nation’s schools and colleges and the learning organizations that support them. CPED’s Working Principles for the Professional Practice Doctorate in Education give insight into the objectives of the program. 

For the students, the outcome has been more than a theoretical exercise; it has been a revelation. Ann B. Stiles, Project GRAD Houston Executive Director, considers being a part of the program’s first cohort at UH “an honor”.

Conversations with a Community

Ten different school districts (as well as other educational organizations) were represented in the graduating cohort, but the problems that these different leaders encountered were remarkably similar. While members served different populations – elementary, middle or high school children - the dialog within the cohort proved invaluable.  Cypress Fairbanks ISD (CFISD) principal, Carla Brosnahan said, “We would ask ‘How do you deal with that problem?’ and see what we had in common and what we might do differently from one another. You learn so much from your cohort!” 

Students were able to motivate one another and provide a sense of community so important for retention and success.

Learning As You Go

Graduates of this program did not come in as blank slates, waiting to be filled with knowledge.  Students arrive with expertise from positions in which they serve and bring experience to the classrooms where they learn. The coursework and research areas were specially designed to complement that expertise.    

Newly promoted CFISD principal Karen M. Stockton said, “The research we did in courses was applicable to what we do in our schools every day!”

Principal Linda Macias likewise lauded the program’s concentration on applied research, which dovetails well with the work students are already performing and benefits the children that they are already serving.  Macias’ Doctoral Thesis on transforming low performing schools brought her insights she will take back to her job.

The insights from their working lives and the cohort structure itself helped students to inform the program’s content. “The core faculty members have been incredibly open to our feedback,” Fridge said.  Like their students, faculty are learning from their experience.


The program and its graduates have created great excitement in the Houston educational community and beyond. KUHF’s radio program, UH Moment, recently featured the Executive Ed.D. in Professional Leadership. The weekly radio show features stories of innovative research, programs and successes that make up the story of the University of Houston.  Read more . . .

Executive Ed.D. May 2011 GraduatesThe program has already resulted in promotions among graduates like Stockton.  After graduation, the Executive Ed.D graduates (pictured left) will be prepared for diverse leadership positions.  Many graduates opted for certification as principals or superintendents but the variety of leadership opportunities that are available reflects the complexity of the current field in Education.

Educators generally believe in the value of education, but because they are themselves often so busy, they do not always find opportunities to pursue higher degrees. The Executive Ed.D. is different. The program turns an educational leader’s struggle with real educational problems and transforms that difficulty into an opportunity for research, learning and transformation.