Four ECC faculty members earn doctorates

Samantha Leon, Staff Writer

Seeking higher education is a long process, but it is one that many faculty members at Elgin Community College attempt regardless. 

Associate Professor of History and Political Science, Antonio Ramirez, recently earned his Ph.D. in History in August 2021 from the University of Michigan.

Professor I of English, Lori Clark, earned her Ed.D. in Higher Education in May 2020. Clark earned her Ed.D. from Northern Illinois University, where both Alison Douglas, professor of English, and Tina Ballard, associate professor of reading, earned and will earn an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in literacy education. Douglas earned her degree in August of 2021 while Ballard looks forward to earning her degree in December of 2021 as well.

Each faculty member had different reasons for choosing to pursue a higher education. Although the areas of study for their dissertations were different, each professor had a desire to promote learning and make a difference with their research. 

Ballard, whose dissertation focused on reading and task expectations in introductory biology classes, sought to use her work to help improve her teaching.

“I always want to inspire my students,” Ballard said. “I want to figure out the best way to reach them. I want to figure out the best way to help them understand things … ​​I want to continue doing more research because I really would like to improve the way education is done. I’d like to help other teachers improve the way we teach.”

Clark, who focused her research around the LGBTQ+ community, wanted to provide students with resources that she might not have had as a member of that community when she was in school.

“We didn’t have a gay-straight alliance or anything like that,” Clark said. “And really, no support. And definitely no classes that were sort of around LGBTQ topics. So it made me wonder like, ‘Okay, if I had been an 18, 19, [or] 20-year-old student and I had had access to those kinds of resources or that kind of support, how my life would have changed?’” 

These faculty members’ motivation to help their students was accompanied by struggles as they earned their doctorates. Between balancing their careers at ECC and attending graduate programs, there were a lot of challenges. While time management was a struggle, mental health challenges were at the forefront for professors like Ramirez.

“There’s a lot of mental health struggles among students that are getting their Ph.D., particularly the ones who are focusing their full time on it and I think that’s for a few reasons,” he said. 

It took Ramirez 10 years to earn his doctorate. Douglas’ Ph.D. took seven years to complete.

“I think that just getting over that imposter [syndrome]— that sense that you’re trying to be somebody you’re not supposed to be— was probably the biggest struggle. Just that emotional thing of, ‘Is this what I’m supposed to do?’” Douglas said. 

Despite challenges, working toward a doctorate provided positive changes for these educators. Ballard’s and Douglas’ confidence in their abilities increased but both said that more importantly, it made a difference in the classroom.

“Being a student again has changed my teaching because being a student again reminds me of how insecure [students are],” Douglas said. “It’s something that you forget when you’re teaching.”

Many faculty members worked toward their doctorate degrees while also teaching up to fifteen credit hours per semester. 

During his preliminary exam process, Ramirez had to read 300 books. He spent nearly eight to ten hours every weekend in the library, periodically writing what were sometimes 25-page papers about what he read. His final exam consisted of one question that he was given 48 hours to respond to. Ramirez’s response was nearly 20 pages.

“You’re committing to, at minimum, five years and maybe more. If you’re thinking about having kids or where you want to live, you may have to move somewhere to spend those eight years. If you move somewhere and live there for eight years, you might never come back … So that’s all something to consider,” Ramirez said when asked about his reason for choosing the University of Michigan. 

According to Ramirez, earning a higher degree can be helpful. Ramirez said a higher education can help with jobs, but it may not always be necessary for someone’s desired path in life. 

“You do not need a Ph.D. to be a lifelong learner,” Ramirez said. “Some people like my grandfather, who I talk about in my dissertation, he was from Zacatecas, Mexico. He never went to school … but he essentially taught himself to read and he was one of the most educated and knowledgeable and wise people that I’ve ever known.”