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Doctoral Candidates Put The Scholar-Practitioner Model To The Test

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The six University of Maryland University College doctoral candidates who presented their dissertation work in a recent poster session at Adelphi, were engaging in a time-honored rite of passage for students earning degrees from research-based institutions that place a premium on scholarship.

The occurrence, itself, was unremarkable. But the session’s methodology provided a remarkably revealing peek under the hood at the scholar-practitioner model with its engine running. The synchronicity of moving parts illustrated why students in the program believe UMUC’s Doctor of Management is the ultimate academic ride.

Calvin Martin, a federal government manager at Ft. Meade, Md., who expects to graduate in May, said he selected UMUC because it is one of the few programs of its type in the world: Unlike traditional PhD programs, it focuses on secondary research. “ It bridges the gap between the purely theoretical and the practitioner in the field. And since I operate in that practitioner world, this was an excellent program for me.”

UMUC’s Doctor of Management and Doctor of Management in Community College Policy and Administration programs also transcend the traditional because they incorporate an “exceptional degree” of collaboration. “The interaction that goes on specifically at this poster session is far superior than anyone ever gets in a traditional PhD program. So this is a unique environment,” said Dr. Bryan Booth, executive director of doctoral programs. The poster session, one of many Student Opportunities to Advance Research and Scholarship (SOARS) events each year, gave students nearing graduation an opportunity to test-drive their dissertations—and new students a chance to kick the tires. “So, yes, they are practicing, they get feedback, and it gives them a better dissertation. And, yes, the students observing and asking questions get a sense of what it’s going to be like in two years when they are presenting,” Booth said.

But the true symbolic difference between traditional business schools and what UMUC offers rests in the importance placed on how students see and internalize the value of the practical link. Students and faculty who attended the poster event headed back to work “in Iowa, California, and Florida,” and took with them “just a little piece” of one or two presentations that struck a particular chord. “And in an ideal world for our programs, those pieces of scholarship are going back and forth all the time,” Booth said.

UMUC’s doctoral programs appeal to nontraditional students who seek the highest level of scholarship but don’t intend to conduct primary research in their professional lives. By design, they offer the academic horsepower to drive high performance in a dynamic environment that ensures students “take scholarship, make some sense of it, and say, ‘This is what I can do with it in the real world.’ We’re trying to do something that managers can care more about,” Booth said.

Holly French-Hart, dean of liberal arts at Bossier Parish Community College, La., said the program is vigorous, time-intensive, and requires reevaluating priorities. “The program offers much – and the internal confidence and sense of achievement in completing it will stay with me forever.” Testimonials aside, Booth agrees that evaluating the doctoral programs’ success is “a tough social science measure. It is an iterative process.” He speculates that with more exposure, success might be measured by an increase in program inquiries and enrollments. Perhaps graduates will become more widely known and influential.

“Without over using the word, we are going for impact. And whatever our students are learning here about translating scholarship into practice … a goal is that it results in better real-world decisions,” Booth said.