Empowered: Women work together to earn doctoral degrees

Eastern Wyoming College employees and local women Catherine Steinbock, left, Debbie Ochsner, and Heidi Edmunds received their doctoral degrees in Higher Education Administration from the University of Wyoming last month.

TORRINGTON – Three local women and Eastern Wyoming College employees received doctoral degrees from the University of Wyoming last month – the culmination of approximately five years of late night and early morning study sessions, countless pages read, and thousands upon thousands of words written.
Heidi Edmunds, Vice President for Academic Services; Debbie Ochsner, Social Science instructor; and Catherine Steinbock, instructor for Early Childhood/Department of Arts, Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, each received an EdD in Higher Education Administration at an official ceremony in Laramie on May 18.
The trio signed up for the program following a UW recruiter’s visit to the EWC campus. A tuition waiver agreement, as well as other practical benefits, such as salary schedule moves, helped encouraged Edmunds, Ochsner, and Steinbock to pursue the degree.
“We started out, let’s take one class and see, then we took one more,” Steinbock said.
“That first class we took, we had to write a 90-page paper … I can remember thinking, ‘What are we doing?’” Edmunds said.
“The advisor said, ‘If you can get through this class, you’ll be fine,’” Ochnser added. “I signed up to challenge myself, in part. I had brain surgery, and the doctor said ‘Challenge yourself – challenge your brain’. And I wanted to hang out with these guys, because they’re so much fun.”
The women agreed the support system they created was essential to their success.
“I think we all have different talents we bring,” Steinbock said. “These guys both have flowery writing skills, and I don’t. When we write, I’m very linear – say it and get it done.
“We complemented and balanced each other well,” Edmunds said. “In the same way, if somebody was struggling, someone else wasn’t … we just kind of worked ourselves to be this cohort.”
“That was phenomenal,” Ochsner said. “This is a degree in leadership – and that was amazing, when we took and gave, we each took the helm when we needed to.”
Nearly every spare second, despite and in the face of sickness, family and work commitments, the trio soldiered on, determined to earn the degree by 2020 – and beating that goal by one year.
“We had a quote ‘Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway,’ (Earl Nightingale),” Edmunds said.
“We’ve all had very complicated personal lives – and we come off like it’s kind of effortless. But it wasn’t at all. It’s a conscious choice to carve out some time,” Ochsner said. “I have been working hard for many years now and trying to downplay this – writing at night … in the morning, any spare second we have. There’s this cloud that follows you until it’s gone.”
“Without having these guys go through the entire process as kind of a cohort … I don’t think I could have done it,” Steinbock said. “We took turns falling apart and picking each other up.”
The trio wrote their dissertation – an in-depth essay required for those pursuing their doctoral degree – on the topic of students who earn their associate’s degree at the same time they graduate from high school, or “dual graduates”. Edmunds, Steinbock, and Ochsner interviewed students who graduated from the same high school in Wyoming and have been out of school for several years. They documented the students’ experience and what they’re doing now.
“The interviews were fascinating – to bring them all together. In the end, we came up with themes and the essence they shared – to see such variations, and find the commonalities,” Ochsner said.
“We each took the lead on the people we interviewed, transcripted those … then we started sharing the transcripts between the three of us … going through and coding themes or commonalities among them,” Steinbock explained.
“The people who participated in our research … really helped so much,” Edmunds added. “They were willing to help our timeframe – they agreed to participate quickly. I would give credit to them; they gave us good information.
“The (dual graduates) have a very specific set of personal characteristics,” she continued. “They finished, because they finish things. Grit, persistence – our students definitely embodied that.”
“We really are on the front edge of this phenomenon … a lot of kids are catapulting themselves through the education system,” Ochsner said.
While challenging, the women also found their experience to be beneficial to themselves as teachers, employees, and individuals.
“This has made us better employees for one thing … it really makes you more valuable,” Ochsner said.
“I always told my students I felt a little empathy – it helped me appreciate the students’ (perspective),” Edmunds said.
“The experience gave me empathy also,” Ochsner agreed. “On the other side, it caused me to draw my students forward – ‘you need to step this up. If I can do it, you can do it.’”
“I really learned how to organize my classes better, because we had some classes that were well-organized and some were a mess,” Steinbock said. “For my online classes, I really took a lot of information from that.”
“(The program also required) I take a lot of classes I otherwise would not have selected,” Edmunds said. “It broadened our perspective.”
On May 18, the trio made the trek to Laramie to make their accomplishment official.
“We went there, and we wore that regalia … we wanted that hat,” Edmunds said. “My little girls were there, Cate’s girls were there, Debbie’s were watching on the widescreen – I think it’s really important to set that example.”
Edmunds, Ochsner, and Steinbock celebrated the achievement with family, friends, and, in the same way as they worked through the program: together.
“We did this together, we celebrated together,” Steinbock said.
“We enjoyed each other’s company without writing a paper, with no stress,” Ochsner said. “This degree is opening opportunities.”
Edmunds agreed.
“It has grown us as professionals and people.”

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