Scholar-Practitioner and Learning Teams within the Ed.D Program

Joe Coray, ’83 | 02/23/2023

Joseph Coray A student's perspective scholar-practitioner and learning teams within the Ed.D


We are in our second semester as students in the initial cohort of the Saint Francis University's new Executive Doctor of Education in Organization Leadership and Innovation. My experience with this program has been extraordinary.  I approached returning to my alma mater after forty years with a bit of trepidation. Not so much about returning to “College among the Pines” for graduate education, but rather, why would I undertake a rigorous research-oriented degree program at this point in my career? The answer lies in my undergraduate experience.  During my time at Saint Francis College, I became a life-long learner and an adult. I developed, and still have, life-long friendships from those memorable days.  There, I grew from a youth to a young adult, learning, adopting beliefs, and understanding morality and faith.  I realized this process continues, as there will always be more to learn and understand about myself and this wonderful world.  Further, wherever my life’s journey will take me, the Franciscan-Christian values absorbed and adopted from my Loretto days, including service for the common good, will guide me.

During our first residency at the school’s Curry Innovation Center last August, I met my cohort, my learning team, our Program Director, and our first professor.  The cohort was diverse and welcoming, with many coming to the program like myself – established professionals in various fields, who desired to keep learning, going deeper and broader into leadership, ethics, and innovation as it applies to their respective fields and areas of interest.  Coming from a commerce background, it is energizing to listen to others whose fields are distinctive and complementary.  My learning team, a sub-group of four, included three other individuals from different demographics, locations, and professions.  We were in higher education, health care, information technology, and insurance.  We were all connected to SFU in some unique way and found our paths to this program from various aspirations.

We were immediately introduced to the concept of being a scholar-practitioner; that is, our learning and work are focused on the practical application of scholarly knowledge.  In this program, we engage in doctoral-level learning, dialogue, research, and writing while at the same time, we keep our work grounded in the pragmatic and the immediate, drawing upon our professional and personal experiences and applying our knowledge to real situations.   Dr. Tricia McFadden, our program director, and Dr. Patrick Crawford, our first professor, reminded us that completing the degree includes scholarly and empirical research leading to the completed dissertation.  And yet, what we do in this learning will also avail itself to the immediacy of our daily employment and professional lives. 

This was true for me even in that first week. Dr. Crawford introduced us to Charles Schwahn’s 1998 book, Total Leaders, which begins with two fundamental axioms: 1) strategic design requires both strategic direction and strategic alignment, and 2) we could be leaders if we were life-long learners too.  That concept stuck with me deeply.  I returned to my office on the following  Monday, where I had to “pitch” a new project to my boss and her direct report group – my colleagues – focusing on developing a customer-facing portal to facilitate access to a new product.  My presentation incorporated both these concepts from Total Leaders, convincing my audience that the design of our project needs to rest securely on the direction and alignment of our values and resources. We need to name those values, and align the resources appropriately.  Further, we want to keep learning about our customers, stakeholders and competitors for success.  For me, this was a scholar-practitioner moment, even from the very first week. This work applies to my professional development and resonates with my hope to lead for the common good.

As we move through our second semester, I am reminded daily of those first days.  We are building, each week, upon the prior week and the prior course’s learning objective.  Even in the learning experience, I have some fear of the final project, I am hearted by those initial relationships forged with my learning group friends.  We have committed to one another to share and support, to learn and grow together, and to remain a learning team through finishing that first course, (achieved, yeah!) and continuing to the future dissertation completion moment.   For me, this is the un-heralded value of the Executive Doctor of Education program at Saint Francis University: here, too, are new life-long friends with me on this learning journey.