Five Paths, One Goal
For the five recent PhD graduates from The Department of Education, the goal of obtaining the highest degree in their field was the same.
But their starting points – and paths to the finish line – were quite different.
The journey for all five graduates included a variety of part- and full-time jobs, graduate assistantships, fellowships, and the careful balancing act of family, personal care, and the commitment to higher education. And while their experiences were different, they all agreed that UNH – and specifically the Department of Education – provided the supportive and challenging environment they needed to successfully obtain a doctorate degree.
‘Nice mix of research methodology and classes around my topic’
Dr. Caroline Arakelian said working at the Institute on Disability at UNH inspired her to pursue a PhD. She also completed the LEND program while at the institute through the College of Health and Human Services.
“That program truly is all about inspiring your leadership, and how you can help and work to support students with disabilities.”
She entered the PhD program in the fall of 2011, and when the grant ended, Arakelian started working at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton as a transitional and out-of-district coordinator in the Special Education Department. She is now the director of special services.
In the PhD program, Arakelian studied the contributing factors to post-secondary employment and education outcomes for students with disabilities. Even though she was working full-time, she was careful about her time management.
“I strategically took one or two classes a semester and maximized the summers,” she explained, adding that she also took classes at UNH Manchester.
“The coursework was really helpful,” Arakelian said. “I think it’s a nice mix of research methodology and classes around my topic and my strand. I chose classes designed to support my research goals and my career goals.”
‘Drawn to the quality that UNH offered’
Dr. Jennifer Scarpati was an assistant principal in Hampstead when she decided to enter the program in the fall of 2009.
“I was drawn to the quality that UNH offered,” she explained, adding that the commutable distance was also a bonus. Halfway through her PhD pursuit, she became the principal of Amherst Elementary in Nashua.
“It took me 8 years,” Scarparti explained. “There were times when I was in full gear. It went really well, I was productive, and got things done quickly. Other times were more stressful and the pace slowed down.”
Scarpati, who studied the effectiveness of after-school programs, credits the UNH Education Department to advancing her critical thinking skills – and the perseverance to stick with her goals.
She also explained that the program really pushed her to a “deeper and critical thinking about everything.”
‘Being with students is where I’ve learned the most’
Like her colleagues, Dr. Vilmarie Sanchez worked full-time throughout her PhD career. She was working at UNH in human resources and along the way met Dr. Bruce Mallory, who was the institution’s provost at the time. He was preparing to enter back into teaching and asked Sanchez to collaborate on an undergraduate class.
“He wanted to teach with someone who was different from me,” Sanchez explained.
They co-taught the class in 2008 – and Sanchez caught the teaching bug.
She entered the PhD program in 2010 and received funding from The Graduate School to create a course for students about identity and differences. She explained that the course served as a way to study how pre-service teachers think about beliefs, language, linguistics, and diversity.
But Sanchez encountered a big challenge along the way that forced her to put her research on hold: She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She didn’t take any time off, though, and put herself out there in the community by participating in the MS walk.
“That’s how I helped heal myself from something I can’t be healed from,” Sanchez explained, adding that being a parent, instructor, partner, and community member are also other important layers to being a graduate student.
‘UNH is a special place’
Dr. Quixada Moore-Vissing, who entered the program in 2011, had always been interested in obtaining a PhD.
She was counseling students and families around New Hampshire about financial aid at the New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation in Concord when she decided to enter the program.
“I was seeing that not only were students having trouble accessing affordable higher education in the state of New Hampshire and beyond, but middle income students were having a difficult time,” she explained. “It seemed like there was a really big gap in opportunity, so I wanted to do something about that.”
At the time she entered the program, her employer offered tuition reimbursement. However, Moore-Vissing has had numerous working roles during her time at UNH. She was a graduate assistant and also worked as a teaching supervisor at Exeter High School. She was also a distinguished Dissertation Year Fellowship recipient and continued to work at New Hampshire Listens throughout her academic career.
For her research, Moore-Vissing studied a small rural town in New Hampshire and more specifically, how students, community members, and parents can have a voice in decisions and education and their community.
She now works for the UNH Education Department as part of the Teacher Residency for Rural Education (TRRE) program.
“I’m grateful for the education here at UNH,” she said. “UNH is a special place. I’ve been in a couple other institutions, and the culture here for students in the education department … people really care about my success.”
‘I feel like I would encourage any graduate student to come here’
When Dr. Sara Clarke-Vivier was looking at PhD programs, she knew she wanted what she called a “rigorous research-based degree.”
UNH fit the bill.
“I wanted a high quality experience that was guaranteed by going to a place like UNH,” she explained.
During her first year in the PhD program in 2012, Clarke-Vivier was the principal of Wediko School in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. During her second year, she received a graduate assistantship from the Education Department to teach a course at UNH and left her administration position.
In addition to teaching courses at UNH on educational psychology and a human sexuality, Clarke-Vivier spent time as a supervising instructor overseeing UNH interns at Exeter High School. She also received the Summer Teaching Assistantship and Dissertation Year Fellowships.
Clarke-Vivier explained that her PhD research looked at the way educators design learning experiences that deal with complex or controversial social or historical issues. She has secured an assistant professor of education position at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland in the fall.
“I feel like I would encourage any graduate student to come here because it’s the perfect size,” she explained, adding that students can intimately know their faculty, the dean, assistant dean, and staff of The Graduate School on a first-name basis. “But you can also benefit from the financial support, the institutional support – all the things a big college can get. It’s the perfect middle-sized best of both worlds experience.”—Author Kristen Melamed
For more information on UNH’s Department of Education, and the programs it offers, please visit the Department of Education website or call (603) 862-2310.