by Rodney Wilson
Editor, NKU Magazine
When you think of Brussels, Belgium, what comes to mind? Oversized waffles? Uncommonly tasty chocolate? That infamous statue of an impish child? Fair enough, but for a trio of students from Northern Kentucky University’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership program, Brussels represents a moment of professional triumph, educational advancement and personal celebration (and, yes, those other things, too).
In October 2017, Terri Enslein, Karen Ramos and Linnea Fletcher—all three students in NKU’s cohort-model Ed.D. program—traveled to Belgium for the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) annual conference, a four-day learning and networking opportunity for leadership associates featuring more than 200 workshops, papers and presentations. Among the latter, speakers such as George A. Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece; David H. Petraeus, General (Retired) U.S. Army; Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive of Royal Dutch Shel; and others led plenary sessions addressing various topics around the conference’s theme of “Leadership in Turbulent Times.”
The annual conference also features a Student Case Competition, with an award presented in both undergraduate and graduate categories. And this year, Enslein, Ramos and Fletcher took home graduate honors for their presentation addressing the topic of infant mortality and morbidity.
“We highlighted the infant mortality crisis in Cincinnati,” says Enslein, “and came up with a leadership plan in change theory that we could then apply to the global issue of infant mortality. We felt, with our backgrounds, it was something we could all relate to, all understand well and could all bring a bit of insight to.”
Enslein refers to a common thread in the careers of herself and her cohorts: health care. Ramos works as the international program director for the UC Cancer Institute, University of Cincinnati. Fletcher is a registered nurse and full-time undergraduate nursing faculty member at Ohio State University. Enslein teaches nursing full time at Xavier University. For three health-care professionals, the topic—one of the only health-focused entries in the competition—was an easy decision, given both their careers and location (according to Cradle Cincinnati, the area ranks among the worst 10 percent for infant mortality in the country) have given them first-hand exposure to the crisis.
“It spoke to the head and the heart,” she says of their presentation, which opened with an infant's image alongside a listing of things the child would never experience. “I think it’s an issue that speaks to anyone. And it’s something that we have first-hand experience with and can speak to on a very personal level, versus some of the other topics.”
The ILA Student Case Competition is a demanding process beginning with a poster and executive summary presentation, then advancing to review by two different panels of judges. Finalists are then tasked with putting together an oral presentation that incorporates both feedback from judges and information presented in the conference’s sessions.
“We worked until 2:30 in the morning the night before,” says Fletcher. “We were just whipping it all together.”
But their hard work paid off. When the announcement was made at the conference wrap-up in front of close to 500 attendees, the NKU students were delighted to hear their case named the competition winner.
“I was ecstatic,” says Fletcher.
“Surprised!” says Ramos.
“Totally shocked,” says Enslein.
While the hard-working students took full advantage of the trip’s educational opportunities, even arranging a tour of a local hospital to compare against their professional experiences in the U.S., they also took time to enjoy the European holiday.
“I’d never been to Brussels before,” says Fletcher. “We did a chocolate tour, saw the 'Manneken Pis' statue, sampled local beverages, had some fries and mussels—we did all the touristy things.”
“We drank a lot of the local beer,” laughs Enslein, for whom the conference presented a first-ever opportunity to visit Europe. “I stayed for a week after the conference and travelled around. It was awesome.”
“It was great fun,” says President Emeritus and Education Professor Dr. James Votruba, who accompanied the Ed.D. students as a faculty mentor. “This is what doctoral work is all about.” Votruba points out that NKU students had twice previously won the Student Case Competition, though this was his first time serving as a mentor to a team. And he was very pleased with his students’ work performance.
“I was very proud of them. They worked so hard—it is a very intense competition,” he says. “I think one of the edges that this team had was that they don’t approach leadership as an abstract concept. All of them are in professional practices where leadership has to express itself in the real world, so they’re not just studying leadership theory, they’re focused on how those theories can improve the effectiveness of their practice or organization.
“And because this is a doctoral program in educational leadership,” he adds, “one of the advantages of ILA is being surrounded by people in programs who are doing very deep study of various approaches to leadership.”
“The conference itself was absolutely valuable to our learning,” agrees Enslein. “I felt the speakers impacted my own definition of what being a leader means.”
And while Enslein, Ramos and Fletcher all returned to school for different reasons (spanning everything from professional advancement to a pure love of learning), they all agree NKU’s Ed.D. cohort model, which encourages a bonding relationship between the faculty and the students, helped them work together to develop an award-winning presentation.
“I really like NKU’s program,” says Ramos. “The way they have the cohort established, the way they encourage you to get it finished in three years. They really work with you. That’s not true of many doctoral programs—you’ve got to kind of peck your way through it on your own, and I don’t care for that. I like this model.”