Rowan celebrates graduates from first Camden doctoral cohort

Rowan celebrates graduates from first Camden doctoral cohort

First two students in new Camden doctoral program defend dissertations, earn their degree.

As the Rowan community celebrates more than 2,300 graduates in 2013, two represent an especially big milestone – the first in Rowan at Camden’s inaugural doctoral cohort to successfully defend their dissertations.

Career educators Denise Jones and Jacqueline Flemmings were among 26 students who began the doctoral in educational leadership in 2009, a program geared toward improving education in urban school districts. Of the 26 initial students, 20 completed all course work and 18 are finishing or have finished their dissertations but still must defend them.

“I was a bundle of nerves,” said Denise Jones, who defended her dissertation, a study about fostering culturally responsive pedagogy in an urban school, March 5. “The committee helps prepare you for the process but you are still a bundle of nerves.”

Jones, of Lindenwold, grew up in Camden and has taught in the city for 15 years, the last four at the Early Childhood Development Center.

She said pedagogy, the art or science of teaching, must be designed in a way that students to relate to. Just as marketers must sell to a target market (or risk missing their market), educators must teach to the students in front of them.

“Teachers know they have to teach a curriculum and they must make everyone happy – their administrators, the district, the state – but ultimately you’re trying to teach your students,” she said.“Your number one priority must be the students.”


Jones said the reading-heavy doctoral program involved two classes per semester but was made even more difficult by the loss of both her parents and her aunt since it started.

“Life doesn’t stop,” she said. “When I defended my dissertation I had my mom’s engagement ring on my finger. I would have liked for my parents to be here when I participate in Commencement but I’ll be thinking of them.”

Flemmings, of Philadelphia, has been a guidance counselor for 17 years in Philadelphia’s Baldi Middle School, and an educator for more than 25 years in Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.

She defended her dissertation, about the need for active parental involvement in an urban charter school, April 5.

“It explores how parents can move from parental involvement to parental engagement,” Flemmings said. “Involvement is great – participating in fundraisers, going on field trips, that sort of thing. But engagement is deeper. It’s sitting at the table with decision makers, coordinating, collaborating, and brainstorming. It’s helping decide what books might be best, joining the P.T.A., getting involved.”

Ultimately, she found, engagement requires much more than parent-teacher conferences. Lines of communication must be open, teachers and parents must respect one another, and they must work collaboratively for the benefit of the children.

“This was a wonderful experience,” she said. 

Growing the Camden campus

Dr. Tyrone McCombs, dean of Rowan University at Camden, said the first doctoral cohort was historic for the campus, a dynamic community in its own right.

“It’s one of our first initiatives in expanding the academic mission of Rowan at Camden,” Dr. McCombs said. “For over 40 years, Rowan at Camden was primarily focused on undergraduate programs and pre-college initiatives, but in the past five years we have built upon the historical success of the campus with the addition of distinct graduate programs to further promote the academic mission of becoming an urban research entity within the university.”

Ultimately, he said, educators will benefit in their careers from the doctoral program but districts and students may benefit most.

“Our goal is to provide professional and academic opportunities to train future educational leaders,” Dr. McCombs said. “They will have a tremendous impact in our urban school districts addressing the challenges many of our children are facing today.”