“I was scared to death of writing the dissertation”: Q&A with Makeba Butler, EdD’17
Let’s face it, the idea of a dissertation is intimidating. In fact, it kept Makeba Butler away from her dream of earning her EdD in Transformational Leadership for years. But eventually, she found the support to make it happen. Now her paper has been downloaded over 122 times and is helping to resolve the achievement gap instead of just discussing its origins.
What held you back from getting your doctorate sooner?
I had been thinking about applying for a doctoral program for about a year, because I was scared to death of writing the dissertation.
I’d heard so many horror stories. You have to write this big, long book and you have to focus to make it your own with tons of research. And I just was very, very fearful. So, it took me about a year to really muster up the courage to apply. But my committee chair, my team, everybody was very helpful. It made that process so easy. Not easy in terms of work, but just easy in the way I approached it and got through it.
Was going through the program rewarding after all that trepidation?
It allowed me to be very creative and it brought out of me qualities I did not know were there. Including the ability to write something people would actually listen to and read. I chose a very passionate topic that encompassed a demographic with a problem. Having done a lot of research in the past, I was a little apprehensive but found, as time went on, that it’s a process. And I learned that what I have to say does matter and could appeal to many readers. Even now, finding that there are over 120 downloads of the dissertation is just amazing to me. People actually want to read it!
I remember my committee chair telling me, at my defense, that it was one of the best dissertations he had ever read. And that validated me, reassured me that I am qualified to do what I do. All that fear was real, but conquerable.
What was your dissertation topic?
My dissertation was on positive teacher/student relationships and how they encourage mathematics achievement among black males. Because there’s a lot of research that they score far beneath their peers in terms of academics, but I wanted to look for a resolution. I knew, based on some of the research I came across, that one of the most important components contributing to a student doing well academically is how you relate to them. So I wanted to pinpoint that potential.
African American males, black males are not dumb. They’re not inept. They have the ability to do well. But they’re not going to do well, if they don’t first feel you care for them. So, when we look at the black male dynamic, there’s a different way to teach that begins with building a relationship, showing them that you genuinely care. It’s not academics first.
The research and data that I pulled was unanimous. It turned out to be a very powerful dissertation.
You’ve earned degrees at other universities. How did Concordia measure up?
I had a wonderful committee chair, Dr. Mark Jimenez. He was there to talk me off many ledges. He and I would talk on the phone and I would be stressed due to contradictions in the feedback I was getting versus what I was putting forth. And he would say, “Makeba, it’s all part of the process. Don’t worry about it. Call me if you ever want to scream at me, whatever.” He was just very supportive.
Concordia as a whole was extremely supportive. I mean, even the library support system was extremely helpful in helping me find resources. They were very, very good.
I’ve gotten three degrees from three different universities and this, by far, was the absolute best one I’ve ever been a part of. I cannot think of a bad experience in my four years. They keep their word. They follow through. If you need anything, you can call and they’re right there to help you. It was a great experience.
Do you feel like you had support from your colleagues within the program?
There’s a bond that you develop with people who are in the trenches with you for a year and a half, which is how long it took to write that dissertation. We all stayed on task. We were there for one another. And it doesn’t matter that it was online because you build relationships with people. Whether they’re there or whether they’re not. We had group texts. We had group meeting chats. We had, you know, email. We always stayed in contact with one another. So that support was very important.
I’ve built lifelong friends. I mean, you find lifelong friends when you do something like this because it is a journey. It was very, very supportive.
Do you feel that you are an educator for a reason?
An educator is someone who is called to the field. And for me, I have a purpose. And I cannot leave this earth until that purpose has been completely fulfilled.
I am a parent to many, even though I never had children. I’m raising children academically, helping to build character. I’m working to close that achievement gap.
So there’s a purpose there. And what keeps me going is knowing that I have not fulfilled my purpose. Because had I fulfilled it, we would see a change.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and an MEd from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She is now the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland.Tags: EdD, Educational Leadership, Q&A