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Learning Journey: Reflections of the First Year Doctoral Students

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Sorcha Hyland
Lara Mann
Deb Griswold
Elizabeth Kozleski

“The mission of the doctoral program in special education at KU is to prepare civically-committed scholars who, through rigorous and relevant research and transformational interventions, address significant educational and social problems in ways that advance education, social policy, research, care giving and public service to enhance the quality of life of persons of all ages with (dis)abilities and their families.”

The KU SPED doctoral program prepares special education teachers, teacher educators, administrators, and field researchers for the future.  The editors of Hawk Hopes asked the 2015-2016 cohort members to reflect on their first year learning experience in the program.  Cohort members provided five words that described their experience as well as a short reflection of something memorable about the first year.  Good luck to the 2015-2016 Cohort as they approach their first year probationary review and enter their second year!


Jun Ai

The most valuable lesson I have learned in the past eight months is about myself. For example, I keep telling people that this is the **th day/month since I arrived in the U.S. and entered this program.  It’s been an effective self-protective strategy to lessen my anxiety of feeling illiterate in academia and also culturally naive in this new country. It allows me to excuse myself from feeling completely incompetent, since it is so hard and I need more time!  I’m thankful to myself because I’m aware of and have embraced my weakness, and keep growing. More importantly, I’m thankful to those incredible individuals who have challenged me, listened to me, supported me, and inspired me! Your knowledge, wisdom, and commitment to the field enhanced my certainty about why I am here.  Eight months (Okay, okay, I will stop counting) has been enough time for me to feel a sense of belonging. I am not sure whether it’s long enough for me to feel fully prepared, but surely I am on my way.  A must-include shout out is: I AM and I WILL never stop being proud that I AM a KU SPEDer!

Leslie Bross

This first year has caused me to think about people with disabilities in a completely different way.  People with disabilities have always been a huge part of my life, but I was always very busy being an advocate and an effective special educator.  It wasn’t until my role changed that I realized what meaning people with disabilities bring to my life and how much they enrich it.  I also now have a better understanding of what social justice means and why it’s so important.  I’m thankful for all the learning experiences I’ve had this year and look forward to many more!

Katey Burke

My favorite experience was “Cohortsgiving” at Elizabeth’s house for Thanksgiving. We each shared something we’re thankful for, and I had a smile on my face (and at times, tears in my eyes!) the entire time. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a diverse, intelligent, committed group of people, all striving to learn and grow. I’ve developed close relationships with many students and faculty in the program, but I feel a certain kinship with everyone because we share a common purpose.

Mayumi Hagiwara

The first year at the PhD program has been very inspiring.  I’m definitely glad to be part of the KU Special Education PhD program.  However, managing time has been a major struggle since I’m not only a PhD student but also a mom for a three-year-old boy.  Both roles have demanded me greatly.  Guilt for not spending time with him and guilt for not working on my schoolwork have conflicted with each other.  This will continue to be a challenge throughout my PhD career; however, I’m looking forward to learning and accumulating knowledge and expertise to become an effective researcher and teacher educator in the future.

Christine Hancock

In October I had the chance to travel with several members of my Early Childhood Unified Specialization to the Division for Early Childhood’s (DEC) National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I have attended professional conferences before, but this time felt different—I got to experience my membership in so many new groups. I was part of my specialization community, from carpooling to the airport to benefiting from moral support when my poster was briefly lost by our airline. I was part of my cohort community—my colleagues knew I was presenting and thoughtfully cheered me on from afar. I also experienced the larger presence of the KU community—several people started conversations with me at my poster by mentioning my affiliation with KU. And of course it was a chance to be part of the DEC community and connect with scholars and peers in early childhood special education. This experience stands out to me as representative of all the different communities I get to participate in by being a doctoral student in special education at KU.

Elizabeth Ann Meitl

My first year has been one long lesson in learning that there is more space in my brain than I knew, more room for friends than I imagined, and more time in my life for reading than I could have guessed. Also, I learned how to make a poster.

Amanda Miller

Wear gratitude like a cloak. ~ Rumi

Grateful for endless opportunities to learn from and work with incredible people. Grateful for openness to make new connections and build partnerships. Grateful for honesty, challenge, and creativity. Grateful for laughter and friendship. Grateful for difference.

2015 Cohort.jpg

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