Kelly Conn went to high school in Olathe and went to nearby Kansas University for a science degree. She went on to doctoral studies in Alzheimer disease at Boston University and then received a research appointment in Parkinson research. After having children, she became involved in her daughter’s elementary school. She was invited to visit African township schools by the dean at Northeastern. She fell in love with teaching and wanted to empower teachers to support STEM learning.

Cherese Childers-McKee grew up in a little town north of Charlotte, North Carolina. She did pretty well in school and headed to Wake Forest to become a doctor. After college, she got sidetracked, then laid off and stumbled into a job teaching English as a second language in her home county. She quickly found the classroom to be her calling.

While teaching in Durham, Childers-McKee became fascinated (and frustrated) by the segregation in schools and the relationships between Black and Latino students. “What could schools do, starting with the voice of students, to make them feel more invested?” she wondered. Childers-McKee’s doctoral work dove into the sociology of race relations in urban schools.

These two science graduates found their passion for teaching and, together at Northeastern University, are helping to transform educator preparation.

Experiential Learning at Northeastern

For more than 120 years, Boston-based Northeastern University has been known for experiential education. A third of the 26,000 enrollments are graduate students served by a network of campuses around the county and a thriving online program. Building on this tradition and footprint, the Northeastern Graduate School of Education has been rethinking educator preparation.

Professor Conn leads professional development pathways including a cool program called Network for Experiential Teaching and Learning (NExT), a global platform of educators connecting practice to more innovative, workplace-based learning.

NExT connects educators to the benefits of experiential education strategies such as project-based learning. “PBL is documented as successful pedagogy, it improves achievement. All learners become more engaged and take more control of their own learning, become more involved in the construction of their own knowledge,” said Conn.

Good project-based learning, added Conn, “actively engages the community and produces a meaningful product.”

Like a recent convening Seattle entitled Transformation and Innovation: Experiential Learning to Advance Social Justice, the NExT network’s focus is on the use of learning practices that impact the greater good.

Action Research Dissertation

Professor Cherese Childers-McKee leads the new Doctor of Education curriculum, which results in a Dissertation in Practice. It’s for practitioners that want to tackle a real problem. It has a social justice component that encourages budding leaders to become change agents.

In the old model, candidates would take courses for a year or two and then work with an advisor on a thesis topic. With the Dissertation in Practice, candidates immediately begin action research. They are guided through learning content with their own dissertation in mind. Students connect with a thesis advisory in their second quarter. The focus is on important and relevant problems of practice.

The Doctor of Education degree program features three pathways: curriculum, teaching, learning, and leadership, higher education administration, and organizational leadership studies.

The three pathways are experiential, allowing learners to dive into their specific field and problems of practice. They all focus on improving the human condition by deconstructing systemic injustice at all organizational levels.

In order to provide high-quality, personalized learning for every student, we need to do the same for teachers. After all, how can they provide a learning experience they’ve yet to be a part of? The work happening at Northeastern, more specifically through their Doctor of Education program is a step in the right direction when it comes to educator preparation and preparedness.

If you’d like to learn more about Northeastern’s programs or find out how to start on your pathway to a Doctorate of Education, click here.

Key Takeaways

[:15] About today’s episode.
[1:33] Tom welcomes Kelly Conn to the podcast.
[1:37] Where Kelly’s love for science came from.
[2:26] How and when Kelly made the pivot to becoming a teacher educator.
[4:40] Cherese talks about what her early education was like.
[5:22] When did Cherese know that she’d be a teacher?
[6:28] What was Cherese’s area of focus at UNC Greensboro?
[7:36] What drew Cherese to the topic of race relations.
[8:40] Kelly explains where Northeastern’s long history of experiential education came from and what it means today.
[10:06] Kelly describes the framework for experiential learning and the design principles that are important to her and her colleagues.
[11:14] Kelly highlights some of the ideas that are well-aligned with the philosophy at Northeastern.
[12:44] Why project-based learning is so important.
[14:17] Useful design principles and approaches to project-based learning.
[15:18] About NExT — Northeastern University’s Network for Experiential Teaching and Learning.
[17:50] Will a certificate be available for Experiential Teaching and Learning?
[20:16] Could a school district or network turn this into a series of micro-credentials that could earn a certificate from Northeastern? And could these credentials stack into a Master’s Degree?
[22:27] How and why Northeastern is updating its approach to their EdD. program.
[24:55] With this program, will it be possible that several people will be able to work simultaneously on a problem, but take a different approach?
[26:26] What makes Northeastern University’s education degree programs so unique?
[29:52] What attracted Cherese to Northeastern University?
[31:26] How online learning with experiential learning work together.
[33:44] How this new dissertation and practice are different from how the program used to be.
[35:53] Cherese responds to a critique of Doctoral programs and explains how their program is different — allowing students to focus on important and relevant problems.
[38:24] Cherese talks about the potential of a team-based EdD., and the collaboration that happens currently at Northeastern.
[40:18] Is Cherese making an effort to encourage her Doctoral students to communicate their work earlier and in different ways than just a dissertation?
[42:02] Having come to Northeastern with interests in race relations and social justice, has Cherese been able to maintain a focus on these subjects and encourage other people to take up these issues?
[43:30] Tom and Jessica close out this week’s podcast.

Mentioned in This Episode

Episode 188 with Jim Tracy of the Woodrow Wilson Academy at MIT!
Northeastern University
NExT | Northeastern University
Kelly Conn
Cherese Childers-McKee
UNC Greensboro

For more, see:


Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update. This podcast was sponsored by Northeastern University.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here