Northwestern assistant professor of education completes capstone; earns doctorate

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Northwestern assistant professor of education completes capstone; earns doctorate

August 31, 2016

Dr. Jen Oswald, assistant professor of education at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, completed and presented her dissertation over the summer to earn her doctorate in education.

She currently holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies from Oklahoma Panhandle State University, a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Northwestern, a Master of Education Reading Specialist from Northwestern and now her educational doctorate focused on reading and literacy from Capella University.

Oswald started her degree in October 2012 and finished August 5 of this year. Capella University offers an online doctoral program that fit her needs of reading and literacy. Since Oswald was already educated as a reading specialist, Capella’s program helped her build on her knowledge and create new challenges in the areas of reading and literacy.

Oswald’s program required a capstone over a dissertation. She originally started a dissertation researching on the topic of membership in professional reading associations. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit into Capella’s quantitative required research guidelines.

“So I worked on that about a year and I couldn’t go any further, it didn’t fit in that [guideline] little box so I had to fix it, choose a new topic or change to a different degree course to fit a different capstone degree requirement,” she said. “I think I read a figure that said 75 percent of people who start their doctorates don’t finish, and I can see why,” she said.

Although Oswald had to change her original qualitative capstone topic, she didn’t abandon the original research entirely. After a break Oswald plans to return and finish the research for her original topic.

Her new and soon-to-be-published capstone research topic is over “best practices aligning to new English language arts standards.”

“I knew my capstone frontwards and backward. I purposefully chose something I was weak in, as far as the strategies. To align to the standards I chose multi-modal literacies and writing specifically in multi-modal literacies, so there was a lot of research that went into that,” Oswald said. “Any time you go into ed tech it’s like taking a sip of water from an open fire hydrant, there’s just so much there that you really have to narrow it down. It was easy to get lost in that research, but I knew what I had focused on and why I had focused on it, so it was really easy to defend why I chose this technology over all the ones that are out there.”

Oswald gathered the information and research with the help of Pam Davidson, collection services assistant in the J. W. Martin Library, in the J.W. Martin Library and other colleagues.

“[Davidson] was wonderful about getting me articles on short notice and the research I needed to complete that,” Oswald said. “I just have amazing reading colleagues so anytime I needed something I could ask them for anything; when I say, colleagues, I mean from across the state.”

During her degree, Oswald felt the content she was learning and the research she utilized through her capstone aligned very well with what she taught in the classroom at Northwestern.

“I teach the reading methods courses for education so it’s always contributed to my teaching. They aligned really well: what I was studying was what I was teaching and vice versa.”

Oswald understood that in order to help others in her field she needed to become an expert on her topic. Her next move is to start being considered for state literacy and leadership positions. Currently, she serves as regional coordinator on the Board of Directors for Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) and is on the committee with the State Department of Education to help revise the state’s literacy plan.

Although Oswald will be adding more leadership roles to her plate, she still has a strong love for Northwestern and the students she teaches.

“I love the challenge that they represent and the passion they have,” she said. “I love the fact that they can be gone for five years and when they come back to town they pop into my office and say hi. I love that connection…I just love the fact that you build good relationships here.”

Oswald lives outside of Alva in the country with husband Nick and their now, 3-year-old son Rett.

“My son just turned 3, and my goal whenever I started [my degree] was to always finish before he was 3, and I made it by about five days!” Oswald said. “Even with pregnancy complications, I knew that if I sat out [a quarter] it would be too hard to come back, so I just kept going. I was blessed with good teachers who understood that. I worked hard to get ahead.”

“It’s tough, the whole family gets the degree. Everybody has to make sacrifices, and I sure couldn’t have done it without my husband and also both sets of our parents…It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

She will receive her diploma after her capstone project is published through Capella University.

After getting her doctorate Oswald has big plans within the Division of Education at Northwestern.

“I’m in the process of starting a literacy center here on campus; it’s in the beginning stages of coming around,” she said. “It would offer tutoring from our teacher candidates to public P-12 students. They don’t necessarily have to be from Alva; they can be from anywhere, and it serves the entire family, not just the student who is struggling. Not everyone has an educational background, so you get these calls that say ‘my son’s teacher is telling me to get an app to help with reading’. But have you looked at how many apps there are? [The literacy center] would help serve the student by showing them and their parents this is what we are focusing on and what you can do at home. You can’t beat that personal relationship.”

For more information on Northwestern’s School of Education contact Dr. Christee Jenlink, associate dean and professor of education, at (580) 327-8450 or