MSUM Ed.D Grad Works to Address Critical Teacher Shortage

Doctoral work focuses on SmartLabs® in rural schools

When schools in the region began holding classes online earlier this year, Tonya Greywind embraced it as another day in the classroom.

The Fargo woman recently earned her Doctor of Education in educational leadership from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Her thesis on SmartLabs® in rural schools builds upon 15 years of experience with the North Dakota Center for Distance Education, an agency that delivers online education.

“Distance learning provides opportunities for kids regardless of their location and situation,” Greywind says. “Part of my goal as an educator is to advocate for students who don’t get the same opportunities as their peers.”

Greywind is one of the 12 educators who earned their doctorate from MSUM this spring — the first cohort to complete the educational leadership program. It is the first stand-alone doctorate offered by the university.

“It was an appropriate extension of our undergraduate and graduate education programs, which have seen significant growth in the past decade,” says Boyd Bradbury, coordinator of the Doctor of Education degree. Its launch also serves as a nod to MSUM’s beginnings as a normal or teacher training school.

Each year the doctoral program accepts up to 25 students — about half to three-quarters of all applicants. Students range from early childhood teachers to post-secondary administrators and even corporate educators.

“We intentionally designed this doctorate with the idea that good leadership is good leadership at all levels of education,” Bradbury says.

The doctoral program allowed Greywind to keep growing as a teacher of online courses and as someone who facilitates the training of other teachers.

“Initially, I was nervous, but the main things I’ve gained (from the program) are confidence and a broadened support system,” she says. “I’ve gained this wide professional network of friends that range from district superintendents to deans of colleges.”

Greywind’s desire to make education accessible to all students began from a personal experience. As an independent teen, she moved out of her home and decided to attend Fargo’s alternative high school, Woodrow Wilson.

“Had there not been an alternative, there’s no way I would’ve graduated,” she says. “It’s about opportunities and options.”

After high school, Greywind earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from MSUM. She completed her teaching license and a master’s in biology in North Dakota and returned to MSUM for a master’s in education. When MSUM launched its doctoral program, professors encouraged her to apply.

Inspired by her work with a virtual school, Greywind decided a doctoral program would allow her to dig deeper into effective ways to reach more students with quality curriculum.

Her employer, NDCDE, offers close to 200 virtual courses ranging from core classes needed for high school graduation to electives only offered by larger, metro schools. For example, through NDCDE, students can take an anatomy course for both high school and college credit even if their high school doesn’t offer it.

In 2019-20, more than 5,500 students from North Dakota and around the country enrolled in these virtual courses.

Over the past few years, NDCDE has helped schools install and incorporate curriculum for SmartLabs® from Creative Learning Systems. As part of her doctoral work, Greywind researched how these learning systems can benefit rural schools that face a critical teacher shortage, especially in STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) fields.

These turn-key labs encourage students to learn through project-based, hands-on activities. For example, students may explore coding or engineering through robotics. There are 19 SmartLabs® in North Dakota supported by NDCDE. Results from Greywind’s research will be considered as the state determines whether to expand the program.

“It’s an innovative and effective way for students to learn,” Greywind says. “It’s a way to create equality among all students.”

And creating opportunity for all students is exactly why she teaches.

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