Education’s Influence

Harnessing a powerful network of graduate students and alumni to lead change; questions and answers with Dr. Mya M. Mangawang, senior assistant dean of academic and faculty affairs, and director, Graduate Programs in Education

Dr. Mya M. Mangawang, senior assistant dean of academic and faculty affairs, and director, Graduate Programs in Education

As educators, policymakers, business leaders, and parents debate a wide range of education issues, from quality to financing, the Graduate Education programs at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies (CPS) have grown rapidly, while establishing a distinctive approach to the most pressing education challenges. The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), the Master of Education (MEd), and the Doctor of Education (EdD) attract nearly 2,000 students each year, with an emphasis on the role of educators as change agents in their own settings.

Now that these programs have achieved traction and validation from education professionals, what’s next for the Graduate Education programs at the College of Professional Studies (CPS)?

The CPS news team recently posed some questions to Mya M. Mangawang, PhD, senior assistant dean of Academic and Faculty Affairs and director of the Graduate School of Education. Dr. Mangawang began leading the EdD program in July 2011, and in July 2012 became the director of the MEd program as well. This is the first time that the Graduate Education programs have had one director. Dr. Mangawang offered her insights on how the graduate programs are evolving and her vision for these programs.

Q: How did you become interested in higher education leadership?

A: School has always been home for me. As a kid, the only time I ever missed school was when I had the chicken pox and they wouldn’t let me go. Since high school, I have always wanted places of learning to be as formative and empowering to others as mine were for me. I thought that taking on a leadership role in education would allow me to help shape the way we “do” education, and how we deliberately inspire individuals to pursue more just communities and more thoughtful living.

Q: What challenges do primary and secondary education leaders face in the years ahead?

A: The preschool through grade 12 landscape in this increasingly regulated climate is formed by a confluence of factors at the federal, state, district, and school levels. Having the capacity to understand how one’s school fits in that environment is critically important so that our next generation of school leaders is not only acutely aware of those factors, but also able to navigate them. They need to be astute enough to contribute to and, where appropriate, effect meaningful change in the political and social forces swirling around them, not simply be shaped by them.

Q: What skills and knowledge do the next generation of principals and curriculum specialists need in order to be able to effect change?

A: We need leaders who have the ability to think critically, but we also need leaders who are creative and don’t fear failure. We need leaders who have a certain openness to “play” and have an intense sense of place. That is to say, as regulations and mandates grow ever-more intense, we need people to lead our schools and our students with an ability to understand those realities and still approach work with wonder, curiosity, and creativity—with a playful mind open to possibility and change. I also mention an intense sense of place because I believe that our schools, though part of a macro-national system, are most effective when designed within the macro context in mind, but with “local and particular” specificity. Different regions, districts, and towns have different needs. I want our leaders to be aware of the larger educational context while being intensely invested in their own particular place.

Q: What sets Northeastern’s Graduate Education programs apart from programs at other institutions?

A: Our Graduate Education programs are geared toward experienced professionals who are focused on addressing their local challenges of practice, and the online delivery of our courses reflects our commitment to this effort. While many people talk about the “flexibility” of online learning, I talk about how it allows people to stay embedded in their community and institution so they can be agents of change. That’s important and powerful because most doctorate and master’s programs traditionally don’t allow you to keep working at your full-time job. They require you to be in residence and put your work and your life on hold. Our programs not only allow students to remain inextricably woven into their work and place, but also encourage them to do so. Developing a broad perspective on the work is absolutely essential, however. Through coursework, we simultaneously connect students with other leaders across the nation, who may be addressing the same issues but in a different context. This is how we achieve both breadth in thinking and context and specificity in focus and impact. Our size is also distinctive. We have a total of roughly 2,000 active students in our Graduate Education programs and 840 alumni. From the conventional standpoint in academia, particularly at the graduate level, big is bad. But as we tackle the issues in education, I see our size as a great strength—a cadre of educators this large represents a network of power, a way to transform the educational landscape.

Q: What is your vision for the Graduate Education programs?

A: My vision is that Northeastern’s Graduate Education programs—including their current students, faculty, and alumni—will become the exemplars for how we use innovative approaches of inquiry to bring about change in their organizations and in society.

Q: Please speak about the geographically dispersed faculty for these programs.

A: It’s really exciting. While the majority of our faculty are located in the New England region, we also have faculty living in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Recently, we had our first all-virtual faculty meeting in the EdD program, and it was fantastic. If we expect students to use these technologies and be engaged virtually, we have to use them ourselves. Likewise, if we’re going to be an innovative program whose impact resonates well beyond the Boston area, we need to practice what we preach and have a faculty that reflects that geographical breadth.

Q: How do these programs help students advance in their careers?

A: Our students represent all areas of education, from teachers and principals to chancellors, vice presidents, deans of enrollment, and business leaders. Interestingly, from our first survey of EdD graduates, we learned that most alumni stay in their current organizations or schools. While they often get promoted within the same institution, most stay put. This is not surprising, given that our approach is to help students become change agents in their particular context.

Q: What tips would you give to those who would like to follow a career path into educational leadership?

A: I always try to encourage people to recognize that leadership is not a solitary activity—change happens in collaboration with others and in communities. Learn how to build great teams and then empower people around you to lead with you. Surround yourself with talent and reward good work.