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The College of St. Scholastica

Teachers, higher education professionals, healthcare workers; together, they make up a historic group of learners at The College of St. Scholastica: the first cohort to enroll in the institution’s Doctorate of Educational Leadership program. Designed to promote high-impact leadership and change practices, the program launched in June 2021 and welcomed 18 new students.

According to Dr. Chery Lucarelli, graduate education studies chair, this inspired group also shares a common passion.

“The program is focused on equity and social justice,” Lucarelli said. “All of our students care about this deeply; these are the type of people who are attracted to our educational doctorate, who are committed to transforming and improving the lives of individuals and their institutions.”

Who are they? What inspired them to join the St. Scholastica learning community? And how do they plan to transform their communities post-graduation? Meet three members of this special cohort and learn how these soon-to-be-doctorates have embraced the call to lead.

Sarah Huling (MBA ‘19)

Huling, a sonographer in Forks, WA, is no stranger to the College. During a National Rural Health Association conference in 2017, she was seated next to Terry Hill, a nationally recognized expert in rural health and adjunct faculty member at St. Scholastica. Hill encouraged Huling to check out the College’s rural healthcare MBA.

And she did.

After graduating in 2019, Huling was still thinking about her master’s thesis, Impacting Patient Outcomes with Applied Behavior Analysis and began looking into doctoral programs to continue her research. When she learned the College was launching a Doctorate of Educational Leadership, she knew she’d be returning.

“All of the stars aligned,” she said.

Huling hopes her doctoral studies will build upon her MBA thesis in exploring the value equation of healthcare and its impacts on rural healthcare. “All of the data shows that we’re older, sicker and more chronically issued out here in rural communities,” she said. “I hope to bridge the gap between patient outcomes and the business model; to address healthcare as a human right versus a privilege.”

As the College celebrates Love of Learning as its value of the year, Huling describes her approach to learning as a “restless, impatient, but hopeful kind of pursuit.”

Erin Karlgaard (MS ‘19)

Karlgaard, a third-grade teacher and curriculum representative, earned her K-6 licensure through the school’s graduate teaching licensure program in 2019. Karlgaard recalls a poignant and foreshadowing memory from her master’s commencement ceremony.

“During graduation, there was a sign that said ‘doctoral students enter here,’” she said. “I took a picture of myself standing next to it and it has been on my mind ever since that moment; it kept nagging me until I knew it was time to start [this program].”

The Brainerd, MN native is eager to take the lessons from her doctoral program and apply them towards systemic change and advocacy for all students; she wants to help create a system that works for everybody.

“When we look at national education data, we see the same opportunity gap has existed for the same population for 30 years,” she said. “We don’t know how to meet the needs of those students with our current model, so my focus of dissertation will be to think about how we change that existing educational model. How will it impact students’ ability to succeed when we let them own the learning?”

Put simply, she said, “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

Nevertheless, Karlgaard is driven by this curiosity and the motivation to instill lifelong learning in the classroom and with her own two teenagers. “It’s been the best part of my summer: meeting people to be nerdy with who had the same questions I had!”

Jennifer Niemi

Niemi, director of Native studies at the College, admits her entry into higher education was an unconventional one.

“I started college because I was bored,” she laughs. “I was not a traditional college-bound student. Not that my family didn’t think it was possible, it was just never talked about as being an option.”

After high school graduation, Niemi missed all of her friends who went off to college, so she made the decision to enroll, too. She “stumbled” through her associate in arts degree and eventually pursued her bachelor’s at which point her dad gave her a nudge: “you’ve got to keep going.”

Niemi earned her master’s in environmental education and worked at Fond du Lac Tribal College and the Minnesota Historical Society before finding her way back to higher education at the College in 2018. This time, the transition to the EdD wasn’t due to boredom, but intentionality.

“I always felt like the next step was going to be a doctorate,” she said. “I was just waiting for the right time.”

The program’s focus on social justice was also a huge selling point. Niemi describes equity, diversity and inclusion work as her life’s goals, both personally and professionally. She looks forward to growing as a student and as an educator during the next four years and finding inspiration in how the College can encourage students to become agents of change in their own fields.

And as for the guy who told her to keep going all those years ago, he’s got her back this time, too. “My dad has been my biggest champion.”

About the Doctorate of Educational Leadership

St. Scholastica’s Doctorate in Educational Leadership (EdD) program is designed to support current and aspiring leaders in recognizing inequities in their professional settings and create a plan of action to address them. The inclusive environment will stimulate the best development of innovative thinking to solve today’s complex social problems.

The program was recently accepted into the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) consortium, a nationally recognized organization that works to continuously improve the EdD for the preparation of practitioners. Members of CPED must demonstrate assurances of critical frameworks to the program including an emphasis on equity, problems of practice analysis and collaboration with diverse communities.

Learn more about the College’s EdD program.

Sarah Huling, Erin Karlgaard and Jennifer Niemi
Sarah Huling, Erin Karlgaard and Jennifer Niemi