Instructor Welcome

Welcome! I’m Dr. Amanda Rockinson-Szapkiw (pronounced zap-q). I am excited to embark on this learning adventure with you as you continue in your doctoral journey . Each of the courses I have the privilege of teaching  in this adventure will consist of gaining the skills and knowledge to write and research in an academic manner. The knowledge and skills gained in these courses will be foundational for your dissertation, completing the University of Memphis Scholarly Activity requirement, and to writing reports as an Instructional Designer.

But, before you look further into the course content, let me introduce myself. This is my second year at the University of Memphis. While I am new to the University of Memphis, I am not new to guiding students successfully through the doctoral journey. In fact, I have chaired the dissertations of over three dozen EdD candidates who have successfully defended. Many of these were online students. I have advised students in a broad range of quantitative and qualitative methodological specialties (e.g. grounded theory, program evaluation, instrument development, regression modeling, and experimental designs) in developing research plans that address practical issues in education. Over a dozen of these mentees have published their dissertation research or related research under my guidance or with my co-authorship. If you want to check out my CV, asterisks (*) next to presentations and publications on my curriculum vitae indicate my collaboration with students.

Mentoring doctoral students is one of my favorite parts of being a faculty member, and I am excited to continue working with doctoral student like you here at the University of Memphis.

Previously, I taught at Liberty University in the EdD programs and old Dominion University in the Human Service Counseling and Education departments. At Liberty University, I primarily taught quantitative research and analysis and distance education and instructional design courses. I also served as the Chair for the Department of Doctoral and Research Programs. In this role, I provided guidance for doctoral candidates completing dissertations and developed online systems and resources to supports faculty and candidates through the dissertation process. My development of a collaborative, online workspace to facilitate doctoral mentorship was recognized by Microsoft via a case study and awarded one of the nine Campus Technology innovator awards for a creative solutions for online doctoral mentorship. Prior to entering higher education, I also served a number of years as a counselor specializing in childhood behavioral disorders, childhood trauma and abuse, and family relations.

If you have not already figured it out, my background is rather eclectic. I earned my doctorate degree in distance education with a focus on instructional technology and design from Regent (where I researched the effects of media on students’ presence in the online classroom and got to work with Fred Rovai and Jason Baker. If you have read about online community, these names will be familiar.), an M.A. in counseling from Regent, and a B.S. in elementary education from Huntington University. I am currently finishing a dissertation for my PhD in Counselor Education. I hold both elementary teaching and counseling licenses.

I maintain an active research agenda. I have authored and co-authored more than two dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and presented and co-presented over 100 professional presentations nationally and internationally. While a plethora of literature exists on the pedagogical value of technology integration and online systems, the empirical evidence supporting technology and system effectiveness lags behind. For example, do wikis support graduate counseling students’ knowledge creation? Are online programs opening up opportunities for women and minorities to obtain degrees? Is their online persistence a problem and, if so, how do we better support their degree completion? My research agenda has been focused on asking and answering questions such as these. It has been aimed at examining the influence of technology integration and online systems on learning, community, identity, persistence. I have provided empirical evidence and built models to inform administrators’ actions and institutions’ policies, and, it is my hope that it has caused these individuals and the broader society to rethink and refine actions, pedagogies, and policies to improve student success, from PreK- doctoral. Persistence, namely online, doctoral and female, has been a salient theme in my research. In my recent persistence research, I have focused on understanding higher education experiences (beyond merely technology and online systems) to provide more equitable opportunities to those who are less likely to persist in academia (e.g. females, minorities, low SES).

Last year, I conducted a grounded theory study investigating the role of poverty as a resilience mechanism in doctoral student persistence. My most recent article in press is a grounded theory study that resulted in a model to explain how Distance Education female students are successful in developing an academic identity and intersecting this identity with their multiple identities (female and professional), which gives rise to their persistence. In 2014, a mainstream publisher published my co-edited book, Navigating the Doctoral Journey: A Handbook of Strategies for Success. This book received a 2015 AERA SIG 168 Outstanding Publication Award. I recently partnered with two colleagues at HBCUs to develop an NSF grant focused on the female minority students’ persistence in graduate and doctoral programs.

On a personal note, I  enjoy adventure (traveling), so it is not uncommon to find me playing with tigers in Thailand, hiking the jungles in Malaysia, paragliding off a mountain in New Zealand, or taking a balloon ride over the California coast. One of our favorite vacation places is Disney World. In fact, over the next few months, my  I will run a few Disney related half and full marathons for several charities. Another fun fact is that I was an extra on the sitcom, How I Met My Other. I have two cat – Minnie and Mushu (named after Disney characters). Minnie is as timid as a mouse; Mushu is impulsive and instigates trouble just as Mulan’s dragon. Finally, as a counselor working with trauma, I am also involved in a few human trafficking organizations. I serve as a board member with Freedom 424. Two summers ago, I traveled with Freedom 424 to Uganda to conduct a program evaluation of a rescue program for children who have been sexually exploited.

For more information about me feel free to visit my website:

Learning and Communication Expectations

Before we look at all the details of the course, let me take some time to tell you a little about my expectations for teaching and learning.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

– Little Gidding by T. S. Eliot

I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.

– Albert Einstein

I do not view my role in this course as an authority or an expert who lectures and then tests the material presented at the lower levels of learning. My role in this course is that of a motivator, a guide, a resource, and a facilitator. In addition to the course goals, my expectations is that you need to establish your own goals and then take a proactive role in mastering the competencies described in the syllabus. I will assist you in this process.

You’re welcome to contact me via e-mail, videoconferencing, telephone, or in-person. I will primarily use e-mail to communicate with each of you, although I find the occasional telephone call, video conference, or in-office visit to be quite helpful.

I believe in open and honest communication and putting our heads together to brainstorm possible solutions to any problems that arise. I value your feedback; please let me know what’s working, what’s not working, and how I can make the most meaningful learning experience. If questions or concerns arise, always feel welcome to contact me (by e-mail, phone, in person, etc.). I value respect and will expect that all interactions will be conducted in a respectful manner.

Please be aware that I attempt to answer every e-mail and phone call within 24 – 72 hours. I do, however, reserve Sunday as a family day. I usually shut all of my technology down on Saturday evening and do not “power” it back up until Monday morning. So, if you need my assistance, don’t wait until Saturday night or Sunday to ask. If you do not receive a response from me within 48 hours, assume that I have not received your e-mail or phone call, and feel free to contact me again.

It is my honor to be your guide throughout this course. It is my hope and prayer that this course is not a college course that you file away after the semester or simply engage in for a grade. The information that you will learn in this course will be applicable in your future personal and professional goals and provide a solid foundation for dissertation. I am looking forward to working with you!

Dr. Amanda Rockinson-Szapkiw