Suzanne Rodriguez sat in the waiting area at her local salon when she read a text message: “OMG have you looked at your email?”
The text came from Dr. Jennifer Watson, Rodriguez’s Fresno State Ed.D. dissertation chair. Rodriguez quickly checked her email and was overcome with emotion. After over a year of researching, revising and refining, Rodriguez not only completed her dissertation — she received the 2019 Dissertation in Practice of the Year award from the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate.
The award, which was presented to Rodriguez on Oct. 22 at a forum at the University of South Carolina, is given to Ed.D. graduates whose dissertations show evidence of scholarly endeavors in impacting a complex problem.
When Rodriguez was a student in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Fresno State, she was going through the dissertation process just the same as her peers. Because Rodriguez had previous experience as a school principal in Dinuba Unified School District, she chose her topic, “The Urgency of Principal Professional Development and the Implications for Policy and Practice.”
Her dissertation examines the professional development that current California school principals are provided and the alignment of that professional development to the California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders. She found that although principal support is being provided, it is not being provided via an intentional, systemic process designed to meet varying needs of principals as they begin and progress in their leadership careers.
“We need good principals at all school sites. And when we have good principals that districts are investing in, then you’re going to see equity across the board in terms of what students are getting and profitable outcomes, like student achievement,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez not only researched and presented her findings, but she took it a step further and stood out from her peers by creating a solution. She developed a three-tiered professional development model that would allow school district leadership to implement varying levels of professional development to their principals throughout their tenure and customize it to meet their district, school and individualized principal needs. It’s a model she said could be implemented in all school districts.
Watson decided to nominate Rodriguez for the 2019 Dissertation in Practice of the Year award because of the importance of the topic and her work ethic. “I had Suzanne in class her first year in the program. I knew immediately she had something that not all students have,” Watson said. “She has a work ethic that is second to none.”
Fresno State’s Ed.D. program has been a member of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate since 2007. The organization works to continuously improve Ed.D. programs worldwide, with 117 universities and colleges holding membership.
“Suzanne is a lifelong worker, and for this to be the first time, not only in Fresno State history but in CSU history, that anybody’s dissertation has gotten to this point, I was just overcome with emotion,” Watson said.
While in the doctoral program, Rodriguez was a full-time principal as well as a full-time student. She had to balance overseeing three schools, managing assignments, writing an almost 200-page dissertation and maintaining a family life.
Rodriguez graduated in May and has no plans of slowing down. Rodriguez, on top of being a lecturer at Fresno State, began a new job as a school supervision and social work expert with Robson Forensic, Inc. She is engaged to be married in November and plans to present and make her model public next year.
“As a woman and a Latina, this recognition allows other women and women of color to see and believe in what is possible,” Rodriguez said. “It also puts a Latina’s face and work on a national stage, illuminating the professional capacity and scholarly work that we bring to the table. I truly hope it inspires young Latinas to dream big, work hard and be bold.”