Elizabeth Jach was determined to earn her Ph.D. degree. She worked full time, switched jobs, and moved across state lines, all while earning her degree online in the Colorado State University Higher Education Leadership program.
That determination is fueled by a deep passion for higher education, something Jach says can be traced back to her time as an undergraduate student.
“I worked in the office of vice president of student affairs during my senior year of college,” she said. “That experience taught me that higher education was a field unto itself – not just a place for teaching in different subject areas.”
Jach received her master’s degree in 2012 in higher education and student affairs. After working in university settings for several years, she decided to take her education one step further, hoping to contribute more to research and teaching. With CSU’s online HEL program, she was able to pursue her academic ambitions while remaining employed full time.
Today, Jach lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education as a policy and planning analyst. Meanwhile, she is getting ready to graduate from CSU with her Ph.D. this spring.
Jach’s concurrent working experience serves as a great asset to her doctoral studies, positioning her to see the bigger picture of challenges like equity and justice in the higher education landscape. Through the HEL program, she was able to dive deeper and contribute to the further understanding of those issues.
Working as a graduate assistant to Susana Muñoz, an associate professor in the CSU School of Education, Jach participated in Muñoz’s research on undocumented students. She not only gained valuable research experience, but also laid the foundation for what would eventually become her dissertation topic.
In her dissertation, Jach examines postdoctoral fellows’ support of undocumented students. To collect data, she utilized quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research approaches. She took advantage of the journal article-style dissertation format and was able to publish her research findings prior to graduation. Her Google Scholar profile delineates 11 publications.
Gene Gloeckner, a professor in the CSU School of Education and Jach’s adviser, speaks highly of her. “She is a collaborative worker and has published and worked with a variety of authors across the country,” he said of Jach. “She is always trying to understand issues at a higher level and works hard to answer the tough questions posed in a variety of higher education fields. Her ability to work on difficult problems while maintaining a positive attitude about life is needed in the spring of 2020.”
The positive attitude is only part of what helps Jach thrive in her Ph.D. program.
Although online programs provide students with the flexibility to manage work, school, and personal obligations, still, it’s a balancing act. During her studies, Jach decided to switch jobs and move from Iowa to be with her spouse, who was wrapping up his Ph.D. in Wisconsin. She admits managing all that while being a full-time doctoral student was a lot to juggle.
In such times when Jach needs support and motivation, she turns to her Ramily, a cohort of 16 Ph.D. students across the country she has studied alongside during the past four years.
“We have been able to rely on one another to seek advice about professional issues and navigating graduate school,” Jach said. “Even though we are no longer in coursework, we still have monthly video calls to check in with one another.”
In addition to the cohort system, guidance and mentoring from the program faculty also helped buoy her through to the end. Jach is especially grateful for all the ways Gloeckner has challenged her in her thinking.
“Dr. Gene Gloeckner has been completely unwavering in his support of me,” Jach said. “And even though the program was at a distance, Gene and I became close. I am so grateful and lucky to have him as a mentor, collaborator, and friend!”
As the world adapts to fit the new normal during the COVID-19 outbreak, Jach said it’s an adjusting process for her as well: “I’m still learning how to accept that I can feel both disappointed around not getting to defend my dissertation in person or walk in graduation this spring at CSU and simultaneously grateful for the health of my family and being employed remotely.”
After graduation, Jach plans to apply her knowledge more deeply and begin teaching graduate coursework. She aspires to contribute to the field of higher education as a scholar-practitioner, determined to bridge the gap between academia and the real world.
“I’m grateful for the collaborative partnerships I’ve built through research at CSU and am excited to continue,” Jach said. “At the same time, I can’t help but think of the cliché ‘the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.’ In many ways, it feels like I am just getting started!”