Cornerstone University's Doctoral Program Enters Its Second Year
by Meredith Sweet (B.S. ’17)
Cornerstone University's first doctoral program continues to change the lives of students from diverse professions and backgrounds.
Last May, CU's Professional & Graduate Studies (PGS) division launched its Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Development and Leadership degree program. The program, which began with an enrollment of 13 students, is now entering its second year, with its second round of residencies taking place this coming May.
Dr. Jeff Savage, who earned his Ed.D. from Baylor University, is the associate dean of business at PGS and continues to use his experience to make PGS's Ed.D. program one of a kind.
"I think the first thing that makes it unique is our intentionality to weave Christian worldview into the curriculum in a theologically appropriate way that helps inform the research, theory and practice of organizational leadership and development," Savage said.
Savage also said that because PGS students are not required to have a particular faith commitment—an admissions requirement different from the undergraduate or seminary divisions—as many as 40% of its students do not have an ostensible strong Christian background faith commitment.
"That gives us an opportunity in a very unique way to carry out the Great Commission," Savage said.
Savage went on to say how this kind of opportunity affects students' larger worldview of Christianity's role in philosophy, education and leadership.
"I think so many times, Christianity gets caricatured about being some sort of unsophisticated, fundamentalist, anti-intellectual way of being, and that's simply not true," Savage said.
Leslie Visser, a current Ed.D. student, agreed with Savage on the importance of including faith in post-graduate studies.
"Since my faith is an integral part of who I am, I appreciate that Cornerstone pushes me to grow both spiritually and academically," Visser said.
Ron Foster, who earned his law degree from Cooley Law School and a Doctorate of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary, echoed Savage's thoughts on how teaching Christian virtues changes the way students approach problems.
"Students have expressed how wrestling with, and applying scripture to, legal and ethical issues has 'stretched them,'" Foster said.
Savage then pointed out how even though the Ed.D. program caters to students from different undergraduate backgrounds in diverse professional fields, the end goal remains the same.
"I think eventually it all goes back to an idea expressed by many others: We are here to redeem the world for Christ in some way, in the little garden patch that we find ourselves in. Given that we often spend more time at work than we do at home—or church—that redemptive influence can be significant," Savage said.
Visser originally wanted to pursue her a doctorate in psychology, but decided to earn her Ed.D. at PGS instead.
"To be honest, I really felt called to this program," Visser said. "It was not on my radar, but God brought it to my attention and I felt led to apply. An online program allowed me to continue to work full-time which was financially necessary. Online was a great option, but I liked that it was connected to a brick-and-mortar institution."
Because the majority of the program's courses take place in the virtual world, professors like Foster have adapted to modern educational trends.
"Online has its challenges," Foster said. "[It] requires lots of regular, on-time communication."
Though the classes are online, students in the Ed.D. program are also required to attend three in-person residencies in Grand Rapids.
"We call it a 'scholars of practice' program for a reason," Savage said. "We challenge our students to think deeply and critically about—to wrestle with—the theory, research, concepts and ideas they learn in their classes and then apply them at work: 'What about this can we use to improve decision making and problem solving at work?'"
Visser saw these residencies as a valuable component of her post-graduate education, especially when it comes to growing a community between the Ed.D. students.
"Learning from each other and supporting each other through the process has been invaluable," Visser said.
Savage further reflected on the journeys of his students, some of whom recently talked at a PGS open house.
"These students have been in the program now just short of a year," Savage said. "I've had the pleasure of teaching them in two of their classes: the first class, which is basically the doctoral studies seminar, the introduction to doctoral studies and then their first research methods class. To hear their stories, to hear their testimonials at the Ed.D. Open House was refreshing because their stories about impact revealed that the program is doing what we intended."
Visser agreed that the practicality of the program continues to affect her daily life.
"I can learn a concept on Monday, use it on Tuesday and share my experience with my cohort on Wednesday," Visser said. "I am only a year into the program, but I am already a better manager and leader than I was before I began."