Ed.D. in Educational Administration, 2006
School of Education
September 1, 2010
“It takes three babies to finish a doctoral degree.”
Knowing that there is more to life than meets the eye – that is the beginning of a journey. Growing up in a small farming community on the west coast of Michigan, only cherries, asparagus, snow, a lake the size of an ocean, and beautiful, pristine scenery meet the eye – and truly nothing more. My father used to tell me that I “had the world in the palm of my hands.” And maybe that is what inspired me to know that there was more to life than what met my eyes. After graduating from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a bachelors in Biochemistry, and spending my junior year abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland, I knew I could not return to Hart, Michigan. I signed up for a teaching position in Taiwan and spent a year learning more than I did teaching. I traveled to exotic places and ended up returning to the United States via the trans-Siberian express from Beijing to London. When I made it back to Michigan with pennies in my pocket, I packed up my Chevrolet Monza with everything I owned and drove west as far as I could go.
San Diego was beautiful and amazing but Orange County had opportunity. While in Taiwan I realized I loved to teach so I completed my teaching credential at Cal State Fullerton and taught high school science for five years in the Garden Grove Unified School District. But the “here and now” has never been enough for me. If I don’t plan five years down the road I feel like my feet are stuck in the mud. So while teaching I worked on my administrative credential at UC Irvine. I also spent eleven weeks every summer studying Spanish and traveling throughout Central and South America. I was young, inexperienced, and lucky.
Coincidentally, my master’s thesis was in parent education and GGUSD was looking for a “specialist” in parent ed. I fit the job description and so I entered the administrative world – eventually spending twelve years as a high school assistant principal. During this time I started taking doctoral classes at UC Irvine. The Department of Education was a perfect fit for me because I was able to take classes at my own pace. One of my first classes was with Michael Martinez. As soon as I met him and heard the amazing opportunities he has had in his life I was inspired to pursue more – the only question was “more what?” and “for what purpose?” While taking doctoral classes I realized that the most efficient way to get through the program was to choose a focus early on and keep focusing on it. So every paper I wrote had something to do with language acquisition. By the time I reached the point of writing my dissertation, I knew a great deal about the topic and had done hoards of research. I chose Dr. Martinez as my advisor and he guided me towards conducting a project evaluation of a two-way language immersion program first in Santa Ana USD and later in Capo USD. It’s strange how the puzzle pieces of life fit together. I now choice my three children to Jefferson Elementary school in the Santa Ana USD to attend their two-way language immersion program – a program I would know nothing about had I not interviewed the teachers about the two-way program. I defended my dissertation, gave birth to my third child, and attended UCI graduation – in that fast-paced order. Early on I realized that having kids was the only way I was going to get enough time off of work and the never-ending assistant principal hours to write my dissertation. So, it takes three babies to finish a doctoral degree.
But here is where my story actually begins. I found the “purpose”. And life is funny that way – purpose is never where you think it’s going to be. Dr. Martinez called me up one day and asked if I would consider serving as the evaluator on a NSF GK-12 program in the Department of Biology. Dr. Martinez always has good ideas so the fact that I didn’t know what any of the words in that sentence meant didn’t deter me. I said “sure!” He went on the interview with me and I got the job. As I started figuring out what an evaluator does, I realized I liked the combination of freedom, creativity, research, analysis, and meeting amazing professors who conduct cutting-edge research in new scientific frontiers. I started emailing every professor at every local university that I didn’t know to ask if they needed an evaluator. The response was overwhelming. I taught myself how to write evaluation plans and I used every ounce of knowledge gained in Dr. Becker’s class to write valid surveys and skills gained in Dr. Kim’s class to use SPSS. After two years of working concurrently as an assistant principal and an evaluator, I resigned from my administrative position and started my own company called SmartStart Educational Consulting Services. One year later, SmartStart has over twenty-five contracts with fifteen different universities and non-profit groups across the country including Amgen, University of Chicago, Ironbound Films, Scripps institution of Oceanography, Tulane, Santa Clara, and of course UC Irvine. We work on NSF, NIH, USDE, and NASA-funded projects. Our most amazing project is a NSF PIRE with West Virginia University – a multi-national, astrophysics project to measure gravitational waves using pulsars.
As president of SmartStart ECS, I do three things every day. First, and foremost, I learn something new. Second, I thank the UC Irvine Department of Education for helping me discover what was more to life than met my eyes. And third, I tell myself I need to hire some help. So, if you are focused, creative, analytical, and easygoing and you like to write surveys, analyze data, and compose reports while traveling all over the country to hold interviews, focus groups and attend meetings, please contact me and tell me your story.
Lisa Kohne, Ed.D.