Student defends dissertation from kitchen

Student defends dissertation from kitchen

In mid-February, Cara Skaggs scheduled a meeting to defend her dissertation to her committee on March 25, 2020. Little did she know that she would be defending four years of hard work from her kitchen table during a global pandemic.

Four years ago, Cara, a wife and mother of two daughters, said she felt called to earn her third degree from MTSU – a Doctorate of Education in the Assessment, Learning, and School Improvement from the MTSU College of Education.

Cara said her defense date was set long before COVID-19 began to spread in Tennessee, and that she even jokingly told her husband she bet she would have to defend her dissertation virtually. Two days later she received an email from the University that all defenses were postponed.

“I was caught off guard, but the University quickly retracted and said more information would be coming and defenses would still be held. It took a little while for the kinks to be worked out, but I received confirmation I would defend my dissertation through Zoom,” she said.

While defending her hard work from her kitchen wasn’t in her initial plans, Cara said she believes it was easier doing in from her Columbia home.

“I feel like it was easier to do it from home, but one thing I made sure was my presentation was top notch. I knew by not being in the same room as my committee, the slides needed to be more polished,” she explained.

And at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, Cara joined three committee members virtually to answer questions and defend her work.

“Instead of having to wait outside the room while they discussed everything, I hopped off Zoom and got to hang out in my living room while I waited for my committee chair to text me,” Cara explained. “Once she texted me, I rejoined the Zoom where I got to hear her call me ‘Dr. Skaggs’ for the first time! I actually recorded that part of the defense so I could share it with my family.”

She added her committee chair, Dr. Heather Dillard and her committee members, Dr. Kevin Krahenbuhl and Dr. Lando Carter, ‘made the transition to everything occurring online easy and seamless.’

Looking to the future, Cara, who is currently the Coordinator of School Improvement for Maury County Public Schools, said she is waiting to see what doors her new degree opens in the future.

“I don’t have a dream job in mind, but I do want to continue to help K-12 teachers in their professional growth,” she said.

Cara said she plans to participate in an upcoming commencement ceremony.

“I do plan to walk at another graduation. Not only is it important to me and my family, it is especially important to show my daughters what is means to be ‘hooded,’ and to allow my dissertation chair her first experience to ‘hood’ a candidate,” she explained.

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