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San Diego State University

Joint PhD Program in Education

Summer 2015 Newsletter

Summer 2015 Newsletter

Iffland Wins First Place at CSUSRC, Earns SPSS Certification and Awarded Travel Funds

Aaron Iffland, a candidate in the SDSU/CGU Ph.D. Program in Education was awarded first place in the graduate education category at the California State University Student Research Competition (CSUSRC) held at CSU-San Bernardino in May. Aaron competed against students from across the CSU system.  Aaron qualified for the CSUSRC by receiving a President's Award at the SDSU SRS in March (Link to SDSU SRS article).

The CSUSRC is held to promote excellence in undergraduate and graduate scholarly research and creative activity by recognizing outstanding student accomplishments throughout the twenty-three campuses of the California State University system. Student participants from CSU campuses conduct oral presentations that are judged by experts from corporations, foundations, public agencies, and colleges and universities (Link to CSUSRC source).  

Additionally, Aaron became an IBM Certified Specialist in SPSS Statistics. The certification requires individuals to have an expert knowledge of SPSS operations, data management, data transformations, and inferential statistics.

Also, Aaron received travel awards from both the SDS Graduate Student Travel Fund and the CGU Graduate Student Council Travel Fund this spring.

Aaron's emphasis is in education policy, evaluation, and reform. His research interests include: student success in community colleges; community college finance and information system management; the academic resiliency of marginalized students; improving course outcomes through social constructivist methods; educational technology; and mobile learning.

Aaron holds master's degrees in both accountancy and information processing and communication and bachelor's degrees in both economics and agricultural business.

As a Ph.D. student, Aaron has assisted his mentor, Dr. Rafaela Santa Cruz, in teaching three doctoral-level courses: educational measurement, quantitative methods of inquiry, and advanced educational statistics. Aaron recently was awarded a SDSU Student Success Fee grant that was used to create a series of graduate research methods courses; of which he taught six. He is also an instructor at SDSU where he has taught research methodology at the master's level. This summer he will be teaching a course in budget & resource management for community colleges at the doctoral level.

Aaron has published in the Association for Computing Machinery's eLearn Magazine and the American Counseling Association's Vistas journal. He has presented his research at the annual meetings of the America Educational Research Association, the Association for the Study of Higher Education, and the Council for the Study of Community Colleges. He is also a past recipient of the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education Program Achievement Award.

Congratulations Aaron!


Aaron Iffland
Pictured above:  Aaron Iffland


Lafferty Receives Program Achievement Award

Karen Lafferty received the CGU/SDSU Joint Program Achievement Award at a ceremony held in April at Claremont Graduate University.

The SDSU/CGU Joint Program Achievement Award is presented to a SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program student whose work and scholarship exemplify the mission of the program to develop scholars who are committed to research on democratic schooling, social justice and equal educational outcomes for all students, and the improvement of educational systems serving diverse communities.

Karen Lafferty is a fourth-year candidate in the CGU/SDSU joint-doctoral program where her research focus is teacher education. She also teaches English and French at Westview High School in San Diego, California and is an instructional coach for implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

While a graduate student, Karen has twice assisted Dr. Valerie Ooka Pang for the academic publishing course at SDSU and provided technical support for San Diego State University's School of Teacher Education. At CGU she has assisted Dr. Mary Poplin with her course on teacher education. Recently she designed and taught a course on APA Style for graduate students at SDSU.

Karen's research interests include the role of the cooperating teacher in the field experience and the importance of culturally relevant literature in the high school English classroom. She has published in the journals Science and Children, Issues in Teacher Education, and Multicultural Perspectives. This year Karen was named one of 10 Inamori Fellows at San Diego State University and was elected to the Board of Directors for the California Council on Teacher Education.

Congratulations Karen!


Karen Lafferty

Pictured above: Karen Lafferty 

Casesa Hired at Sonoma State University and Presents at AERA

Rhianna Casesa, a candidate in the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education, has accepted a full-time tenure-track position in the Department of Literacy Studies and Elementary Education at Sonoma State University to begin in August 2015. She is currently finishing her dissertation, entitled "Bicultural Identity Development and Sense of School Belongingness in English-only and Dual-language Programs", advised by Dr. Cristina Alfaro (SDSU) and Dr. Mary Poplin (CGU). She will be graduating from the program in August."

Rhianna also presented a paper at a roundtable session at the 2015 AERA Annual Meeting held in Chicago in April. The title of the paper was: "Latino Elementary Students' Perceptions of Identity and Belongingness in Dual Language and English-Only Programs."

Abstract from Rhianna's presentation: As the number of dual language (DL) programs increase throughout the United States, there has been an urgent call for research addressing the affective components of these programs (Parkes, Ruth, Anberg-Espinoza, & De Jong, 2009). This study addresses three of the urgent research questions called forth in the Dual Language Researcher Convocation Report: student identity, cross-cultural competence, and peer interaction (Parkes et. al., 2009). Using a sequential mixed-methods design including questionnaires, observations, dialogue journals, and photo-elicitation interviews this study focuses upon the development of identity and belongingness of Latino elementary students in DL and English-only (EO) programs. Findings suggest that school belongingness (Goodenow, 1993) and bicultural identity development (Phinney, 1992) differ for Latino students in DL and EO programs.

Congratulations Rhianna!


Rhianna Casesa 

Pictured above: Rhianna Casesa 

Dr. Pyle Returns to SDSU

Dr. Nicole Pyle, a 2008 graduate of the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education, is joining the faculty of the College of Education at San Diego State University as an assistant professor in the Special Education Department. Her areas of expertise are: interventions for students with mild/moderate disabilities in the areas of adolescent literacy, reading difficulties, dropout prevention, college readiness, inclusion, and effective teaching practices.

Dr. Pyle feels that this position will allow her to join partnerships with schools in the San Diego area to apply evidence-based practices with students at risk for academic failure in an effort to help students meet the rigor of the curriculum while improving their preparation for high school graduation prepared for postsecondary success. As a former special education inclusion support high school teacher for seven years in San Diego and department chair for four years, Dr. Pyle has worked with general and special education teachers and related service personnel to design and deliver effective practices to support diverse learners to meet their educational goals in inclusive settings.

Prior to joining the faculty at SDSU, Dr. Pyle was an assistant professor in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at Utah State University for four years and an IES Postdoctoral Fellow on Reading Disabilities and Response to Intervention at The University of Texas at Austin for two years. She is fortunate to remain a Fellow in The Dropout Institute at The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at The University of Texas at Austin.

Welcome back Dr. Pyle!

Dr. Pyle
Pictured above: Dr. Nicole Pyle

Navarro and Singh Chosen for CDIP

Melissa Navarro and Cassandra Drake Singh, students in the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in education, were recently chosen for the California State University Chancellor's Doctoral Incentive Program (CDIP).

The CDIP aims to increase the number of promising doctoral students applying for future CSU faculty positions by offering financial assistance in the form of a loan and mentorship by CSU faculty. Established in 1987, the CSU CDIP is the largest program of its kind in the United States. As of June 2014 the program has loaned $46 million to 2,006 doctoral students enrolled in universities throughout the nation. 1,205 participants have successfully earned doctoral degrees, and about half (600 participants) have subsequently obtained employment in CSU instructional faculty positions. (Link to CDIP source)

Melissa has completed her first year in the program. Her research interests revolve around the need to prepare critically conscious educators. Her work and research focus on the sociopolitical, ideological, cultural and linguistic aspects of teacher preparation.

Melissa is the Spanish Science Methods Course instructor for the multiple subject credential in the Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education (DLE) at SDSU. Given her interest in Science education, Melissa is currently conducting a study that compares data from different cohorts of multiple-subject credential candidates related to their self-reported knowledge, skills, and dispositions for teaching science using the Next Generation Science Standards.

Cassandra has also completed her first year in the program. Her research interests are based on educators addressing the social/academic advancement and learner rights of K–12 public school students from ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse communities.

She focuses on identity issues faced by these students; specifically immigrants and those representing minoritized religions. As a former K-8 teacher, she is interested in ways teachers and teacher educators can positively influence the bi-cultural development of their students.

Congratulations Melissa and Cassandra!


Melissa NavarroCassie Singh
Pictured above: Melissa Navarro Cassandra Drake Singh 

De La Garza and Iffland Receive Awards at SDSU SRS

Tom De La Garza and Aaron Iffland, students in the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education, received awards at the SDSU Student Research Symposium (SRS) held in March.

The Student Research Symposium is a two-day event to recognize the outstanding scholarly accomplishments of SDSU students. The SRS provides a public forum where SDSU students present their research, scholarship, or creative activities. Presentations, oral or poster, are organized by academic disciplines with divisions for undergraduate, master's and doctoral students.

Tom received the College of Education's Dean Award for Research and Scholarship for his research entitled "Veterans in Postsecondary Education: Factor Analysis and Structural Equation Modeling Using the Community College Survey of Men (CCSM)." His research mentor was Dr. Luke Wood.

Aaron received the SDSU President's Award for Research and Scholarship for his research entitled "Comparing Levels of Homophily and Intergenerational Closure Between Two‐Year and Four‐Year Students: A Propensity Score Matching Analysis Utilizing the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002." His research mentor was Dr. Rafaela Santa Cruz.

Tom is a third year student in the SDSU/CGU Joint PhD Program in Education. He is an Army officer and military educator with former assignments as the Deputy Director of Education at the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Commander of the United States Army Psychological Operations Training Company, and the Associate Dean of Resident Programs at the Defense Language Institute. He holds an A.A. in Portuguese from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA, an M.S. in Defense Analysis (Irregular Warfare) from the Naval Postgraduate School. Tom's research interests include military veterans in postsecondary education, cultural proficiency/intercultural communication for special operations, radio literacy, and distance education.

Five other students in the program participated in the SRS: Lisa Johnson Davis, Vannessa Falcon, Chia Her, David Martin, and Soua Xiong.

Congratulations to all the participants!


SRS Award Winners

Pictured above: Tom De La Garza and Aaron Iffland 

COE Research Methods Boot Camp a Success

This spring, graduate students in the College of Education at SDSU were able to take courses in a research methods boot camp created, administered and instructed by SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. students. The program was created by Aaron Iffland, a candidate in the program. He was able to secure funding through the Student Success Fee program at SDSU. Maribel Flores, program coordinator, provided invaluable support for the program.

Starting in February, students were able to take intensive one-day courses in topics directly related to their research endeavors. Karen Lafferty, a candidate in the program, created and taught a course on APA rules and style. Karen was assisted by current Ph.D. student Kymberly Nichols. Rhianna Casesa, a candidate in the program, created and taught two courses in qualitative research methods, including the use of NVivo software. Aaron Iffland and Tom De La Garza created and taught six courses in quantitative methods, including the use of SPSS software, and survey research, including the use of the Qualtrics survey system.

Approximately 160 students benefited from these free courses.

Thank you Karen, Kymberly, Rhianna, Aaron, Tom and Maribel!


Tom De La Garza
Pictured above: Tom De La Garza teaching at the boot camp

Courtney Publishes in Multicultural Education

Robert Courtney, a candidate in the CGU/SDSU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education, recently published an article in Multicultural Education, a peer reviewed journal, in January, 2015. The article is entitled "Looking at Racial Segregation: An Exploratory Case Study of a Predominantly Somali Charter School." (Link to Courtney article)

Before joining the program, Robert was an engineer/scientist in the telecommunications industry for about forty years. During that time, he lived and worked in Vietnam, Thailand, Iran and Spain. In 2005, he retired and moved to Ethiopia and taught English. Although he taught all levels, most of his work was with relatively advanced students that wanted to develop conversational skills. He returned to the United States in 2007 so that his wife could earn a degree from SDSU. They will return to Ethiopia this year where he will do research in multilingual education in support of his dissertation.

Congratulations Robert!


Robert Courtney
Pictured above: Robert Courtney (green hat) and friends

Kendig Publishes in the Journal for Learning Through the Arts

Julie Kendig, a student in the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education, recently published an article in the Journal for Learning Through the Arts, a peer-reviewed journal. The article is entitled: Rethinking Curriculum and Instruction: Lessons From an Integrated Learning Program and Its Impact on Students and Teachers. The article was co-authored with Dennis Doyle Carolyn Huie Hofstetter, and Betsy Strick. (The article can be found here)

Julie holds a B.F.A. and M.A. and is an arts education and creativity researcher. As a practitioner she has worked with museum-school partnership programs since 2001 and has trained hundreds of classroom teachers and teaching artists in arts-based and arts-infused strategies. Currently she is working with a team of interdisciplinary faculty members at San Diego State University through the Arts Alive SDSU initiative to examine the impact of an arts-rich environment on campus climate and student learning outcomes. Ms. Kendig has received grant awards from the California Arts Council (2010) and the National Endowment for the Arts (2011), and she has worked on other federal grant programs, including the U.S. Department of Education's Professional Development for Arts Educators (2011-2014) and the National Science Foundation's climate change education initiative (2007). Her dissertation work will examine creativity in the K-6 classroom--how it manifests among students, what teachers can do to recognize and foster it, and which school-wide conditions contribute to it.

Congratulations Julie!


Julie Kendig
Pictured above: Julie Kendig

Xiong Expands His Professional Activities

Soua Xiong, a student in the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education, recently participated in several events. In April, he presented a paper at the Hmong National Development Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota entitled: "Hmong Students in Education: Aspirations, Challenges, and Successes."

In January, he was an invited panelist for the Ensuring Success for Men of Color National Summit at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The panel topic was: "Advancing the Success of Men of Color in Education."

Soua also served as the guest managing editor of the Journal of African American Males in Education this spring. He was also appointed to serve as the Southern Representative for Two Year Institutions for 2015-2016 for the California College Personnel Association. In April, he was selected as the Asa G. Hilliard III and Barbara A. Sizemore Fellow for Research on African Americans and Education, Research Focus on Black Education – Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

Soua's program emphasis is in Higher Education & Student Affairs. He maintains an active research agenda on student success in higher education with a focus on factors that affect the experiences and outcomes of diverse student populations. His work has been published in the Journal of Progressive Policy & Practice, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, and Hmong Studies Journal.

He is a graduate research assistant for the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3) at San Diego State University and currently serves as a graduate student representative for the Research on the Education of Asian Pacific Americans Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Soua has 10 years of student affairs professional work experience with TRiO and other educational opportunity programs within the community college and university settings.

He completed his M.S. in Counseling and Student Services with a concentration in Higher Education and his B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Fresno.

Congratulations Soua!


Soua Xiong
Pictured above: Soua Xiong

Bolden, Falcon, Iffland and Xiong Present at CSCC

Four students in the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education participated in the 57th Annual Meeting of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges (CSCC) in Fort Worth, Texas in April.

The students participating in the conference were:

  • James Bolden: Paper presentation and roundtable participant
  • Vannessa Falcon: Paper Presentation and poster presentation
  • Aaron Iffland: Poster Presentation
  • Soua Xiong: Symposium participant and paper presentation


The Council for the Study of Community Colleges (CSCC) is an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and a project of the Center for the Study of Community Colleges. Council members include university-based researchers and community college practitioners who further scholarship on the community college enterprise. (Link to CSCC source)

Congratulations James, Vannessa, Aaron and Soua!


CSCC Participants
Pictured above: Soua Xiong, Vannessa Falcon, Aaron Iffland & James Bolden

2015 Graduate Reception

On May 17, 2015, the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education held a reception to honor the recent and soon-to-be graduates of the program immediately after the graduation ceremony. Those in attendance included graduates, faculty of the program, guests, friends and family. Both Dr. Rafaela M. Santa Cruz, director of the program, and Dr. Joseph F. Johnson Jr., Dean of the College of Education, welcomed guests to the reception.

The graduates and soon-to-be graduates in attendance spoke about the research they have conducted and their experiences with the program.

Congratulations to the recent and soon-to-be graduates of the SDSU/CGU Joint Ph.D. Program in Education:

  • Rebecca Jean Brooks - Fall 2014
  • Rhianna Henry Casesa - Summer 2015
  • Liliana Silva Diaz- Summer 2015
  • Ioana Ionescu - Fall 2014
  • Desmond R. Morente - Spring 2015
  • Sladjana Sandy Rakich - Fall 2014
  • Star Rivera - Summer 2015
  • Sayad Farid Saydee - Fall 2014
  • Hiroko Tagaki - Fall 2014


PhD StudentsStudents and Mentor
Pictured above: Farid Saydee, Desmond Morente, 
Liliana Silva Diaz, Rhianna Casesa, Star Rivera &
Hiroko Tagaki
Pictured above: Desmond Morente, Dr. Karen
Cadiero-Kaplan & Liliana Silva Diaz
Saydee and Santa CruzDean
Pictured above: Farid Saydee & Dr. Rafaela Santa 
 Pictured above: Dean Johnson
Hiroko and Santa CruzOchoa and Star
Pictured above: Hiroko Tagaki & Dr. Rafaela Santa 
 Pictured above: Dr. Alberto Ochoa & Star Rivera
Hiroko with bannerCappello and Rhianna
Pictured above: Hiroko TagakiPictured above: Dr. Marva Cappello & Rhianna Casesa