Brandman alumna finds doctorate creates opportunities
Sumer Avila, Ed.D., began earning promotions at San Joaquin Valley College – a network of 16 private junior college campuses in California – not long after starting the Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program at Brandman University. In 2012, when she began the doctoral program as a member of the inaugural Alpha class of students, Avila was director of Instruction. She moved to being president of the Fresno campus. In 2016, the year she graduated, she became a regional campus president, overseeing three campuses. In 2017, she became the vice provost and this year, provost. She continues her Brandman affiliation by serving on dissertation committees.
Here’s what else she gained by earning a degree at Brandman.
How did going back to school help your career?
I definitely attribute a great deal of my success to the individual growth I made by being in the program. Transformational change begins with you as a leader. My earlier degrees (she has master’s in education and an administrative credential) focused on theory and content. This (the Ed.D. program) really focused on changing me and taught me to build trust, build competencies and ultimately deliver results. That differentiated it from my other educational experiences, and that really made a lasting impact.
The program scaffolded so that each skill you learned built on another and took you to the next level. You learned emotional intelligence so you could work better with a team, and then you develop team-building which positions your team to use strategic planning to achieve results. The program was very intentional. There’s a beautiful integration of acquiring skills and then putting them to work in your actual setting.
Who inspired you while attending Brandman?
The faculty at Brandman are very dedicated and highly engaged. Dr. Marilou Ryder encouraged me to seek out more information about the Brandman program. I had her two terms as an instructor and then as my dissertation chair. She was invested in my growth through the entire program, and I’m still in contact with her. She was the superintendent of schools when I was a vice principal in K-12 education. She promoted me to my first principalship when I was very young. She knew I was looking for a program and she suggested that I drive to Irvine and determine if it was a good fit.
You had a seven-year gap between earning your master’s and your doctorate. What advice would you give someone thinking about going back to school as an adult and/or after a gap in time?
I really believe it’s the greatest investment you can make. The skills you can acquire in Brandman’s Ed.D. program far surpass anything you could get from any other educational system. All of the assignments are applicable to the work you’re doing in any organization. As an adult, as a someone working, you can’t have frivolous work. The blended program (online with cohort meetings and in-person 3-day immersions) give you the time to build and sustain relationships and thought-provoking conversations while the online work lets you do your class work around your family and school schedule.
Did anything surprise you about Brandman?
I was surprised at how much the faculty cared about students. At the immersion, they were there checking on us. They modeled servant leadership, and that’s not what I expected from a doctoral program. They listened to feedback. We saw how they adjusted the program for the next (groups of students). That’s highly commendable. There’s probably not a week that goes by that I don’t use something from my Brandman experience in my own role.
What would you have done differently?
I procrastinated a little in getting my dissertation done. I could have been more focused more during chapter two.
What kept you motivated while you were in school?
We had amazing accountability through our (Visalia) cohort and through my dissertation chair. We checked in with each other. We had study groups. That really made a difference. The cohort model was the greatest blessing. We still get together once a month. I couldn’t have done it without them. My cohort mentor – Dr. Laurie Goodman – was incredible. She would make us breakfast, arrange child care. She really went above and beyond.
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