The Ebony Tower Spotlight is dedicated to highlighting the impactful work and unique experiences of early career scholars of color. The column also focuses on providing current and future graduate students with insight and encouragement from those who have successfully navigated the long and winding road to earning a doctoral degree. This week, we would like to shine the spotlight on Dr. Daniel Jean, who serves as the Executive Director of the Educational Opportunity Fund Program and Academic Development at Montclair State University. In addition to his role as a college administrator, Dr. Jean also has a passion for helping students of color to build their “doctoral swagger” and get “PhinisheD/finishEdD.” Throughout the course of our conversation, Dr. Jean provided advice for doctoral students who may be interested in careers in administration and highlights a number of useful resources that may help you throughout your doctoral journey. Check out the conversation below:
Daphne: Tell us a little about your background. What inspired you to initially pursue your doctorate and what helped you persist to graduation?
Dr. Jean: Glad to talk to you today Future (Dr) Penn. I hope my story continues to inspire others. I come from very humble beginning—I went from EBT to the EdD, from welfare to the White House. I am the youngest child of Haitian immigrants who arrived on these shores in search of the American dream and running water. I am the teenage boy who lost his father and was raised by his God-fearing mother in heart of Newark, New Jersey. I am the young man who earned a 1.9 high school grade point average and by the grace of God entered college. Along the way, I met amazing educators who inspired me to pursue advance degrees. A short list of those individuals include my EOF (Educational Opportunity Fund Program) counselor, Errol Hibbert, my student center supervisor Adria Kittles, and one of my primary mentors Dr. Henry Davis; they all helped transform my life. I also connected with peers in my cohort and we worked together until we were PhinisheD/finishEdD! Now I am dedicated to directly helping 1,000 future doctors earn their doctorate.
Daphne: Thank you for sharing. Are there any specific strategies/advice you could give to high school or college students who may not have the highest GPA, but still have high academic aspirations?
Dr. Jean: My tips for those who struggle academically is to identify the barriers to success, connect with all available resources, disconnect from social media, and focus on short term and long-term goals. Also, folks should connect with mentors who can help provide the proper personal and professional guidance.
Daphne: Can you tell us about your research and what helped shape your agenda?
Dr. Jean: My primary research area focuses on the academic and social integration of first-generation college students. I have implemented retention initiatives that have resulted in a 91.9% first-year retention rate and a 50% increase in the four year graduation rate of a so-called “special admit” population. I have found my professional passion and have immersed myself in helping others reach their personal and professional dreams.
Daphne: You are currently the Executive Director of the Educational Opportunity Fund program and Academic Development (EOF) at Montclair State University. How did you decide on a career in administration? Was it always something you wanted to do?
Dr. Jean: Great question. Prior to my current role, I worked in several areas in Student Affairs. I knew I wanted to work in education and my experiences helped shape my career journey. I am a graduate of the EOF program and my EOF Director Thelman Newman visited my high school and recruited me. It’s truly an honor to currently serve as the Director of EOF. The program provides academic and financial support to low–income highly motivated New Jersey residents. As I said before, we have increased our 4-year grad rates by 50%. The role allows me to have a major impact within a program that has existed for close to 50 years. As a young professional I never wanted to supervise others; my initial preference was to work independently. Thankfully, my current role is perfectly connected to my passions and overall purpose.
Daphne: Graduate students are often pressured to pursue a tenure track job. Interestingly, universities are producing more and more EdD and PhDs but creating fewer and fewer faculty lines. What would you say to the graduate student (or potential graduate student) who is struggling with this reality?
Dr. Jean: A few tips: 1) If you can’t find a job then create one, 2) make certain to connect your expertise and passions to multiple revenues streams and innovation, and 3) research the institutions you are interested in potentially working for and be willing to move to another area in search of better opportunities. Also, future faculty should research the SREB Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, which is focused on increasing the number of faculty of color. Dr Ansley Abraham is the director and he is a game-changer. Future doctors should also research the Dissertation House run by Dr. Renetta Tull; she is another giant in the field and her work is directly related to producing more doctors.
Daphne: Because of the pressure to pursue the tenure track, graduate students often feel underprepared to compete for jobs in administration or industry. What should future and current administrators keep in mind as they think about that burgeoning career path?
Dr. Jean: Administrators, faculty, and educators in general need to adopt the enrollment management framework from prospective student to active alumni status. The enrollment management framework allows all participants to engage in programming and services that impact the overall mission and goal of the institution. It is equally important for future administrators to seek training in budgeting, supervision and executing a strategic plan. The primary goals of most institutions of higher learning are student learning, retention and satisfaction. Individuals must understand how their particular role at an institution is directly related to the overall goals of their unit and the institution as a whole. Also a colleague of mine once shared that administrators need to light a fire in their staff and not under their staff. It is essential for administrators to learn how to motivate and inspire their teams to achieve the overall outcomes of a particular team.
Daphne: I checked out your website, wordstravel.org, and noticed that you host seminars on building doctoral swagger? What is doctoral swagger and what are a few tips for developing my swagger?
Dr. Jean: Daphne, you absolutely have Doctoral Swagger! The Ebony Tower is a brilliant concept that will inspire many to complete their studies; I’m honored to be featured! Wordstravel is my corporation, which offers empowerment services for all ages. The mission of Wordstravel is grounded in Ephesians 4:29 —ensuring the words you share build and not destroy. I provide Swagger seminars (keynotes, trainings, webinars) for educators, scholars, and administrators in the area of leadership, retention, branding, diversity, career development, and much more. In regard to Doctoral Swagger, I deliver Doctoral Swagger Seminars across the country and I have a goal of delivering 1,000 Swagger Seminars before I retire. Moving forward, each future doctor should work on their dissertation every day, research and pick a committee that aligns with their research interests, and share their dissertation drafts with unofficial committee members. Folks should also disconnect from social media and other weapons of mass distraction that will prolong their time to completion. I have a traveling Doctoral Summit that helps future doctors complete their studies and a Facebook resource page for future and current doctors titled “PhinisheD/FinishEdD.”
Daphne: “Weapons of Mass Distraction” accurately describes social media. Is there any other general advice you’d like to share with graduate students or potential graduate students who’d like to follow in your footsteps?
Dr. Jean: Identify your passions and dreams and map out SMART goals to achieve them. Again, the SMART goals process includes creating a specific goal, developing measurable outcomes, assessing whether or not the goal is achievable, and identifying any potential threats to that goal. Finally, connect with like-minded individuals and push each other to greatness.
Daphne: What are you currently reading (for the Ebony Tower book list)?
Dr. Jean: I am currently reading Love Languages, which can actually be a good resource for those to maintain healthy relationships with their significant other during what can become a very stressful period (laughs). I’m also reading the dissertation drafts of several mentees and serving as the third reader for a future doctor. I am truly dedicated to helping future doctors and networking with current doctors. If I can be of help to those hoping to get “PhinisheD/FinishEdD,” please feel free to reach out to me directly.