Dr. Sharon Mitchler, Centralia College professor of English and humanities, officially finished her Ph.D. in English through the University of Washington on March 20. The coursework and her dissertation took a rigorous five years to complete—and an impressive five minutes to be approved by the committee that heard her defense!
After the intensity of researching, writing, and commuting to Seattle, Dr. Mitchler admits, “I’m just starting to feel like it’s finally done.”
Unlike most doctorate students, Dr. Mitchler continued to teach full time during four out of the five years of her program.
“I learned I could do things that are harder than I realized,” she described. “I went in thinking I wanted to be pushed. It was a struggle all the way through, but it was good for me.”
With initial encouragement and support from retired Centralia College President Dr. James Walton and current President Dr. Robert Frost, Dr. Mitchler was awarded a year sabbatical and later given release time to finish her doctorate.
“That was incredibly helpful,” she said. “The sabbatical year and support from Centralia College made it possible.”
Not only did Dr. Mitchler have administrative support, she says countless people on campus and in the community helped her through.
“Everyone on campus has been like a big cheering squad. People went out of their way to encourage me,” she said. “This was the right place and right time for me to do this. I would not have finished if it had not been for that.”
Dr. Mitchler, who has taught English and humanities courses at Centralia College for the past 17 years, wanted to focus her doctorate study on something that had a direct tie to students here. In her American literature classes, she noticed rural students were not participating in discussions relating specifically to rural images in poems and stories as she would expect. This surprised her. She wanted to investigate the reasons behind this disconnect and develop specific strategies to improve her own teaching.
Prior to her research, she had not even considered that students attending Centralia College might not want to be identified as “rural” even in a rural setting.
“It was quite fascinating to discover students were actually in an uncomfortable position when I was doing that…to see where my misperceptions were creating problems rather than solving them.”
After this discovery, Dr. Mitchler began researching theories of teaching “critical pedagogy” to find out why the form of teaching she was using wasn’t working and looking for new teaching strategies she could implement in her classes. Her research led her to focus more on student-led discussions and student-centered assignments, which she has already tried implementing in her classes.
“I think it has improved my teaching. That was the whole point.,” she said.
Dr. Mitchler, who already boasts two master’s degrees in English and humanities, jokingly admits, “I’m just a fool for school.” But her reasons for pursing her doctorate go beyond personal aspiration and professional growth. She believes her Ph.D. will directly benefit the college.
“With a terminal degree, I’ll be more successful in grant applications. It opens up a whole line of other things I could do here that could benefit students.”
Now that she is finished with the program, Dr. Mitchler is ready to return to a more “normal” life as a professor—investing in her students and in the college community that inspired and enabled her to achieve her dream.
An electronic copy of Dr. Mitchler’s dissertation, “Towards Using Critical Rural Pedagogy with Rural Community College Students in Undergraduate American Literature Classes,” will be available through the Centralia College library’s ProQuest database as well as from the University of Washington library.
Centralia College is proud of Dr. Sharon Mitchler and heartily congratulates her on her impressive accomplishment!