~~~~~~~~ Advisor Interview

Rationale for this exhibit:
This interview with my academic advisor was completed during the first term of CORE. During the second term of the class, I revisited the interview as I was reviewing my relationships with colleagues, instructors and others within my graduate school experience. I will be working closely with Dr. Cooley throughout my study. During the CORE course, we have explored power relationships, both in organizational and interpersonal spheres. I have added a commentary section at the conclusion of the interview which examines the issue of power in the relationship between Dr. Cooley and myself. I have included both the interview and the commentary as a portfolio exhibit as an example of my reflection on interpersonal power.

An Interview With A Scholar, Practitioner and Citizen: William W. Cooley

I had had previous conversations with Dr. Cooley as a graduate student, the first shortly after being accepted into the Policy, Planning and Evaluation Studies program in the School of Education. Even prior to actually meeting Dr. Cooley, I knew of his work. As an internal evaluator with the Pittsburgh Public Schools for over seven years, I had fashioned an evaluation plan, and chosen a model for my own professional activity, based on a decision-oriented evaluation model described in "Decision-Oriented Evaluation Research (DOER)" authored by Drs. Cooley and Bickel at Pitt. I had read other works by Dr. Cooley and was aware of his longstanding involvement with the Pennsylvania Educational Policy Studies (PEPS) project. I remember being pleased that I had been assigned Dr. Cooley as an advisor.

Early in our conversations, Dr. Cooley evidenced a no-nonsense, practical approach to doctoral study --- within fifteen minutes of our first meeting, he asked if I had defined a dissertation topic yet! He went on to explain that he felt strongly that all of the coursework and other experiences within doctoral study serve one main purpose, the dissertation. He further indicated that the sooner a topic, or at least an area of dissertation could be identified, the better a course of study could prepare me to meet that challenge. Coursework, papers, reflections, projects -- all could be tailored to refine and inform the dissertation. I remember leaving his office after our first visit smiling, thinking to myself that he certainly seemed pleasant enough, and moreover, feeling that perhaps the dread that I had been feeling whenever I had thought about having to complete a dissertation, was unnecessary --- if I followed along with his vision, the dissertation would occur quite naturally and easily, a natural progression which would come to fruition, in great part, within my coursework. I could envision his plan; could see the progression. His way of framing the dissertation helped to, if not alleviate, at least quell, my fears. As a person often accused of being linear --- a detail-oriented list-maker, I left Bill Cooley's office saying "he's the guy for me!"

During this first meeting, I had noticed the numerous watercolors and acrylics conspicuously placed on his wall .... Cynthia Cooley ... wife? daughter? I wasn't sure, and was too timid to ask that day. I liked the pictures, they showed a warmth and depth, I was especially drawn to two partner pieces which portrayed a seaside home. He had informed me that he would be unavailable during summer months, that he regularly summered in New Hampshire. Looking at those pictures once again, I knew that they were of his summer home. I related to them since I find myself drawn to the sea, and vacation regularly on Cape Cod. With Dr. Cooley's hearty laugh, thinning hair coupled with his beard and his somewhat weathered complexion, it is easy to picture him near or on the sea. When my partner later asked me to describe him, I remember telling her that if you put a pipe in his mouth and a sailor's cap on his head, he'd be perfect as a sea captain in any one of Winslow Homer's sea-related works. I liked Bill Cooley from the start.

While I had not formally "interviewed" Dr. Cooley, I had already formed, as indicated above, a "feel" for the man, conceptions of him both personal and professional. My subsequent meetings, e-mail correspondence and opportunities to review his work provided further information. During a conference in the School of Education, he made a point of greeting me; further, he specifically requested that some of his other advisees introduce themselves and welcome me. Over the summer, I e-mailed him, giving him an update of the courses I had taken, beginning a discussion regarding credit for internship, and sharing with him my discontent working in a job unrelated to education. His prompt response, and a followup call upon his return from New Hampshire, with some ideas for alternative work, deeply touched me. He made me feel as if I really mattered to him, contrary to the opinion held by many graduate students in relation to their advisors.

When we were told that we were expected to complete an interview with our advisor as a part of the Core I experience, I looked forward to an opportunity to know more about a man I had already come to respect, not only as a scholar and practitioner, but also as a human being.
The Interview

I began the formal interview by asking Dr. Cooley how he would describe himself, both professionally and personally. He opted to describe himself professionally and listed milestones in his career as a scholar and a practitioner. He told me he had been actively involved in educational research since 1955, had been President of American Educational Research Association (AERA), and had authored five books, over 20 book chapters and over 100 journal articles and other written works. He further described himself as a teacher with a particular interest in educational evaluation and research, with a focus on how to improve schools. He shared his strong quantitative background and spoke of his service to the profession, a role he takes quite seriously.

I asked him how he came to work in the field of educational research, and he shared that he had spent a total of three years teaching high school chemistry and physics and through that experience began thinking about how schools might operate better. While pursuing a graduate degree in organic chemistry, he became "distracted" by science education and educational research methodologies. Dr. Cooley completed his Ed.D. at Harvard in 1958 and served on the faculty for seven years, leaving to accept a position as Director for Project TALENT at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Cooley served for eight years as Co-Director of the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) followed by another eleven years as Director of Evaluation Research at LRDC. Since 1988, Dr. Cooley has served as Director of the Pennsylvania Educational Policy Studies (PEPS), as well as continuing in his role as Professor in the School of Education.

Dr. Cooley identified some major issues current in the field of educational research, most notably, issues related to adequacy and equity. He noted that the greater societal issue of the widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots," creates a growing problem with adequate functioning of schools in poverty-stricken areas. Much of his more current work focuses on the lack of equity, and the resulting educational bankruptcy, inherent in Pennsylvania's school financing structure.

Dr. Cooley, through PEPS, has published well over 20 "white papers," designed to inform policy-makers, legislative and practitioner alike, which have replaced his focus on writing for refereed journals. This turn toward a more applied writing and utilization of his work reflects the bonds he sees between his roles as scholar, practitioner and citizen. Dr. Cooley draws little distinction among the roles, stating that his research provides the basis for his teaching, his teaching the foundation for his research, and his view of the world as citizen seems to inform both equally. His integrated approach provides context for the more applied focus of his research and writing. This movement has been deliberate on his part as he has successfully entered the realm of state educational policy analysis and development.

As a graduate student, I was most interested to hear his response to my question, "What role do you feel you play with graduate students?" He thought momentarily, and quickly responded "Find good ones, and get out of the way." He reflected more and began to speak of how proud he was of many of his past students, how it gives him great pleasure to see students grow and succeed. Dr. Cooley views his role as collaborator and assistant to students, believing it important for students to move as quickly as possible to a research phase of their work.

Dr. Cooley was somewhat reticent to discuss his personal life ... he did reveal that he was very proud of his wife's art (and in fact did her canvas stretching and framing for her) ... and spoke about his love of his summers in New Hampshire. I pried a bit further, only to be put off ... he tells me that he "plays hard, and works hard" ... that he has no strong boundaries between his professional and personal lives; he simply did not care to talk about it. Interestingly, Dr. Cooley shares much of his personal life extemporaneously: the visibility of his wife and their shared life via the paintings on his walls, his casual remarks during conversations I have had with him and presentations I have attended, and the easy sense of humor which often focuses its commentary on his view of himself. While he chose to share very little from a personal perspective in a direct way, I feel that I have come to know him better as a person --- beyond the confines of professional acquaintance --- because he allows who he is as a man to inform who he is as a professional.

I had the occasion to listen to Dr. Cooley during two presentations within a week after completing this interview: his presentation on PEPS hosted by the Council of Graduate Students in Education and during his panel presentation in Core on professionalism. During both sessions, Dr. Cooley took notice of my presence and greeted me. Additionally, he would smile and "cue" me when he was revealing some "personal" tidbit as part of his presentation. Contrary to the direct "refusal" I had received in asking him about his personal life, Dr. Cooley seems to purposely invite students and peers alike to view him beyond the confines determined by a role --- as a presenter, an advisor, a teacher --- to see an integrated person operating within a role.

During the interview, I asked Dr. Cooley about the mechanism for assignment of an advisor; how was it that he ended up with me, and me with him? He chuckled, leaned back and replied "just dumb luck, I guess." After waiting for my response, he informed me that it was "just good luck." I think so. It is a pleasure to call Bill Cooley advisor --- it is truly good luck to have an advisor who I respect not only in terms of his vision, credentials, experience, and body of work, but moreover as a human being, that I --- well, just plain, enjoy.

I extend my appreciation to Dr. Cooley for his time, energy and indulgence in my completion of this assignment. Kudos to the Dean of the Universe.

Reflection on Power:

Dr. Cooley is a man who appears comfortable with himself, personally and professionally. I get the sense that Dr. Cooley has a clear definition of his role as an advisor ... to assist, to guide, to advise and to support students. I believe he has an equally clear definition of the role of graduate students ... to engage fully in academic and professional discourse. His interpersonal style is a comfortable mix of sharing his experience and expertise, while honoring students' individual experience and goals. During my encounters with Dr. Cooley, as an advisor and professor, I have always felt that my opinions were heard and valued; I have often felt challenged to organize and express my thoughts reflectively. His experience, and the status he has earned, could easily be used as a tool to intimidate or unduly influence students. My experience is quite the contrary ... Dr. Cooley listens carefully to student perspectives, and actively invites full and reflective engagement. He is quick to challenge, but just as quick to acknowledge thoughtful and meaningful response. Dr. Cooley's interaction with students exhibits a "power with" style marked by mutuality ... of respect, expectations, responsibility, and growth.

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