Alumna, Doctor of Education in Educational Program Development
Shortly after graduating from Clayton State University and starting her dental hygienist career, Anjum Shah discovered a persistent issue in her field.
Later in her career, while teaching aspiring dental and dental hygiene students at Virginia Commonwealth University, a daring Facebook post confirmed what she already knew and motivated her to act.
“I posted a question in a large Facebook group of dental hygienists and asked, 'Do you face ethical issues and dilemmas regularly? And, do you feel prepared to face the encountered ethical issues?’” Shah said. “The response I got from that was overwhelming.”
For hours, dental hygienists from across the country shared the ethical dilemmas and issues they faced throughout their careers. Issues like malpractice, insurance fraud, infection control breach and over-treatment were voiced, and participants in the online discussion expressed how their training never prepared them for what to do in these situations.
Realizing that her experience was no different, Shah decided to enroll in the University of South Florida’s (USF) Doctor of Education (EdD) in Educational Program Development—a program that would allow her to focus on an educational challenge of her choice, and develop sustainable solutions for solving it.
“In my own ambition, I started researching everything USF had to offer,” Shah said. “All EdD programs are different, but what’s unique about USF is that (their program) is very research-intensive, and you can bring your idea and do what you want to do.”
From the start of her academic journey at USF, Shah made it her goal to create an
ethics curriculum for dental hygiene programs.
With support from her faculty advisor, Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, Ph.D., who also serves as coordinator of the program, and the assistance of other faculty members in the College of Education, Shah spent the next three years working towards this goal.
In my own ambition, I started researching everything USF had to offer. All EdD programs are different, but what’s unique about USF is that (their program) is very research-intensive, and you can bring your idea and do what you want to do.
Anjum Shah, Ed.D.
To identify her problem of practice—an exercise each student in the program completes at the beginning of their studies—Shah explored current research in dental hygiene ethics, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), and the American Dental Education Association's (ADEA) guidelines on ethics education.
Shah found a lack of emphasis on teaching ethics, lack of student preparation on ethical management, lack of a model ethics curriculum. To launch her research, she collected and analyzed the dental hygiene ethics education curriculum—including syllabi, course schedules and the program map—of 19 randomly-selected dental hygiene programs around the U.S.
When Shah analyzed her findings, she says she observed limited sequence and unorganized structure in dental hygiene ethics education. Her research revealed that most programs didn’t have ethical discussions included in their curriculum, and a majority didn’t have core ethics contents suggested by the ADEA, one of the leading voices within the dental education field.
Another finding, she shared, was that most programs only require students to take one ethics course, and it’s usually taken during their final semester.
“These are all evidence of the lack of emphasis on ethics education and the lack of student preparation in dental hygiene,” Shah said. “I believed that a well-structured and sequenced model ethics curriculum that uses curriculum design theories would solve the inadequate structure in dental hygiene ethics education. It would assist dental hygiene program directors in using the model curriculum as a guide.”
During her time as a doctoral student at USF, Shah took recommended courses on curriculum design, theories and research, and learned from leading experts, like faculty member Stephen Thornton, PhD, a professor at USF whose expertise is in curriculum development.
“I took a course on transforming the curriculum with him, and it helped me realize what curriculum is and what to look into when creating a curriculum,” Shah said. “(The class) laid a foundation for me.”
Outside of her coursework, Shah worked as a student assistant for USF Housing and Residential Education and taught dental hygiene students at Hillsborough Community College during her doctoral studies. In addition, Shah balanced family responsibilities as the parent of three children: Shehzad, Kushmala and Aimal. She says time management was an obstacle, but having mentors like Dr. Shaunessy-Dedrick and Barbara Cruz, PhD, a professor of social science education at USF, helped pave the way for her academic success.
“My whole guidance started with Elizabeth (Shaunessy-Dedrick)—she was always there to assist me,” Shah said. “Dr. Cruz is the kind of person who holds your hand and walks you through. and Dr. Thornton is the kind of person who makes you think critically.”
Earlier this year, Shah defended her dissertation and presented her model dental hygiene ethics education curriculum that she created using curriculum design theories. Her model curriculum reinforces ethics topics and includes content that’s relevant to the ethical issues faced in dental hygiene practice.
After graduating from USF in May, Shah started a new opportunity as an Assistant Professor and Dental Hygiene Graduate Program Director at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, Division of Dental Hygiene. Her advice for those who are interested in enrolling in USF’s EdD program and pursuing a similar path as her own is to go for it.
“You will not regret your decision,” Shah said. “You have to be aware that it’s going to take time, but you have to come in with ambition and dedication. Commit yourself to it—it’s doable!”
USF's EdD in Educational Program Development prepares graduates to create, launch and evaluate promising, sustainable innovations in their own professional settings. The program is open to those who work in Pre-K through grade 12 settings and to post-secondary educators and educational professionals who work in the private sector, with nonprofits, or other government or service agencies.