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College Creates Alumni Dissertation Database

by Tom Hanlon / Jan 20, 2022

Kara Francis and Yoon Pak

Metadata for all digitized dissertations by College of Education alumni are now collected in one place for easy access by students, prospective students, faculty, alumni, and the general public.

Ever wonder what dissertations have been written about test and measurement methods by College of Education alumni? How about special education topics, or bilingual and multicultural education issues?

In those three areas, since 2005, when such information began to be digitized, alumni have written 79, 166, and 96 dissertations, respectively. And you can find metadata on all those dissertations—and hundreds more—in the newly-created College of Education Dissertation Database.

“The database is public-facing and is meant to give a snapshot of all the dissertations from College of Education alumni,” says Kara Francis, who spearheaded the work and in 2021 earned her doctorate in Learning and Design Leadership from the College.

From the database, you can link to a PDF of the dissertation in IDEALS, the Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship—if the dissertation has been uploaded to that site and has been made available for viewing by the author. (IDEALS houses all electronic theses and dissertations deposited by faculty, staff, and graduate students from Fall 2010 onward.)

“If anyone is on the College website and wants to do research with faculty, or if prospective students want to get an idea of what kind of research goes on in the College, it will be discoverable with this database,” says Francis. “You can type in search terms or filter results by advisor or committee member, department, or a keyword from a list of common keywords.”

Yoon Pak, professor and head of the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership (EPOL), says the database started out as a departmental initiative in early 2020. The idea was expanded when Bill Trent, a fellow EPOL professor, suggested the database be expanded to cover all of the College.

“We were brainstorming about how we could create more engagement and connection with our alumni,” Pak explains. “What are our alumni doing, what research have they done? We wanted to compile all dissertations for our graduate students—and our alumni—to be able to access.”

Francis became involved early on, because she was a member of the Graduate Student Advisory Council at the time, and because she expressed interest. “My background is in IT and database design,” she says, “so I met with Dr. Pak to see what she was looking for.”

Francis met in the fall of 2020 with Bryan Jonker, senior web developer for the College, who helped her repurpose a database he had built for a similar purpose.

“I helped identify the solution,” Francis says. “It was through existing relationships that it came to be. If I hadn’t known Bryan, we’d still be trying to figure something out.”

Francis emphasizes that the College Dissertation Database is not meant to replace IDEALS. “We didn’t want to re-upload everything that’s already in IDEALS, which is much more comprehensive than our database,” she says. “Our database is not meant to replace IDEALS. It’s meant to be a simplified College of Education search.”

Pak says the dissertation database is a key indicator of who EPOL and the College are. “It’s a wonderful way to increase our network,” she says. “And for current students, it’s an additional way to gain mentoring opportunities.”