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AEGIS Program: Summer in New York City

For 33 doctoral students who make up two cohorts of the AEGIS (Adult Education Guided Intensive Study) program, at least part of their summer vacation is being spent in a rigorous learning experience at Teachers College. One cohort of 16 is just completing their tenure while the other cohort of 17 is just beginning theirs.

AEGIS, a doctoral program in adult education, was started in the early 1980s based on a design by Professor Emeritus Jack Mezirow on transformative learning, according to Lyle Yorks, Associate Professor of Adult and Continuing Education and Associate Professor of Education at Teachers College. Yorks is the current coordinator of the AEGIS program at the College.

The design was based on getting the participants to be critically reflective of assumptions, including their own, and to challenge and discuss those assumptions with others in order to open up to new points of view. "That took into account that learning is primarily social, interactive and that the idea of creating a community of learners was highly self-directed," Yorks said. "That each person in it does self-directed learning."

Douglas Schur, a member of the new cohort who is also a business consultant, summarized the course as intense, saying that a lot of independent work had been done in advance of the summer session. "There are some things you do on your own, but the major work is in groups," he said. "We were working on an easy project and it was five hours of preparation."

The kinds of people who participate in AEGIS, Yorks said, tend to be from three general categories. They are people from the world of workplace learning, executive development or staff development. The second grouping is people who work in higher education but are working with adults in some form of continuing education. And the third group is more diverse, consisting of people working in social action or community development. There may also be a few participants from religious education or from university faculties who have basic professional credentials and are teaching in their professional schools.

"AEGIS only takes people who have a wide range of experience," Yorks explained. "Those who get into the program normally have already had several years of practice. They have to transfer in 40 graduate credits and then AEGIS gets them the additional 50 credits they need for their Ed.D."

Since the students in this program have already begun their careers, some of whom are in business for themselves, the design for more independent study is important. Kevin Scully, a member of the outgoing cohort who teaches marketing and management at Rochester Institute of Technology, noted, "It gave me the flexibility I needed. I couldn't afford to quit my job and live on a campus."

Ginna Hamilton Crowe, an outgoing student, agrees with Scully. "It was the best formal learning experience I have ever had," she said. "And, I have gone to ten different colleges."

The entire coursework for the program is done over the period of three, three-week summer sessions, and one weekend a month during the regular academic year. Participants take three courses per semester, one of which is a practice-oriented workshop, one a theory course, and one a research-oriented course, according to Yorks. In between, while they are away from campus, they are reading and writing papers for their courses. After they complete their third summer session, students begin to work on writing their dissertations.

Yorks added, "If [a participant misses] a weekend or a course, they have to step out until the next cohort and then pick up where they left off," he explained. This is an important consideration for many of the participants who come from great distances, even for the weekend sessions throughout the year.

In the outgoing cohort, Debra France, a program manager of leadership development with the Dell Corporation, said that in spite of challenges with commuting from Austin, Texas, "It is a commitment you make and nothing gets in the way," adding that she had to fly in one month from a trip to Singapore to make the class.

"For several years, the program participants attended for two summers, ending in May of their second year," Yorks said. "We now have three summers, with two academic years in between. The additional summer is to really give them a head start, to debrief their learning experience, and to provide them with more opportunity to work concretely with their dissertation proposals."

As is the case this year, two cohorts are overlapping-one in its third summer session and an incoming one in its first. When this new group leaves at the end of June, Yorks said, they will already have the syllabus for September and have assignments they will have to work on.

"One thing AEGIS does is to have a student-oriented approach," said Thomas Coyne, an independent consultant in the new cohort. "You can see you are valued as a student. Not a lot of universities do that."

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