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The Challenge

We asked students and alumni from Norman-based graduate programs at OU-Tulsa to tell us about their experiences in the program and how what they have learned enhances the community. Here is what they said:

Public policy for a better Oklahoma.

Ryan Gentzler, Public Administration

Working for Tulsa nonprofits for several years, I saw the web of challenges facing low- and middle-class Oklahomans. Low-paying work, difficult-to-access healthcare, underfunded schools, and a punitive criminal justice system can make the struggle out of poverty insurmountable, landing the state at the bottom of the pack in many measures of well-being.

Hoping to address these challenges at the structural level, I sought to move into public policy research and advocacy, and began my graduate study in the Master of Public Administration program at OU-Tulsa. I used the knowledge, skills, and connections I gained through the program first to land a Research Fellowship, and then to secure a full-time position as a Policy Analyst with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Currently, I work to illuminate the problems in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system and advocate for solutions that promote public safety and rehabilitation. In addition to analyzing proposals to reduce the state’s incarceration rate which remains among the highest in the country, I apply innovative techniques to reveal the impact of justice-related fines and fees on low-income defendants. In the first study of its kind, I gathered thousands of public records from an online court database and mapped the amount of money people owed to the court according to their ZIP codes. I found that people in low-income neighborhoods in Tulsa County owed up to ten times as much in court debt as those in wealthier neighborhoods, creating a huge barrier to economic mobility and trapping people in a cycle of incarceration and poverty. The findings offer a strong argument against policies that attempt to fund core government functions like public safety through fines and fees on people in poverty.

You can read more about my work at

Enriching our understanding of young children.

The Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum (ILAC) Ph.D. program gave me the wings to soar in my passion of instructional leadership in early childhood development. My passion to teach our youngest learners has kept me in education for 19 years total — as an early childhood educator for 14 years, and now as a novice teacher instructional leader for the past 5 years in Tulsa Public schools.

The depth of knowledge I have gained from the highly experienced and supportive ILAC professors has not only broadened my scope of the content, but I have also been able to transfer this knowledge to provide professional development trainings to Tulsa Public Schools. Additionally, I have been able to contribute to teacher retention by providing early childhood study sessions for our state’s emergency and alternative certified teachers in Tulsa Public schools as well.

The ILAC professors encourage us to become advocates in our communities; last year I was able to serve as an Advocacy officer for the Tulsa Early Childhood Education Association. Presently, I serve on Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association Early Childhood Taskforce and I am a member of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

Your fight is my fight too.

Molly Bryant, Social Work

I am proud to be a Spanish-speaking, Okie-Cherokee-feminist. After several years as a case manager with the Latinx community, I decided it was time to learn how to tackle the larger systems that oppressed my clients on a daily basis. From applying for food stamps to participating in school events, I recognized advocacy was needed on a much larger scale to reduce the enormous sociopolitical barriers that kept my clients in intergenerational cycles of poverty and violence.

After resisting countless suggestions by my friends and family to pursue social work, I finally stopped avoiding the inevitable and began my journey toward my MSW. During my time at OU-Tulsa, I worked as a Graduate Research Assistant for Dr. Karen Gray. We implemented and evaluated the Double Up programs at farmers’ markets throughout Oklahoma to address food insecurity in low-income and rural communities. During my graduate studies, I also worked with professors on research projects focusing on human trafficking in immigrant communities and historical trauma in Native communities.

I graduated in May 2017 from OU-Tulsa’s Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work with a Master’s of Social Work concentrating on Administration and Community Practice and Women’s and Gender Studies. I currently work for Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS) as their first Underserved Outreach Advocate focusing on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, LGBTQ+ individuals, rural residents, and immigrants. In my role at DVIS, I work to increase resources and education about these populations to improve services and ensure members of marginalized populations have equal access to domestic violence and sexual assault services. I also engage in community outreach to help reduce stigma and fear about accessing services. I approach my work through an intersectional lens with a strengths-based foundation and a healthy dose of humor.  

Elevating education. Reimagining leadership. Transforming organizations.

Shalonda Sherman, Organizational Dynamics

I was raised in rural Georgia where my parents constantly emphasized the important role education plays in expanding pathways and providing access to opportunities. My experience as a student in the public educational system led me to embark on a mission to ensure all students have access to a quality education.

I currently work as the District Math Specialist at Tulsa Legacy Charter School, a premiere Pre-K through 8th grade public charter school whose vision is to fundamentally change public education. The knowledge and skills I have gained through my studies of organizational dynamics at OU-Tulsa have made me an integral lever for innovation within the district. I have a passion to reimagine public education in a way that will drive transformational academic outcomes for students.

In my role, I have been able to increase the quality of teacher leadership and the rigor of classroom instruction. I am also currently leading a co-teaching pilot model for an accelerated math course. This course is designed to individualize student learning, making it accessible for all levels of learners in the classroom.

Since my childhood, I have maintained a spirit of curiosity and a dedication to excellence. These attributes have been integral as I seek to lead and transform public education in Tulsa using research-driven practices and instructional strategies. I am proud to help Legacy in making progress towards realizing its vision to fundamentally change public education for the better.

A relentless pursuit of lifelong learning.

A dream that began in a 1st grade classroom has carried me all the way to the role of Superintendent at Jenks Public Schools, one of Oklahoma’s largest and most successful districts. My entire career has been devoted to collaborating with colleagues to shape students and their educational experiences.

While pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from OU-Tulsa, my work and research not only fueled my enthusiasm for learning, it equipped me with the confidence and leadership skills necessary to effectively manage a district of more than 12,000 students and 1,500 employees. Participating in the doctoral process also reinforced my devotion to public education. Through my involvement in a variety of state and national organizations, I serve as an advocate for public schools.  I represent Jenks Public Schools on Governor Mary Fallin’s Education Advisory Committee, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Advisory Council, ImpactTulsa, and the State Aid Funding Formula Taskforce.

The Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at OU-Tulsa equipped me with the skills to develop a vision that has lead Jenks Public Schools to the forefront in terms of educational technology, opportunities for students, and professional development for staff members. I continue to work diligently to forge partnerships with community leaders and emphasize the importance of innovation to prepare our youth for the new economy.

Lifelong learning. Engaging educators. Inspiring students.

Jerry Bates, Education Administration Curriculum Supervision

Many educators and schools profess the creation of lifelong learners as part of their mission or vision statements. For me, modeling this behavior has become extremely important as an educator and school leader. As Head of Riverfield Country Day School, I’m committed to progressive education and feel it is important to continue to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

Receiving my Master of Education degree from OU-Tulsa in 2007 prepared me for leadership within a school setting and propelled me into the role of Head of School. This past year, three educators from Riverfield also received their Master’s degrees from OU-Tulsa. During their course of study and through conversations with them, I was inspired to continue my own education. The practice of continuous learning benefits all educators, but more importantly it benefits our students. In the end, my goal is to touch the lives of as many children as possible, whether they are at our school, in Oklahoma, or other states and countries.

Engaging communities. Providing support. Fostering hope.

JJ Mitchell, Social Work

My initial decision to choose OU-Tulsa resulted from watching OU alumni create positive and lasting change within their communities. I desired to imitate their impact, leading me to pursue a graduate degree in Social Work at OU-Tulsa. Since beginning the program, I have developed the skills necessary to turn my passion into practice. I have grown to love the art of social work, and am constantly encouraged by the professional community.

Alongside other colleagues, I have become an active member of the Tulsa community to advance the values of social work by creating meaningful relationships among community and political leaders, engaging with the local chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and serving as a committee member on Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE). I have been fortunate to experience a close, accepting, and supportive community at OU-Tulsa and look forward to the lasting friendships I’ve developed during my time at the University. 

Thoughtful, committed citizens changing the world.

Maggie Hoey, Public Administration

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

I have always been inspired by the words of Margaret Mead. Indeed, this idea was the catalyst for my career in local nonprofits, including the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, Tulsa Habitat for Humanity, and Iron Gate, a soup kitchen and food pantry in downtown Tulsa. Through my experiences with these organizations, I gained an appreciation for the unique, important role of the public sector. Enrolling in the MPA program was a natural extension of this work and I quickly realized the classroom was full of people who share my passion. Through research, friendships, and challenging discourse, graduate school has helped me be better prepared to continue being an advocate for change in the community. 

My knowledge and experience from the classroom now serves as the foundation for my daily work. I was recently named the executive director for Tulsa’s Young Professionals (TYPros), one of the largest young professional organizations in the country. The organization’s mission is to attract and retain young, creative talent to the Tulsa region while developing the next generation of leaders and enhancing Tulsa’s sense of place.

The MPA program has undoubtedly been one of the most rewarding experiences for me both personally and professionally. If you’re looking for a group of thoughtful, committed citizens changing the world, join us. You will fit right in.

Developing networks that learn, adapt, and prevail.

Hasan Farooq, Electrical and Computer Engineering

I am part of OU’s BSON Lab research group at OU-Tulsa that is working on developing Big Data empowered Proactive Self Organizing Intelligent Networks for 5G and beyond. As a “no-holds-barred” technology enthusiast who was ushered into the Artificial Intelligence world with my first interaction with Atari BASIC, my undying love for Artificial Intelligence and Telecommunications has made a perfect case for my doctoral research. I have been working with Dr. Ali Imran on proactive self-optimization that unleashes the power of Big Data analytics to analyze the spatio-temporal mobility and traffic patterns in mobile networks. These advances will allow us to predict future states and reconfigure networks to maximize energy efficiency while meeting ambitious Quality of Experience requirements for 5G. My research has lead me to win the 2017 IEEE Young Professional Green ICT Idea Competition. My research has also been instrumental in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program being awarded four 5G-related National Science Foundation grants.

I completed my BSc in electrical engineering from UET Lahore, Pakistan and my MSc by Research in communication networks from UTP Malaysia. Joining OU-Tulsa for higher studies has proven to be one of the best decisions in my life. Due to the immense sense of community I have felt at OU-Tulsa, I now regard Tulsa as my second home and want to help shape the future of Tulsa. I believe Tulsa is poised to become internationally recognized as the 5G-Valley of the USA.

Sharing the importance of cultural diversity

I have always had a deep sense of empathy and compassion for others. As I got older, I found that I also have a desire to make all people feel welcome, included, and important. Increasing others’ awareness and acceptance of diverse populations and cultures is something I have been working to achieve through my personal and professional goals for many years. I believe the better we understand others, the better we understand ourselves and our role in making the world a better place!

Having lived abroad for a few years, I was able to fully immerse myself in another culture and language. Although it was difficult at times, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I loved working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and having different experiences every day. During my time abroad and in the last few years here in Tulsa, I have worked with bilingual students who participated in cultural and educational study abroad programs and as a program coordinator for an organization that works to eliminate racism, bias, and bigotry in our state. It’s wonderful to see adults and children from varying backgrounds coming together and realizing that in spite of their differences, they share many similarities.

Because of this experience, I decided to pursue a Master of Human Relations. I wanted to take my experience and passion and further my education to continue sharing cultural diversity and acceptance. This degree has given me the opportunity to learn from wonderful professors and classmates and I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Human Relations department at OU-Tulsa.

Collaborative research advancing quality childcare practices.

Debbie Laurin, Early Childhood Education

Relocating from Canada to enter the Ph.D. program in Early Childhood Education at OU-Tulsa was a life changing decision. For me, OU-Tulsa’s smaller size offered the perfect setting to meet faculty across disciplines, get involved in campus life, and to feel connected with the OU community. The opportunity to study a large population of infants and toddlers in group care led me to choose OU-Tulsa’s Early Childhood program because of the collaborative research with community partners through the IT³ and the Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI). With funding support from the ECEI, George Kaiser Family Foundation, and the University Strategic Organization (USO) Initiative at OU, I conducted research in 30 infant and toddler group-care classrooms to examine the quality of caregiver interactions during diaper change routines and the child’s well-being and involvement. The results contribute important information about child outcomes and caregiver practices during a highly recurrent routine in infant and toddler care that thus far has been understudied. A future research goal of mine is to highlight how high-quality care routines in infant and toddler classrooms serve as key elements in caregiver-child relationships.  

Empowering our citizenry through information literacy.

Dr. Eric K. Argyropoulos

In today's global society, with its many technologies and devices, we are exposed to information on a near-continuous basis. Whether it be from the posts our friends share on social media, targeted advertising, television, radio, podcasting, instantaneously deliverable e-books, or items from the shelves of our local libraries, multiple forms of content are readily accessible 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Unfortunately, all information is not created equal. With the “information overload” we experience at the hands of this constant bombardment with content, often dubious in origin, it is critical for our citizens to have the tools to sift through information with rational skepticism and consider issues of relevancy, accuracy, and authority.

I came to OU-Tulsa to begin my MLIS degree after completing my PhD in musicology at the University of Kansas. After years of research and working at the music library during my doctoral studies, I graduated knowing that librarianship was my true calling in life. I was happy to find a quality program at OU-Tulsa that met my curricular needs and provided the necessary financial resources to attend by way of a scholarship, as well as a graduate research assistantship at the campus’s Schusterman Library. Upon arrival, I was immediately attracted to the diverse musical and artistic culture that so obviously thrived in Tulsa, and the many educational opportunities the city offered.  Quickly, however, both the university and community far exceeded my expectations. The mentorship I received from my adviser and other faculty, as well as my supervisors and colleagues at the library, afforded me the diversity of experience and skill set necessary to secure my first professional position in a competitive job market immediately upon graduation.

Today, I serve as the liaison librarian to both the Department of Music and the College of Business and Technology at Northeastern State University in nearby Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Every day, I derive enjoyment from educating and empowering patrons to take information literacy skills into their own hands. In my library instruction sessions, it is gratifying beyond measure to see students continuously growing in their abilities to find relevant and valuable information. Navigating and evaluating information are skills we need not only to receive a degree, but also to make sense of our world. In learning to analyze content effectively, we become an informed and proactive—not reactive—citizenry. We can execute deliberate choices in all areas of our lives, bolstered by the power of self-education and the confidence it provides.

In my current position, I remain active as a scholar in musicology and teach at the college level, aspects of my career in which I continue to grow thanks to my experience in libraries. If you are looking for a graduate education in librarianship that will prepare you to take on a multitude of roles in your own future organization, or have a diverse background and want faculty who are willing to take extra time to offer you a more customized educational experience, I would highly recommend pursuing an MLIS at OU-Tulsa.

Advocating for inclusive and sustainable cities.

Paulina Baeza

Family was one of the main reasons I decided to come to Oklahoma, however, the driver for choosing Tulsa was the University of Oklahoma’s Urban Design Studio (OUUDS). I am from Mexico. After contacting a few programs in America, I was happy with the personalized attention I received via email from Shawn Schaefer, the Director of the Urban Design Studio. He would answer every single question I had, sent me all of the information I requested and encouraged me to enroll in the Architectural Urban Studies Master’s Program.

I have a Bachelors in Architecture and a Master’s in Urban Management and Planning from Barcelona, Spain. In my home country I taught at the Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey while practicing professionally. After doing research, I decided urban design seemed like a perfect fit to tie both my architectural and planning backgrounds, and I received a scholarship that allowed me to come to the U.S. in 2015. Since the beginning I worked as a Graduate Assistant for Professor Schaefer and participated in the development of several community projects. This enriched my experience and allowed me to gain experience in real projects abroad.

While studying I had the opportunity to meet with community leaders, engage with stakeholders and complete an internship with a local government. Today I work as a Transportation Planner for INCOG, Northeastern Oklahoma’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. I also teach a course in Urban and Regional Transportation Planning at OUUDS. Through my work I advocate for the development of inclusive, sustainable cities where everyone can have access to opportunities and prosper; neighborhood revitalization and multimodal transportation options are vital for communities to thrive. Tulsa has great potential and interesting projects underway, such as a Bus Rapid Transit System, Bike Share, The Gathering Place and a growing Downtown area. At INCOG I have been able to pursue implementation of my Professional Project, a Multicultural Master Plan for Tulsa’s most diverse area. My vision includes the creation of an International District in East Tulsa, which could potentially become a landmark and center of economic growth for the city. Thus far, the project been awarded two grants, one from the TYPros Foundation to implement an open ethnic market and food truck court and another one from the Tulsa Health Department to paint new crosswalks in the area. In addition and because of my involvement with the Hispanic community, I currently serve the Greater Tulsa’s Hispanic Affairs Commission.   

Making​ ​new​ ​leaders.​ ​Building​ ​better​ ​communities.

Matt Norris, Organizational Dynamics

My​ ​first​ ​experience​ ​as​ ​a​ ​maker​ ​came​ ​before​ ​Kindergarten​ ​when​ ​my​ ​mom​ ​helped​ ​me​ ​build​ ​a green​ ​paper​ ​boat.​ ​​ ​While​ ​I ​was​ ​heartbroken​ ​that​ ​it​ ​sank​ ​in​ ​the​ ​bathtub,​ ​that​ ​experiment​ ​was​ ​the beginning​ ​of​ ​my​ ​love​ ​of​ ​design​ ​and​ ​engineering.​ ​​ ​Growing​ ​up​ ​around​ ​Tulsa,​ ​ ​I​ ​tinkered​ ​around​ ​the house​ ​and​ ​did​ ​projects​ ​with​ ​my​ ​family​ ​before​ ​earning​ ​Bachelor’s​ ​and​ ​Master’s​ ​Degrees​ ​in​ ​Mechanical Engineering​ ​at​ ​the​ ​University​ ​of​ ​Tulsa,​ ​with​ ​a​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​hybrid​ ​electric​ ​vehicle​ ​design. I ​carried​ ​that​ ​passion​ ​for​ ​design​ ​and​ ​manufacturing​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​a​ ​career​ ​in​ ​aerospace​ ​when​ ​I encountered​ ​the​ ​Fab​ ​Lab​ ​concept​ ​at​ ​MIT.​ ​​ ​

Starting​ ​in​ ​2008,​ ​working​ ​with​ ​the​ ​Center​ ​for​ ​Bits​ ​and​ ​Atoms at​ ​MIT,​ ​I​ ​lead​ ​and​ ​co-founded​ ​Fab​ ​Lab​ ​Tulsa,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​first​ ​Fab​ ​Lab’s​ ​in​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States.​ ​​ ​“Fab Lab”​ ​is​ ​short​ ​for​ ​Fabrication​ ​Laboratory,​ ​and​ ​is​ ​a​ ​makerspace​ ​that​ ​features​ ​laser​ ​cutters,​ ​milling machines,​ ​and​ ​3D​ ​printers.​ ​​ ​The​ ​Fab​ ​Lab​ ​concept​ ​is​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​wider​ ​maker​ ​movement​ ​which​ ​now spans​ ​millions​ ​of​ ​makers​ ​involved​ ​in​ ​everything​ ​from​ ​medical​ ​devices​ ​to​ ​drones.​ ​​ ​Makers​ ​have​ ​captured the​ ​attention​ ​of​ ​small​ ​businesses,​ ​large​ ​corporations,​ ​governments​ ​and​ ​NGOs​ ​who​ ​desire​ ​to understand​ ​how​ ​the​ ​democratization​ ​of​ ​technology​ ​will​ ​impact​ ​economics,​ ​education,​ ​and​ ​humanitarian relief. 

With​ ​a​ ​background​ ​in​ ​maker​ ​technology​ ​and​ ​community​ ​development,​ ​I​ ​started​ ​graduate work​ ​in​ ​Organizational​ ​Dynamics​ (ODYN) ​at​ ​OU-Tulsa​ ​in​ ​2013​ ​with a curiosity as to​ ​how​ ​those​ ​interests​ ​intersected​ ​with​ ​human behavior.​ ​​ ​The​ ​result​ ​was​ ​the​ ​conception​ ​and​ ​articulation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​“Maker​ ​Behavioral​ ​Model,” the​ ​first​ research ​of​ ​its kind​ ​on​ ​individual​ ​creative​ ​behaviors​ ​and​ ​attributes​ ​providing​ ​insight​ ​into​ ​why​ ​makers​ ​enjoy making​ ​and​ ​what​ ​keeps​ ​them​ ​coming​ ​back.​ ​​ ​This​ ​research​ ​has​ ​important​ ​implications​ ​not​ ​only​ ​for maker​-based​ ​organizations​ ​but​ ​also​ ​schools,​ ​businesses,​ ​and​ ​governments​ ​which​ ​seek​ ​to​ ​understand how​ ​the​ ​maker​ ​movement​ ​will​ ​shape​ ​the​ ​world​ ​in​ ​years​ ​to​ ​come.​ ​​

​Consequently, ​​I ​have been invited to speak locally, ​​nationally,​ ​and​ ​internationally​ ​on​ ​these​ ​topics,​ ​promoting​ ​Fab​ ​Labs​ ​and​ ​the​ ​maker​ ​movement. My​ ​ODYN​ ​experience​ ​challenged​ ​me​ ​and​ ​broadened​ ​my​ ​perspective​ ​in​ ​ways​ ​which​ ​has​ ​allowed​ ​me​ ​to impact​ ​Tulsa​ ​and​ ​the​ ​wider​ ​world. I am​ ​now​ ​using​ ​my​ ​ODYN​ ​degree​ to ​link​ ​makers​ ​with humanitarian​ ​work.  ​To learn more, you can visit​ ​​​.