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Educational psychology professor leads department toward success in recruiting

Jerrell Cassady, the 2015-2016 Excellence in Recruiting Award winner, shares recruiting insights during a fall training session.

Jerrell Cassady, the 2015-2016 Excellence in Recruiting Award winner, shares recruiting insights during a fall training session.

It’s important for us at the Graduate School to recognize excellence, but even more important is to share knowledge and support within the university community. So each year, when we give a program director in the Graduate Enrollment Management (GEM) program the Excellence in Recruiting Award, or GEMMY Award as we call it, we also ask the winner to share insights in a training for other leaders in the GEM program.

The 2015-2016 winner Jerrell Cassady, who oversees two masters and one Ph.D. program in the Department of Educational Psychology, was nominated for not only the breadth of his recruiting, but also for the innovative ways in which he used recruiting best practices.

“The most notable aspect of Jerrell’s efforts as a recruiter is that he is not just active, but proactive, in every possible avenue for attracting students to our programs,” wrote Sharon Paulson, chairperson of the Department of Educational Psychology and a professor of psychology, in her nomination of Cassady for the award.

During the training earlier this year, Cassady illustrated his proactive efforts, particularly with changing one of the master’s programs into an entirely online program. Cassady anticipated a drop in enrollment in the department’s master of arts program in educational psychology due to changes at the state level related to teacher pay scales and advanced degrees. To remain solvent, Cassady knew the program would have to make some changes to attract new students. But many of the students in this new audience were choosing other programs over Ball State.

“If you can’t beat the competition, change the game,” he said.

The answer, Cassady found, was to change the program’s delivery mode, a move that proved to be beneficial.

“We wouldn’t have survived otherwise, because we weren’t accessible,” Cassady said.

But Cassady emphasized that he doesn’t work alone. He often calls on experts from across the university, including those who work in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and the Division of Strategic Communications, to assist with marketing materials, messaging and data to drive decisions. He also credits his colleagues in the department, including 2016 Meritorious Service Award-winner Linda Jones, with providing care and support to students from even before they apply all the way through graduation.

Cassady shows that it’s not only about the tools within reach, but how and when those tools are applied that can make a difference in providing an experience that prospective students want to be a part of.

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Admissions specialist’s work with students fulfills dream of becoming a teacher

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Graduate Admissions Specialist Linda Jones, right, poses for a photo with Robert Morris, acting vice president for Academic Affairs, after receiving a 2016 Meritorious Service Award for Academic Affairs.

At the Staff Recognition and Retirement Awards Program, Graduate Admissions Specialist Linda Jones began to wonder what was going on when she realized her son and many of her colleagues in the Department of Educational Psychology, including John Jacobson, dean of the Teachers College, were all in attendance.

She was still surprised though when Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert Morris called her name to receive the 2016 Meritorious Service Awards for Academic Affairs. Jones was among five recipients of the award from various areas of the university.

“I fought back tears,” Jones remembered of that evening. “I felt truly blessed. We all work really hard, and we don’t necessarily expect a pat on the back.”

Jones said she always wanted to be a teacher, but her family couldn’t afford to send her to college. After a 30-year career with ADT Security Services, Jones started in the department with a part-time job that gradually turned into a full-time gig.

“It’s not teaching, but I am a teacher,” she said. “I’m a guide of sorts. I’ve fulfilled that dream, in a sense.”

Jones was nominated by one former student who she helped guide through the admissions process. Xiaopeng Gong—an alumnus of the Ph.D. Educational Psychology program who is now an assistant professor at Western Oregon University—wrote in her nominating letter that Jones cares for her students, both personally and professionally.

“Linda is family to us,” Xiaopeng wrote, “She is always there to help. She cares for us both personally and professionally, and is the one who always goes the extra mile.”

Seven years ago when Xiaopeng was still working in China, she called Ball State to check on the status of her application to the Educational Psychology graduate program. It was Jones who answered the phone and the one to deliver the devastating news that Xiaopeng’s application, which she spent two years preparing, had been delayed in arriving to the department and the deadline for application had passed.

But Jones tracked down the application and found that upon review, Xiaopeng qualified for admission to the department’s doctoral program, which was still enrolling students. Jones conferred with the program’s director and double-checked that Xiaopeng was interested in applying for a different program. Two weeks later, Xiaopeng was accepted and offered an assistantship.

“For Linda, this might be something that happens everyday,” Xiaopeng wrote in her letter. “But for me, this was a life changing moment. Who will care about a potential applicant who is thousands of miles away in a foreign land? Linda does. I would never be where am now without Linda being there, doing her job and caring.”

Over the years, Jones has made many connections to students like Xiaopeng, befriending and mentoring them throughout their time at Ball State and staying in touch even after they’ve graduated, she said.

“I love students,” Jones said. “That’s why I’m here.”


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Professor’s Kenyan ties provide cross-cultural research opportunities for Ball State students, faculty

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Students in Shivembe, Kenya, rejoice after receiving school supplies collected by Ball State University students and faculty in the Educational Psychology department.

As Ball State University students passed around packages to school children, Wilfridah Mucherah, Ph.D., saw tears in many of the students’ eyesa sharp contrast to the school children’s excitement, exhibited by bright eyes and wide, toothy smiles. It’s hard for those of us in the states to imagine kids in elementary and middle school jumping up and down, rejoicing about receiving a school uniform. But for these Kenyan children, school uniforms make all the difference in whether or not they can receive an education.

Mucherah, a professor of developmental psychology in the Educational Psychology department, was born in Shivembe, Kenya, a small village in the northwest part of the East African country. In 2000, she returned to the village to visit family, as she does annually, taking along her two young sons. She visited the village’s primary school not far from her childhood home with her 3-year-old son in tow.

“He got so excited because most of the kids were barefoot, so he took off his shoes,” Mucherah remembered. “He thought it was so fun, because he thought it was by choice, right.”

She noticed that some children remained in the village during the day, not making the 30-minute trek to school. She suspected, and confirmed with the school’s headmaster, it was because these families couldn’t afford school uniforms, a requirement to attend school in Kenya. When she returned home, she spoke with her husband about providing uniforms for the children most in need. She asked her mom to identify the children who cannot afford uniforms, not realizing the final count would total 20. Although she and her husband could not provide for all, they purchased 12 uniforms that year.

“I was so proud of what we had done,” she said. “It was such a big deal, and everyone was talking about it in the village. We are like stars, right. And it was good to see those 12 kids go to school.”

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Ball State University professor Wilfridah Mucherah, Ph.D. hands a pencil and a pen to a child at a primary school in Shivembe, Kenya.

What began as a donation of 12 uniforms by Mucherah and her husband has evolved into a cause embraced by the entire Department of Educational Psychology. Faculty, staff and students have rallied behind Mucherah, her native village and the primary school to deliver uniforms, desks and other school supplies, painkillers and more. Students formed a group called DESK, Delivering Education Supplies to Kenya, to help collect donations for the cause. Last year, the groupwith the help of matching funds faculty within the departmentcollected $4,000 to deliver more than 250 uniforms to students in both primary and secondary schools in Kenya.

A discussion in 2006 about how the department could become more engaged sparked the idea to collaborate with universities in the area. Mucherah wrote to two universitiesMoi University in Eldoret and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kakamegaand both agreed to the partnership.The agreement, signed officially in 2007, prioritizes student and faculty exchange, research collaboration and capacity building. Since then, only two groups of students took immersive learning trips because of student travel bans to the country, but faculty are still allowed to travel to Kenya.

Last summer eight Ball State faculty visited the area, providing research workshops for both universities in an effort to increase the number of doctorate degrees. Students and faculty from Moi and MMUST have also visited and attended Ball State, and Mucherah has conducted research, published and presented at conferences in partnership with Kenyan faculty. Department Chair Sharon Paulson said the cross-cultural research has enhanced literature in the field.

The benefits of the partnership extend beyond academics, Paulson said. The collaborations with the schools in Kenya have provided a better understanding of cultural diversity and enriched teaching within the department, she said.

“Such relationships are hard to build without a personal foundation,” Paulson said. “[Mucherah] opened the door to countless opportunities for both students and faculty.”

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Primary students at a school in Shivembe, Kenya, show off school supplies they received as part of an ongoing partnership with Ball State University.

The collaboration has continued to grow, beyond the department. The most-recent visit involved faculty from Telecommunications and Unified Communications to assist the universities with communication and technology. But Mucherah said that the program’s start within the Educational Psychology Department has been key to its success.

“The department has just rallied. The students are excited about it,” she said. “It is a very healthy program.”