Fulfilling Employer Needs by Incorporating Liberal Arts Content into Technical Program Curricula: A Case Study

Fulfilling Employer Needs by Incorporating Liberal Arts Content into Technical Program Curricula: A Case Study

Author: 
Joshua Valk
Program of study: 
Ph.D./HEA
Abstract: 
This qualitative exploratory case study was designed to explore a contextualization model that is being implemented at a postsecondary technical institution in the northeastern United States to address the conflicting needs of employers and interests of students in soft skills and liberal arts content. Data collected from student questionnaires, interviews with administrators, faculty, and members of the Technical Advisory Committee (comprised of local employers), and classroom observations were analyzed to uncover emerging themes in contextualization. Data analysis was completed with a combination of manual analysis and qualitative content analysis. Documents were imported into NVivo® 11 for coding. Provisional coding and concept coding were used to develop the themes of this study. Analysis uncovered three major themes supporting the increased use of contextualization, the importance of proper faculty enthusiasm and professional development, and relevance to the students. The theoretical framework included three student development theories: Chickering’s Seven Vectors of Identity Development, King and Kitchener’s Reflective Judgment Model, and Holland’s Theory of Vocational Personalities and Environments. In addition, the theoretical framework included two student learning theories: Social Constructivism, and Expansive Learning. The results suggest that postsecondary technical institutions in the United States could exhibit higher student engagement and satisfaction and meet employer needs by developing and implementing a contextualization model for their required liberal arts classes.
Dedication: 
I dedicate this dissertation to three of the strongest influences in my life. First and foremost, my late grandmother, Mrs. Betty Valk, for always believing in me even when I gave up on myself. Gram, I miss you each and every day, but I am the man I have become because of you. So many times I thought of giving up and you pushed me forward every day of my life until we lost you October 12, 2013. My daughters Skylar, Mikaela, and Summer, who are the reason behind every decision I make. I want to instill the spirit of lifelong learning in them, and show them that anything is possible if you commit to it. Daddy loves you little girls! Finally, Mrs. Jennifer Sauter, the most influential teacher in my life. Jenn, you never allowed me to quit, you made me channel my ability, and a subject that you originally got me interested in is what started my undergraduate journey. You were also the driving force behind my decision to take the Mensa test, and I not only became a member, but also had the chance to serve on the board of directors for my local chapter! Without you I would have possibly been a high school dropout rather than someone with multiple graduate degrees. I can never repay you.
Acknowledgements: 
I could write a list of acknowledgments that is nearly as long as this dissertation itself. So many people have assisted me in making this a reality that it is impossible to list them all, and if I leave you off please accept my apologies. I would like to first thank God, for giving me the academic ability, intelligence, and critical thinking skills I possess. My mother and father Kim Roy and Doug Valk for making sure I never went without and was raised right. RIP Dad. My chair, Dr. Shelley Kresyman, has been instrumental in my success and I could not have done it without her and my committee members Dr. Mark Johnson and Dr. Lilia Santiague. My wife and love Monica, and daughters Skylar, Mikaela, and Summer for being patient through this long and arduous process, often involving me needing solitude and odd hours at the computer. My Aunt Sharon Jones, Aunt Lisa Ohman, and Grandmother Claire Shugrue-Pannier for always believing in me no matter how bad things got or how down on myself I became. My late grandmother Betty Valk for being my rock my entire life. My best friend of many years Tim Haringa for always believing in me but also always providing the tough love I needed to hear. Todd Melancon, you are another close friend that has never doubted me, and always blessed me with prayers to the Lord when I needed them! Dr. Donald Hauser, the first psychiatrist to diagnose and treat my bipolar disorder. Before you gave me a path to proper treatment, I had a history of disastrous decision-making. Joe Sullivan and Keith Grant, you did your best to teach me humility, which is something I learned a lot about during this dissertation process! There are a number of people in my professional life who have inspired me throughout my life, and helped develop my leadership and scholastic skills; some as my boss, some as my co-worker, and some as my employee. These include Dr. Dave DeMasters, Bennie Mayes, Kevin Moran, Tim Robinson, Travis Engram, Logan Perry, Marcos Moreno, Ryan Hampton, Martin Hoover, J.D. Dahler, Etienne Boyd, and Chris Mock. Mr. Tim Rourke, thank you for giving me my first professional shot at 20 years old! In addition, several professors and teachers throughout my journey have been tremendous influences on me and my scholastic pursuit. These include Jennifer Sauter, Frank Brooker, Bob Angell, Dr. Debbie Tucker, Dr. John Baun, Dr. Jim Rice, Mark Pendergast, Sharon Anderson, and the professor that completely changed my perception on both the liberal arts and philosophy, Dr. Leona Lobell. Dr. Chris Roberts, you were critical in my journey as well. Never forget the drill instructor analogy, and although we often were not on the same page, you were an invaluable influence. Thank you all for having a part in one of the greatest successes in my life. Last but not least, Jon Gouin; you helped me out tremendously with your guidance on how to effectively and efficiently transcribe. On a side note, I would also like to thank everyone who has ever doubted me. You motivate me more than anyone else ever could!