Alumni Researcher Spotlight: Kristine Meze-Burtis

Alumni Researcher Spotlight: Kristine Meze-Burtis

This week’s spotlight focuses on Dr. Kristine Faye Meze-Burtis. She is a School of Advanced Studies alumnus, having completed her Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership in 2018.

Dr. Meze-Burtis is a member of the Center for Educational and Instructional Technology Research and our SAS Alumni Special Interest Group.  She serves as a Supervisor in Animal Training at SeaWorld San Diego (SWSD); in May it will be 30 years! She is also an adjunct professor for the San Diego Community College District.

We hope you enjoy our online conversation about her doctoral experience, current professional growth, and advice for doctoral students!

What was the defining moment that led to your decision to pursue your doctorate?

I have always considered myself a life-long learner. After receiving my MA, I continued to study leadership and continued to influence positive change within my organization. Two major events led me to pursue my doctorate degree: I have never shared this with anyone but in 2010 after trying several times to get pregnant, I knew I needed to focus my energy on something positive instead of the disappointment of not being able to have my own child. In my past whenever I faced a major challenge in my life or when I was encountering adversity, I have always immersed myself in education.

In addition to facing a personal struggle, my organization was being attacked in social media and the basis of our care and commitment to animals in human care were being criticized. I was active in several aspects of speaking out for the company and protecting the truth. I participated in social media opportunities, advertisements, commercials, a documentary, and a debate with detractors. I was passionate about speaking out for my organization and being a representative for thousands of animal care experts. I have worked for SWSD for almost thirty years while attending school. I have experience in managing the operations of the park, rescuing and rehabilitating animals, as well as utilizing operant conditioning to train and care for a variety of species of animals. I pursued my doctorate to continue learning, gaining experience in qualitative research, and developing research that could potentially influence change in my departments as well as produce law at the federal level to protect individuals and organizations from defamation in social media.

What is the biggest lesson you learned from your doctoral journey?

I have learned many lessons during my doctoral journey. I have always been a well-organized individual and this aspect is critical in completing the coursework and steps towards completing a dissertation. I have gained valuable experience in qualitative research including interviewing, creating a measurement for evaluation of the issue, IRB process, organization and revision in writing, and NVivo use and development of core topics. The biggest lesson I learned was to never give up! There were many times along my journey where I did not feel I had the capability of completing my dissertation. Feedback is critical to learning and when I received the first response from QRM, I felt hopeless. The entire scope of my dissertation had to be altered and the feedback provided was overwhelming. It is important during the process to take time in between courses to continue to research associated topics related to the dissertation and continue to revise.  Upon reflecting on this situation, I can now see that this was the defining moment in developing a more sound research project.  

What enhancements have you seen in your leadership capabilities?

I have a deep connection with Joseph Rost’s definition and understanding of leadership. Leadership is an influence relationship between leaders and collaborators who intend significant changes that reflect their mutual purposes (Rost, 1993). The qualitative research process has opened my eyes to the lived experiences of employees. My leadership has been inspired by the process of the doctoral journey through the use of research to support my goals as well as remembering the importance of developing relationships.

How has your doctoral experience changed your personal/professional life? 

I feel such a sense of accomplishment and more motivated than ever before to influence change.  New responsibilities have become available through my completion of my doctoral program in professional life. My family has been so supportive during my journey and I was fortunate to share my success with my father who always encouraged me to continue my education. I also have two beautiful step-daughters who I hope I have influenced them to continue their education and to be strong, independent women.

Tell us about your current research project(s).

Currently, I am assisting on several research studies with SWSD. I am co-leading a study on exercise requirements for killer whales to ascertain an objective measurement for body conditioning that can be utilized for cetaceans in human care.

Have you presented or published your findings? If so, where can we learn more?

My dissertation is currently in process of becoming available in ProQuest and my chair and I are in the process of submitting for publication in a social media journal. I have also submitted to present at the 2018 International Marine Animal Training Association (IMATA) conference in Portugal in October

What do you think the long-term implications will be for the project results?

The findings of the study should assist zoological organizational leaders to make better-informed decisions when developing social media strategies to address content shared in online platforms about the goals, direction, and the impact zoos and aquariums have on caring for and protecting animals all around the world. Developing social media policy to encourage employees to share their lived experiences as professionals caring for animals, could change perceptions about zoological establishments and provide the groundwork for legal ramifications for defamation in social media. The long-term implications of the results may lead to change in organizational protection through legislation so individuals and business’ have an avenue to hold those accountable for social media harassment and defamation.

At the organizational level, the results may provide the opportunity for a standardized social media policy and coach the employees on the appropriate ways in which to engage in social media in defense of the organization. This could provide a helpful solution to the problem of misperceptions being shared about a zoological organization.

By sharing my results with IMATA, I hope the information encourages other zoological establishments to manage social media content efficiently and encourages the organizations to take an aggressive stance with individuals and groups that attack the work of the zoological establishment.

What was the defining moment that led to your decision to pursue this research?

I began my doctoral journey in 2013 and for the majority of my time, my dissertation involved employee engagement and retention in a zoological organization. I had a course with Dr. Karraa and one of the assignments was to produce a paper not associated with your dissertation topic. I was challenged to think of a different topic surrounding my work and also a subject I would be passionate researching and writing. I decided to develop a more precise topic around a zoological organization so I began research social media implications. Dr. Karraa suggested that I change my topic based on the paper I produced and thought the idea I created would serve to bridge a gap in the literature regarding social media.

What’s next for you now that you are a doctor?

My next step as a doctor is to continue to revise my dissertation and publish in a peer-reviewed journal. I am continuing my work with SWSD in my current role as well as assisting in developing a global project for our company. I have also just obtained a position with our corporate animal welfare team to increase awareness and training for employees. I will begin the process of understanding how to engage in legislation and produce a law to present for support in protecting individual and organizations from social media mistreatment.

What advice would you give to a prospective or current SAS doctoral student?

My advice is to keep an open mind in regard to the topic, research design, and methodology throughout your coursework. Develop good organizational skills and prepare yourself by reading material related to each course early. Engage with your classmates throughout the week and do not get yourself locked into the number of days required for participation. You will learn a great deal from your cohorts and professors but you must be truly engaged. Stay open to all feedback as you will receive conflicting ideas and suggestions throughout your journey. Keep back up files of all assignments, papers, research, and charts on a thumb drive. Organize your research and look for supporting research on a monthly basis using different keywords and related topics. Find at least 5 UOP dissertations within the last year that are similar in research design and methodology and refer to these for guidance on formatting and organization. Have a hard copy of the dissertation and format manual, sample dissertation, and IRB read me first paper and refer to these documents routinely for assistance. Finally, realize that you are making a commitment that will need the support of your family and friends, and you will miss out on some social events. In the end, you will feel a great pride and respect for achieving your educational goals.  It will all be worth it!