SAS Alumni Spotlight: Karen Fiorillo

SAS Alumni Spotlight: Karen Fiorillo

This week’s spotlight focuses on recent alumna Karen Fiorillo. She graduated in 2015 after studying under the Doctor of Educational Leadership in Educational Technology program. Currently she works as the Technology Integration Specialist at Indian Crest Middle School. Read on for what where she’s been and where she’s headed.

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

In 1984, I became the first female family member to ever graduate from college (Rosemont College). My father, Francis G. Santillo, encouraged me to continue my education beyond my Bachelor’s in English, but I wanted no part of it! In 1998, I finally began my Master’s Degree in Technology in Education at Rosemont College in Rosemont, PA.  As a mother working full-time with two sons ages nine and one, the process was arduous!  There were times when I wanted to give up, but my father’s voice continually resonated within me.  I graduated in May 2002, and received the Excellence in the Field of Technology in Education Award earning a 3.94 GPA. In 1999, my father struggled with kidney failure as a result of a 25-year battle with adult onset diabetes. We had a long talk on January 1, 2000. This would be our last conversation.  He asked me if I planned to pursue my Doctorate after completing my Master’s Degree.  At the time, I could not fathom the idea.  His last words to me were, “Promise me you will, Karen.  If anyone can do this, it is you!”  He passed away two days later.  Let’s just say I had an angel guiding me toward my doctoral hooding ceremony!

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

The biggest lesson I learned from my doctoral journey was to never lose faith in my potential.  Being tough-skinned was imperative during the dissertation process.  Constant criticism and revisions could have been my ultimate demise, but I trudged forth with the support of my incredible committee – Dr. Elizabeth Young (Chair), Dr. Carol Hall, and Dr. Terry Silver – until I finally passed Quality Review Final (QRF).

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

My doctoral experience has improved my personal life by allowing me to become a better time manager while juggling numerous responsibilities.  Professionally, my scholarly writing skills have improved as well as my ability to accept constructive criticism and work with others in a deadline-driven environment.  Although I have not advanced in my role as a middle school teacher in Souderton, the potential to do so exists.  Teaching my students about the dangers of the Internet and cyberbullying are near and dear to my heart.  I feel I am best served in a classroom and as a proactive speaker at workshops and conferences, where I can reach the largest number of people.  I have had the opportunity on several occasions to present Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship workshops to parents, teachers, administrators, and technology leaders based on my research and findings.

My biggest supporters during my doctoral program were by family, including my sons T.J. and Christopher, their dad Timothy, and my mom Catherine. Other supports included Admissions Counselor Brenda Buhr and Academic Counselor Misa Alexander; they were so fantastic! I made an extra effort to meet them in person while vacationing in Phoenix this past summer and took them out to dinner.

Tell us about your current research project(s), if any.

My next longitudinal research project pertains to the effect of blue light on eye degeneration.  The study is in the proposal stage.  I am excited to share my findings once I have analyzed the data.

How has the School of Advanced Studies supported your research interests?

Support personnel in The School of Advanced Studies have provided opportunities for professional growth.  I have been contacted by several students and graduates about co-authoring and research opportunities. I also advocate for the mentorship program; I am in the process of working with a mentee, who is working closely with my chairperson.  It is rewarding to share my knowledge and support with a current student as she works through the dissertation process.

University of Phoenix and specifically my Chair, Dr. Young, have supported my research and presentation endeavors.  Almost immediately after I passed my Oral Defense, Dr. Young and I began planning our first co-presentation in Montreal remotely with the Association for Advancement in Computer Education.  Our white-paper was published in the July 2015 issue of EdMedia, one of the AACE peer-reviewed journals.  

What’s next for you after graduation?

Beyond graduation, I have put my research into action, so to speak.  As a board member of a local non-profit organization, Pillars of Light and Love, I have presented workshops to parents and school-aged children on the topic of Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship.  In February 2015, I was selected to present at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference (PETE & C) in Hershey, PA.  The past two summers, I was contracted by the Montgomery County Intermediate unit to teach a course on Internet Safety to teachers.  This past year I was contracted as by a large local school district to teach a workshop to guidance counselors primarily because K-12 Guidance Counselors were my dissertation sample.  Most recently, local private schools and churches have me scheduled to address their parents and parishioners on the effects of social media apps. My goal is to educate as many groups as possible about the dangers of cyberbullying and social media applications all with the potential of harm if used irresponsibly.

What advice would you give to a prospective student considering the SAS doctoral program or to a student just starting out in the program?

My advice to future doctoral students is to reach out to graduates of the program.  I would be happy to share my positive experience. Hearing success stories provides hope and a more positive approach to beginning the program of study.  Stay off the message boards.  The negativity will defeat you.  As Dory in Finding Nemo says: “Just keep swimming!” YOU CAN DO IT!

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