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Social Change Talk with Jon Kaplan, President of Walden University

| Friday September 11th, 2009 | 15 Comments

cause-marketing.gif
learn-main-photo A few weeks ago, I featured Walden University’s new advertising campaign, centering around their social change-focused brand positioning: “A higher degree. A higher purpose.” I was instantly struck by their TV spot because they put their money where their tagline is in demonstrating the end result of a Walden University degree, and spotlighting the change that is possible when you choose an institution aimed at serving the greater good.

The goal is to attract like-minded individuals whose core values align with Walden’s, and they are, in turn, committed to equipping those agents of change with the practical tools they’ll need toward becoming the leaders of tomorrow. The campaign is inspirational without coming off cheesy, so I decided to learn more about the vision behind it in an informative interview with President, Jon Kaplan. And with the level of dedication they put forth in facilitating avenues for positive change, the next time you meet someone who’s making a difference, they may just have a Walden University diploma hanging on their wall.

I was inspired by your recent campaign with your positioning, “A higher degree. A higher purpose.” Can you please tell us more about why you chose that brand position, and how you are supporting it through your institution?

Social change has been at the heart of our mission at Walden University for nearly 40 years. Part of what drives our students, faculty, staff, and alumni is a shared desire to make a positive difference in their neighborhoods, their communities, their careers, and in the broader world. At Walden, we focus on giving students the skills and knowledge they need to solve real-world problems that can have a positive impact on their communities. Our new campaign is a reflection of some of the outcomes experienced by our students and alumni every day.

How does your curriculum cultivate social change leaders? Can you share a few examples of courses designed specifically for that purpose?

Our largest programs are in education and health—two professions that are fundamentally about people helping people. But every program at Walden engages students in social change in some way: our counseling program, for example, includes sessions on meeting the specific needs of under-served populations, our public policy and administration programs incorporate discussions about ethics and social justice, and our M.B.A. classes explore ways in which corporate leadership can drive action in the social sector. When students propose topics for their dissertations, they’re required to explain how their research addresses a societal need.

What do you offer aspiring change agents that other higher education institutions don’t?

Walden is an online institution with a tradition of applying education to challenges and opportunities in the real world. Our students are adults who are already in the workforce, and many enroll because they realize they need to further their education in order to address needs in the world around them. We allow students to design their own research projects so they can begin exploring—and solving—those problems from day one.

For example, one student in our psychology Ph.D. program has been a nuclear technician for seven years, and she is now studying to be a counselor who works with technicians to make sure they are mentally prepared for the stress of working in a nuclear facility. She’s chosen to stay in the same field while shifting her career to a role where she feels she will have a greater impact on the quality of life in her community.

What types of positions have your students secured post-grad?

Walden considers students’ post-graduate success one of the most important measures of educational quality. In fact, more than 80 percent of our doctoral graduates were promoted as a result of earning their degrees, and within just a year of finishing their degrees, two-thirds of our master’s graduates received promotions. While there is no “typical path” for Walden alumni, our alumni are making significant contributions as executives, psychologists, researchers, authors, professors, nurses, and teachers, as well as leaders in the military and government. One alumna became a sign language interpreter at a technical college, while another is a candidate for mayor of Atlanta.

Who are some notable Walden University graduates? What are some examples of the change that has been led by them?

Laura Ybarra immediately comes to mind. She’ll be the first public nurse to live inside the Grand Canyon in three years, where she’ll provide care for members of the Havasupai Native American tribe. The tribe has lived in the canyon for 800 years, and some would argue they are the country’s most isolated patients. Laura’s extensive training makes her well prepared, as she holds a Master of Science in Nursing and is currently pursing her M.S. in Mental Health Counseling from Walden.

Another alumna, Madeline Frank, is a concert violist who studied at Juilliard before earning her Ph.D. in Administration/Management at Walden to become a music educator. Now, she’s able to better help adults and children overcome neurological, physical, and emotional challenges through music. For instance, she helped one 6-year-old boy learn to read by teaching him to play the violin, making the lessons into a game.

Have you seen an increase in enrollment since you launched this campaign?

We’ve received great responses to the campaign, especially from our current students. Walden’s enrollment numbers have been steadily growing and we believe this is due to the fact that our mission of social change speaks to such a wide range of students.

What do you think resonates most with people about it?

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t want to improve some element of the world around them. There is a line in the spot that says, “It’s not about the money.” What we’ve been hearing from students is that when they’re choosing a job, that’s really true—it’s not just about the money. It’s about making a difference, an impact in their communities, in the lives of others. That’s what Walden helps them to do.

Where do you see the greatest need for change, and how do you think the Walden University program can be integral to it in cultivating the leaders of tomorrow?

We take our cues from our students and are able to adapt our programs based on what changes they want to see in society. Walden’s most popular degrees already have an element of public service built into them. For instance, the majority of our students naturally gravitate toward programs in community organizing, government service, teaching, nursing, and public health. These individuals have an innate desire to help others—what better reason to become a teacher or nurse?

And as an institution, we think about what society’s needs are, too. When we’re designing programs, we don’t simply focus on the ones we think are going to be the most popular. We think about the programs that are going to fill emerging needs in society and the economy. For example, we anticipated the shortage of nurse educators and nurses with the skills needed to manage hospital floors when we designed our nursing program curriculum. As a result, our nursing students are prepared to work in a field where there is an immediate need for their skills.

How do you think your vision can be applied to more traditional coursework?

The goal of our coursework already aligns with traditional universities: we want our students to learn. The key difference at Walden is that the majority of our students are working adults, and it’s critical that we accommodate their schedules. A misconception is that, in doing so, we sacrifice quality. That’s not the case. Our students still operate in the familiar realm of syllabi, weekly discussion topics, required readings, and homework—but in an environment that’s better tailored to meet individual needs.

What else do you have planned to further your role as a harbinger of change?

Making a positive impact has never been more important than it is today. We want to make sure our students are leading positive social change. Every year, we host a Social Change Conference with leading experts from around the country. This year’s event, scheduled for September 30, Social Entrepreneurship: Taking Action, Leading Change, will focus on what helps social entrepreneurs succeed and the new partnerships that are springing up to lead change in our country and our world. We will also host our annual Global Day of Service where hundreds of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff participate in service projects around the world.


▼▼▼      15 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.thecausemopolitan.com Sloane Berrent

    Great interview! I completely agree that universities offer a unique opportunity to use their facilities for the greater good and to graduate people who care about the impact they can have on the world both as individuals and as a collective whole. Too many schools focus on numbers and transferring graduates to donors and it’s refreshing to see Walden walking their own path to what success means to their students.

  • Jerry Franklin III

    Aloha All,
    As a recent graduate (23 Aug 09) of WaldenU, I can validate the comments made by Dr. Kaplan regarding WaldenU’s mission of social change. Thank you Dr. Kaplan and the rest of your team for the wonderful learning experience. I look forward to your visit here in my home town during the 18 – 24 Oct Honolulu Residency.

    Mahalo!

    Dr. Jerry Franklin III, Ph.D
    Applied MGMT & Decision Sciences
    Specializing in Leadership & ORG Change

  • Daphne Johnson

    Wohderful Article on Change talk!
    As a ” Freshman” PhD in Human Service, I already see myself as a positive Change Agent.
    Daphne Johnson

  • Marlene Baum

    In a time when there seems to be an overabundance of pain and suffering, anger, and destruction it is a great sign to know that there are people who are paying attention and who do care that we need help as a society. We are our “brother’s keeper” in that we live in this world together, and not separate.
    Walden is unique in promoting personal responsibility and then setting a course for help and education for those who care to move in a better direction or perhaps a more enlightened direction. I find it commendable that there is a place, and there are many, we just don’t hear them as often, where goodness resides and one is challenged to reach beyond themselves and think about the “whole” and not so much the self.
    I appreciate Dr. Kaplan and everyone who has had the courage to step out of the box and step into the place where the work that is promoted is not for just monetary gain but for people to do better in the ways that will serve us all in ways that we cannot know.
    Thank you for that and thank you for weaving in so much that provokes real thought about who we are in relationship to this society and world we have been given the privilege of experiencing. In the end we are not judged by the diplomas on our wall but by the effect and contributions we made to essence of life.
    Marlene Baum
    Student, Psychology Applied to Everyday Life Program

  • Nancy Bell

    Walden University has been a great inspiration to me as a life-long community activist from Detroit’s inner city. Although I live in Chattanooga now, it is disconcerting how many parallels there are in the health, education, and other social issues impacting the most vulnerable populations in our country. It is hard to know the degree of suffering and frustration people from these (and other)populations feel without also seeing (or helping to build) structures that lead to opportunities of hope and empowerment.
    I am involved in two volunteer programs right now assisting with community capacity building ventures and have all the intellectual resources of Walden University to help me contribute as a scholar practitioner. I consider this volunteer work my apprenticeship to Walden’s formal education.
    As a second year doctoral student, I look forward to graduation and do anticipate fruitful years of working and teaching in my own community, the university community, and the world community. Thank you Jon Kaplan for picking up the torch and leading us in the spirit of positive social change.

  • Kat

    As a Walden University Student, reading this interview with President, Dr. Jon Kaplan, further confirms my decision to complete my undergraduate degree here! It overwhelms my heart with great joy to invest into an exceptional vision that significantly impacts the lives of others, while illuminating it’s students to a degree of higher learning.

    I also, enjoyed reading the supportive comments mentioned above. Yes, it is refreshing to know that there are people who are paying attention. More importantly, these people are actively involved in the social change movement. To name a few, Global Service Day, Perspectives of the World Public Speakers and continuously surveying the students progress and opinions will improve Walden University yet!

    Thank you Dr. Kaplan for being an avid supporter of social change. “None of us are better than all of us,” quoted by Life Coach, JD the Motivator. My Walden experience has been rewarding and empowering since enrollment in June, 2009. I plan to continue a growth pattern of heightened awareness at Walden University through the power of media, as I develop a successful “brand” in the Music Industry.

    Best,
    -Kat
    B.S. Communications
    http://www.myspace.com/1sage

  • Sara

    I’m a current MPA student at WaldenU and will gladly tell anyone who wants to hear it that this institution truly embodies social change values. The curriculum is challenging, the people are diverse, and the faculty is knowledgeable and experienced. Interestingly, even with my classmates, there doesn’t seem to be an element of competition academically. Instead, there’s a fabric of support and community. We’re eager to grow and learn together because we really do want to make a difference in our world. As a current public servant, I am constantly applying what I learn on the job so these values are not conferred simultaneously with the degree– they’re happening right now! Thanks, President Kaplan and WaldenU, you guys changed my life.

  • Vasudev Das

    The heart-piercing and inspirational undertone of this positvie social change idealogy is very soothing to a desperate change agent who seeks to transmute the world around him/her positvely beginning with himself/herself. I would like to add that understanding our pristine identity cum practical approaches to applied self-restraint technology would facilitate and sustain our positive social change innovations.

  • Anthony Gyetua-Danquah

    I am in my first year in the Walden Education Doctorate program concentrating in adminstrator leadership. I was attracted to Walden university because of it mission to make a social change. As an educator, I am still amzed about how much more can be done to change the lives of students and their future. There is talk about bifdging the achievement gap but there is one gap that i believe contributes to the achievemnet gap that is not addreesed in our schools – the lack of male minority leaders and teachers who can become role models for the students who are being left behind. As someone who has already earned three graduate degrees for well know colleges, I was amzed about how little my education helped me to question or change the system. my graduation helped me to fit perfectly in the system and to move up the ladder doign what needs to be done but not to change it. I feel very comfortable that I am in aprogram that will alow me to think freely and be able to question certain social injustices and make attempts to help those who are affected. Thank you for inspiring me to follow my dreams. Your interview is refresshing.

  • Aqueil Ahmad

    I have been a Walden faculty in one capacity or another for over two decades. What President Kaplan says about Walden’s mission of social change is entirely correct. Of course, all education is ultimately about social change. But to the best of my knowledge, and I say this with experience, Walden university is the only institution of higher education in America which has made social change its cardinal mission since its very inception under the leadership of its founders, Bernie and Rita Turner. Our students and faculty are inspired by this mission even though some of them may not always be able to carry it out to the extent that they would like to. Many others are able to do so, like my student Madeline Frank that Jon Kaplan mentioned as an example.

    Aqueil Ahmad

  • DeVita Slaughter

    Dr. Kaplan your comments were intuned to my Walden’s mission as well as the mission I have for my community. As a PhD student in psychology, I chose Walden because of it’s social change mission. Meeting the needs of an under-served population is my passion and Walden is teaching me now how to make the difference. I have enjoyed reading your comments and have been inspired even more to continue with my drive and passion to ensure positive social change within my community.

    DeVita Slaughter
    PhD Psychology Student
    Educational Track

  • Brian Keough

    I have just completed the MBA program at Walden University. I have always believed that things happen for a reason. I was enrolled in a well known institution near my work and home. I had a very bad experience and dropped the program. After extensive research into available options I chose Walden University and have been extremely pleased with my experience even in the most difficult times. I seek out organizations that align with my values and Waldens vision is a welcome inspiration. Life is about change. Without change we get left behind, alone. There have been many studies about change initiatives and why they fail or succeed. We talk about motivating factors, degree of support, and sense of urgency among other things. Walden challenged me to find my passion, create a vision, seek out like minded people and make a difference. Take this passion, apply it to your career, allow it to clarify your purpose and the purpose of your work. Now tell me what can we achieve? Humans form organizations to achieve more than they can as individuals. Walden has been that organization for me and now that I am at the end of my program I look to my surroundings to continue this vision and apply my passion. I encourage like minded individuals to gather at Walden U. and make the world a better a place for us all.

  • Brian Keough

    I have just completed the MBA program at Walden University. I have always believed that things happen for a reason. I was enrolled in a well known institution near my work and home. I had a very bad experience and dropped the program. After extensive research into available options I chose Walden University and have been extremely pleased with my experience even in the most difficult times. I seek out organizations that align with my values and Waldens vision is a welcome inspiration. Life is about change. Without change we get left behind, alone. There have been many studies about change initiatives and why they fail or succeed. We talk about motivating factors, degree of support, and sense of urgency among other things. Walden challenged me to find my passion, create a vision, seek out like minded people and make a difference. Take this passion, apply it to your career, allow it to clarify your purpose and the purpose of your work. Now tell me what can we achieve? Humans form organizations to achieve more than they can as individuals. Walden has been that organization for me and now that I am at the end of my program I look to my surroundings to continue this vision and apply my passion. I encourage like minded individuals to gather at Walden U. and make the world a better a place for us all.

  • http://www.ncu.edu Jessica Johnson

    It is so important to have universities and colleges who develop great values in their students. In order to develop great values they must have those values already built into who they are. I believe the higher values we uphold ourselves and students to the more possibilities we will have to have success for many reasons.

  • http://www.dominicanu.com/ Jill

    I strongly believe that there is no such thing as being “over-educated.” That being said, going back to school is such an important and significant decision. Now that getting education through online classes has become so popular, there really isn’t a reason why people shouldn’t further their education.