NCU Launches First
Dissertation Boot Camp

Written by Judy Tierney

At Northcentral University, where courses are taught online to students balancing a busy work, family and personal schedule, many students never have the chance to meet their faculty and peers in person until graduation - until now. NCU launched the Dissertation Boot Camp where doctoral students have an opportunity to spend a weekend meeting with fellow NCU students, faculty and staff.

Molly Migliaccio Molly Migliaccio

In August 2016, 21 doctoral students gathered at the NCU Service Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, for two and a half days of concentrated, critical-thinking, planning and refining of their latest dissertation drafts. The pilot boot camp program, which targeted students in the early stage of their dissertation sequence, was designed to create a pathway for students to discuss key areas of struggle and gain additional support from their NCU faculty and peers.

In the last issue of Higher Degrees, 2016 Dissertation of the Year Award winner, Dr. Melinda Riccitelli, described the dissertation process as a solitary pursuit. She then added, “Key to finishing a dissertation is understanding that while the dissertation is your burden, it takes a village to complete it.”

“While we are proud to deliver our programs online without the requirement to travel, we recognized that some students place greater value in face-to-face interaction,” said Molly Migliaccio, Director, New Program Development and Process Engineering, who worked with University staff and faculty to develop the boot camp. “We’ve seen that students who attended the first program created a new sense of community just by coming to the camp. They are now holding each other accountable to do everything they can to be at graduation next year and all walk together.”

Migliaccio described the event, which lasted from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 7:30 a.m. to noon on Sunday, as very intense. “We call it a boot camp because our faculty and support staff break everything down to the most simplistic form the first day, then, together we build it back up again on day two,” she explained. “By the end, all of the students have a clearer sense of what is necessary, and what they need to do, to ultimately graduate.”

Faculty and staff members led the presentations and discussions on topics including an overview of the dissertation template and structure, how to strategically use University resources, ethical research and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) application process, and writing tips. Students also had the opportunity to sign up for individual working sessions with faculty members who attended. To maximize engagement, the presenters made adjustments to sessions based on immediate student feedback. If students told us ‘we feel confident in this area, but want to focus more on that area,’ we had the flexibility to change topics,” explained Migliaccio.

“The boot camp is just one element of our broader University initiatives to provide students with resources to help them matriculate through the most difficult part of their doctoral program,” said Dr. John LaNear, Senior Vice President, Academic Affairs. “The team spent almost a year doing research, collaborating with faculty and staff, and getting input from students to map out an agenda that would entice them to invest the money and time to attend. Everything we did was student-driven and student-focused.”

“We’ve seen that students who attended the first program created a new sense of community just by coming to the camp.”

Molly Migliaccio, Director, New Program Development and Process Engineering

“The boot camp was quite inspiring, and I felt like I turned the corner after it ended,” said attendee Modibo Usman, a candidate for a PhD-BA in the School of Business and Technology Management. “As I submit my concept paper, I can certainly say I am no longer unsure of any aspect of my dissertation, and I am even more convinced of my success.” Perhaps as important, Usman credits the boot camp for introducing him to numerous colleagues, many of whom he now calls friends.

To help ensure the program’s success, the first boot camp was kept small and targeted to students from the Schools of Education and Business and Technology Management. Future boot camps will be open to all schools. Because the dissertation sequence is basically the same in each School, students follow the same path even though their subject will vary depending on their degree program and specialization.

Molly Migliaccio
Migliaccio and her team are now developing additional events to be held internationally and throughout the U.S. The second boot camp was just held on January 25-29 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, in partnership with ITESO, Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara. A cohort of seven NCU students, representing all three schools, participated in this event.

Migliaccio hopes the boot camps will continue to support students, and offer opportunities for deeper engagement with their peers. “Many students are trying to achieve too much and solve the world’s problems in their first research project,” she said. “At the dissertation boot camp, we try to help them understand that they just need to focus on one problem at a time. The goal is to complete a quality dissertation, and then once they earn their doctorate, they can publish, then write books, then partner with other scholars to push their research even further.”

Doctoral students who are interested in participating in a dissertation boot camp or who have questions, can email for more information.

“Everything we did was student-driven and student-focused.”

Dr. John LaNear, Senior Vice President, Academic Affairs

Session Facilitators

  • Dr. Patricia Henry, Dean of the Graduate School
  • Dr. Andy Riggle, Curriculum Faculty, School of Education
  • Dr. Sharon Kimmel, Professor, School of Business and Technology Management
  • Dr. Sherry Lowrance, Professor, School of Business and Technology Management
  • Dr. Tara Lehan, Director, Faculty and Student Resources
  • Robert Dodd, Director, Institutional Review Board
  • Molly Migliaccio, Director, New Program Development and Process Engineering
  • Chelsea Young, Academic Trainer