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Posts from the ‘Faculty Spotlight’ Category

NCU Faculty Profile: Mentoring the Next Generation of Teachers, One at a Time


For Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D) life headed south – fast – on the first day of retirement.

Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D.)

Rebecca Erb, (Ed.D.)

“I decided to avoid the reality of retirement by driving South to visit the states that I had not visited before: Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama,” laughs Erb.

Erb had retired in March 2013 after six years as the Superintendent of the Tuscarora School District, which is located in Pennsylvania approximately 90 minutes north of Washington D.C. “I began my teaching career as a social studies teacher in two different school districts before becoming the Principal of Tyrone Area High School in 1997, and then moved on to become the Superintendent of Schools at Tuscarora.”

But Erb’s retirement was only a partial one. She had begun teaching at Northcentral University in 2010. These days she facilitates Teaching as Reflective Practice in Secondary Education (ED4008) in the B.Ed. program and School Law (EDL5008-8), Education Policy and Practices (EDL5022-8), Contemporary Issues (ED5001-8) and Action Research Capstone (ED6002-8) in the M.Ed. program.

Erb has on average 30 students at any time. “One of the most fulfilling parts of being a principal and superintendent was mentoring young teachers. NCU’s one-to-one teaching model is similar to how I mentored my teachers. I have a chance to learn about them, what they are interested in and the challenges they encounter. That allows me to tailor my feedback to their specific circumstances.”

And there is a wealth of information that Erb shares from her 30-year career in education. “When I was a principal a few of my colleagues were working on school leadership standards for Pennsylvania that were aligned to National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) standards. Following their lead, I had the opportunity to be involved in the development of Pennsylvania’s Inspired Leadership (PIL) program,” she explains.

“I implemented PIL in the Tuscarora School District by requiring the principals to complete the required training. Getting the district leadership team on the same page made a huge difference as we worked together to improve facilities, develop quality curriculum, and increase student achievement in the school district” notes Erb.

Higher education today is much different than when Erb started teaching, let alone completed her Ed.D. at Penn State University. “I had to drive to class and carve out time for a required on-site internship. Not to mention that I practically lived at the library. There was no extensive online library available then, just stacks of books and card catalogs,” she notes.

Erb is fond of quoting the idiomatic expression of unknown origins “we live in interesting times.”

“I teach for an online graduate school, but I live in a farmhouse that has been in my husband’s family since the William Penn Land Grant,” shared Erb. (The William Penn Land Grant – for history buffs – was awarded to William Penn by King Charles II in 1681. It is on display in the Library of Congress.)

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.

NCU’s Academic Leadership & Roles at a Glance

Have you ever wondered how a university is run? Having a strong leadership team helps to ensure quality, integrity and growth at the university are sustained.

There are several components of university administration. Like other leading higher education institutions, Northcentral University relies on multiple leaders across the university to facilitate operations and make sure that our culture and values are maintained.

Board of Trustees

NCU is governed by a Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees is responsible for the establishment of broad institutional policies for operation of the University, with oversight responsibility for academics and academic policies. There are 14 members on NCU’s Board of Trustees including NCU’s President and Chief Executive Officer, who serves as an Ex Officio Member.

President and Chief Executive Officer

NCU’s President and CEO, George Burnett, is responsible for the overall strategic, financial and tactical leadership of NCU. With the board, his role is to guide and establish NCU as a leader in online higher education.

Provost and Chief Academic Officer

Dr. Scott W.M. Burrus serves as NCU’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer. As Provost, Dr. Burrus oversees academic operations and administration and works closely with NCU’s Deans to provide quality educational opportunities and programs.

Vice President of Academic Affairs

Dr. Heather Frederick, VP of Academic Affairs, works with our Provost to ensure academic operations, curriculum, instruction and technology adhere to NCU’s mission and values.


Northcentral University has a Dean for each school of study. Our Deans help with areas such as academic policy, faculty hiring, programmatic accreditation, and curriculum.

NCU’s Deans are:

For more general information on higher education leadership or student affairs, check out resources on the Bureau of Labor Statistics or NASPA.

NCU’s Dr. Renee Aitken Earns Effective Practice Title for Sloan-C Presentation

Dr. Renee Aitken

Dr. Renee Aitken

Dr. Renee Aitken didn’t always want to be a teacher.  In fact, her initial interest in the profession (she thought about being a K-12 teacher after a brief stint of medical technologist training) was stymied when she couldn’t get into the program at Ohio State University.  Instead, she graduated with a BA in English and went to work for AT&T as a technical writer.

Twenty-four years later, Aitken had done just about everything at AT&T (now Lucent), including, instructional design, training, project management, travelling all over, and  taking advantage of AT&T’s great tuition reimbursement program to continue her education and fuel her passion for learning. Going back to school also marked her first experience with distance education.

“First I went back to Ohio State and got an MA in Organizational Communication,” she recalls. “Then in 1993, I was accepted into a special AT&T program with the University of Colorado at Boulder where I earned a MS in Telecommunications Engineering and Management through a distance education program. At the time, distance education was the equivalent of watching a video of the lecture and sending in our assignments via snail mail. When distance learning started to become more popular, I was selected to go back to school and get a PhD in Education (Adult and Higher Education) from Capella University.”

If that’s not impressive enough, the real beauty of Aitken’s wealth of knowledge and experience is the fact that she loves to share it!

“My career in higher education began as an adjunct online course designer at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, while I was still at Lucent. When Lucent made me a retirement offer I couldn’t refuse, I got into education full-time.”

It was during her time at Franklin that she was first introduced to the Sloan Consortium.

“I co-presented with one of the other instructional designers at Franklin University and was hooked on the forward-thinking, well-documented presentations from the SLOAN-C,” remarks Aitken.

Aitken’s latest achievement with the SLOAN-C comes courtesy of her third presentation with the organization. Her presentation–Using Knowles to Support ALL Online Learnerswas accepted and added to the SLOAN-C website last year as an Effective Practice.

“My presentation was focused on considering how faculty members view students,” she explains. “There are definitions of traditional and non -traditional learners and most distance learning institutions insist their programs are geared towards non-traditional learners. However, my experience has indicated students are coming to distance learning from a variety of perspectives. From my work with Northcentral University, I have learned a student’s age and socio-economic background does not hinder their learning if faculty take the time and effort to support the student. The One-to-One teaching model at NCU helps facilitate this, and the Applied Experiential Learning process provides even the youngest of our students with the opportunity to “do” as they learn rather than just write papers.”

Effective practices, like Aitken’s presentation, are submitted by members of the SLOAN-C community for consideration and are peer reviewed to ensure quality. The five pillars of quality are: access, learning effectiveness, faculty satisfaction, student satisfaction and scale (cost effectiveness).

Aitken’s paper was accepted as an effective practice for learning effectiveness. She believes that using Knowles Characteristics of Adult Learners when it comes to course development and teaching ensures that students are served equally, and that by making learning part of life through experiences, students are more effective in applying their education to real life, which in turn, makes Aitken’s job more enjoyable, rewarding and effective.

“I like the way distance learning is structured and assures every student has the same opportunity to learn following the same syllabus,” she comments. “I love that teaching online means I don’t know much about my students and my students come without any preconceived notions about their abilities on my part. I also like the way Learning Management and Assessment Systems can help collect data to assure students are learning and meeting outcomes.”

Of course, course development and teaching are only part of the equation when it comes to student success. The students themselves must take responsibility for their learning in an online education environment. With all of her experience, Aitken believes the most critical factor of student success in an online program is time management.

“Online learners must invest in time management and make sure they schedule time for class every day,” she comments. “I was a single working mother with two teenagers when I started my PhD and I completed it in less than five years by working one hour every weekday night and four hours every Sunday.”

While not in school any longer, Aitken still considers herself a student.

“I believe the quote attributed to Tom Clancy, ‘Life is about learning; when you stop learning; you die.’”

On that front, when she’s not at home walking her dog, feeding her five cats (“Don’t let your daughters adopt kittens unless you want cats!”), or sitting behind the glass at an Ohio State University hockey game (she has season tickets), Aitken loves to read (she still manages to read 2-3 books a week), write, think, and travel.

For this lifelong learner and passionate teacher, life is one of the greatest classrooms of all.

A Thank You to All NCU Teachers on National Teacher Day

Today we celebrate National Teacher Day. While many of us can recall that one favorite teacher from grade school or college, we’ve also heard countless stories about teachers who have gone the extra mile to make a real difference in their students’ lives and inspire them to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.

At Northcentral University, we are proud to have a fantastic group of faculty, both adjuncts teaching from around the world, and our ever-growing number of full-time faculty who serve as curriculum developers, foundations faculty, research specialists and dissertation chairs. Our faculty come from all corners of academia and professional practice, and are united by two simple things: a sincere passion for student success and a commitment to lifelong learning.

Today, we honor our faculty and say thank you for all of your hard work. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with such an incredible team of educators and administrators, and each of you plays an invaluable role in helping us fulfill our mission of educating professionals throughout the world, and mentoring students one-to-one to help them achieve academically and become valuable contributors to their communities and within their professions.

And to all of our students and alumni, if you haven’t already, we encourage you to take this opportunity to thank those faculty members who have made a positive difference in your NCU journey. Perhaps he/she was your dissertation chair and never wavered in his or her support, perhaps he/she encouraged you when you really needed it, or maybe he/she gave you some tough love on your writing with the goal of making you a better writer. Whatever it is, today is the perfect opportunity to #ThankATeacher, and we hope you’ll join us in saying thank you to all of the NCU faculty.

Finally, to those of our students and alumni who are teachers as well, we thank you for your service. As poet William Butler Yeats once wrote, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Thank you for being torchbearers for your students in their pursuit of knowledge.

Get to Know Dean Henline

Meet Dr. Branden Henline, dean of NCU’s School of Marriage and Family Sciences.

How would you describe yourself in 140 characters?
I am an easy-going family man who likes the outdoors and is committed to integrity and excellence in marriage and family therapy training.

What is your favorite weekend activity?
Camping, when possible, and good movies with my wife.

What is your favorite comedy movie of all time?
Brian Regan’s I Walked on the Moon.

What is your favorite place you have ever visited?
Thailand or swimming with the stingrays in the Cayman Islands.

How do you keep a healthy work-life balance?
I exercise in the morning, work diligently during the day, and spend time with my family in the evening. That, and my wife and I are planning a cruise in the near future. It’s important to take vacations from time to time.

What advice would you give to students or those already working in the field of psychology or marriage and family therapy?
Being a good student or therapist requires a commitment to continuous improvement. That means you need to keep learning and be willing to accept and follow feedback when it is given.

What do you think will change about the marriage and family therapy curriculum over the next five years?
We hope to add new specializations in the doctoral program, formalize elective options in the master’s program to fit unique state licensure requirements, and possibly add new degree programs outside of marriage and family therapy.

How would you describe the difference between the practices of marriage and family therapy and psychology?
A marriage and family therapist is a mental health professional that focuses on the whole system. Psychology tends to be focused on individuals and often on severe mental illness. Marriage and family therapists work with individuals with severe mental illness, but the difference is in the worldview that is taken, particularly the focus on systems.

What’s Important in a Recovering Economy?

Dr. Smith, Dean of the School of Business and Technology Management at NCU

Dr. Smith, Dean of the School of Business and Technology Management at NCU

We’ve seen a number of business developments emerge during early 2013: Office Depot and OfficeMax have merged, while American Airlines and US Airways are creating one of the largest airlines in the world. Home prices are up in many parts of the country, and the DOW Jones Industrial Average reached a new record.

Dean Smith of NCU’s School of Business and Technology Management shares his insights on three things that remain important, even in a rebounding economy:

1) Reducing costs – “Making something cheaper has led to our current trends of outsourcing and globalization,” remarks Dean Smith. “We’re no longer competing with local neighborhood businesses here in the U.S. We’re competing with highly successful international operations in India, Vietnam, China and in this global spectrum, there’s a constant drive to increase profit margins for shareholders.”

2) Differentiation – Consumers are willing to pay more for products and services that are perceived as better. “This is where technology can really be a game changer,” he notes. “Innovation can create differentiation in areas like customer service and product development, by reducing labor costs and utilizing emerging technologies to better serve their valued customers.”

3) Educated Business Leaders – The key to successful businesses is still talent. People with the necessary skills, management ability, and vision to leverage the emerging technologies and seize competitive advantage are required. “Business leaders who fail to understand their operating environment will make costly mistakes that can decimate the organization,” shared Dean Smith. “But people who can see the big picture – people who can collaborate and are adaptive to new ideas and technologies – those are the individuals who can lead successful enterprises.”

Why Do We Love Our Favorite Sports Teams?

Thomas Pucci
Face paint? Check. Foam finger? Got it! Vanity license plate cryptically revealing your love for your favorite team? Done!

Have you ever wondered about the psychology of sports – and why we identify so strongly with a particular team? We recently asked NCU faculty member, Dr. Pucci, why many of us are so dedicated to our favorite teams.

Dr. Pucci, who is a full-time faculty member in NCU’s School of Education and teaches courses in our Master’s program with an Athletic Coaching Specialization, believes sports fans love their teams because they are a microcosm for the normal lives that most of us lead. As in a work setting, great teams have bench warmers or “250 hitters,” blue-collar guys who perform their jobs with pride, and then, at the top, we have the all-stars who everyone either loves or hates – and they inspire us.

“I think we’re fans because sports give people a model for living life successfully – they give us hope,” reflects Pucci.

“At the heart of every successful team, just like every high-performance organization, is a great leader who can get people to do what he or she wants, and they are happy doing it,” explains Dr. Pucci. “On a truly successful team, individual goals become secondary to the goals of the organization.”

Dr. Pucci notes that great leaders of companies like Sam Walton at Walmart or Steve Jobs at Apple share very similar qualities to great coaches such as basketball Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) at Duke, Coach Lou Holtz, the football coach whose team at Notre Dame won a national championship in 1988, and the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, John Wooden.

“Wooden’s Pyramid of Success was basically a very simple way for his players to remain excited, successful and positive – and as in companies, once people buy in to the leader’s vision, they believe that this is their calling and great things can happen,” relates Pucci.

Dr. Pucci started his own athletic journey after completing his Ph.D. at the University New Mexico where he served as the head tennis coach. He then went to the University of Arkansas, where he coached the men’s tennis team and taught in the Physical Education Department for 11 years. Recently, he was inducted into the University of Arkansas Athletic Hall of Fame. Pucci has been an athletic administrator for 28 years and has experience at the NAIA, NCAA Division I, and NCAA Division II levels.


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