June 30, 2008; page 8

Former North Versailles resident earns
doctorate and wins national award
James M. Owston, a McKeesport native and former North Versailles Township resident, recently defended his doctoral dissertation and was awarded a doctor of education from Marshall University in Huntington, WV.

He also received the Leo and Margaret Goodman Malamuth Outstanding Dissertation Award for 2008 on June 27 in Salt Lake City.

Owston’s doctoral dissertation, “Survival of the Fittest? The Rebranding of West Virginia Higher Education,” has been recognized this year by the American Association of University Administrators, the sponsors of the national award.

The dissertation explains the factors that led 11 institutions in West Virginia during the past 30 years to restructure and transition from college to a university status.

Dr. James M. Owston
Although the focus was on the educational climate in West Virginia, the work was not limited to that state, analyzing institutional transformation across the country. Numerous pages were devoted to the recent Penn State McKeesport transition to Penn State Greater Allegheny.

The AAUA’s criteria for the award included the importance and relevance of the topic to the broad field of higher education administration; evidence of the development of a theoretical framework which guided the research; the appropriateness of the research method and analysis; the overall quality of writing the potential for publication and/or other disseminations of research results; and the degree to which the results provide useful information for practitioners in the professional field of higher education.

According to Dr. Owston’s dissertation chair, Dr. Barbara L. Nicholson, “Jim brought remarkable energy and enthusiasm to his research, despite the long hours of solitary travel, the tedious process of transcribing lengthy interviews, and the painstaking care with which he sorted through archival data to find the institutional gems that brightened his writing and made his dissertation such a pleasure to read. The latter was crucial, as his dissertation was easily the lengthiest I’ve directed. It was also, however, the most thoroughly researched and well-written, and the first I’ve nominated for an award in my 18 years of chairing doctoral committees.”

Referring to the award, "It is much like a parent’s view of his or her own child. We always view our own children as beautiful – whether they actually are or not. Strangers, however, would not be inclined to heap praise on an ugly child. When you are close to your own work, it’s natural for you and your dissertation committee to feel positively about it – to think it is special because, frankly, it’s your work.”

“It is an entirely different matter when strangers view your research as being excellent. It lends credence to what you have done.” He equated these honors as being the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys of graduate education.

Because of the award, Dr. Owston was also honored during Marshall University’s 171st Commencement Ceremony on May 10, 2008 in Huntington. Owston was one of ten graduates specially recognized by President Stephen J. Kopp during the ceremony and the only one of 21 doctoral graduates from 2007 and 2008 so honored.

In addition to the AAUA award, Dr. Owston has been nominated for three additional outstanding dissertation awards. The finalists for each will be announced later in the year.

Owston is a 1973 graduate of East Allegheny High School and earned bachelor of arts and bachelor of theology degrees from Kentucky Christian University, two bachelor of science degrees from Mountain State University, and a master’s of arts degree from West Virginia University. In addition to the doctorate, he earned a master of arts and education specialist degrees from Marshall University.

Owston is the son of Genevieve B. Akerberg and the late Charles E. Owston, and the stepson of the late Charles A. Akerberg, all of North Versailles Township. He is the brother of Charles E. Owston of the Bryn Mawr Church of Christ in White Oak and Dr. John A. Owston, minister of the Belvue Christian Church in Kingsport, Tenn.

Owston, his wife Pam and daughters Lora and Kristen reside in Beckley, W.Va., where he is employed by Mountain State University as the senior academic officer for instructional technology, and associate professor of communication and media.