Published: July 08, 2008 09:42 pm
MSU professor honored
Owston receives national dissertation award
Jim Owston began thinking about writing his dissertation for his Doctor
of Education degree at Marshall University, his first thought was to
write about the history of Mountain State University, the school at
which he has been teaching at since 1991.
“I’m a historian,” Owston said. “MSU has a great history and has come a long way since its days as Beckley College.”
Owston’s dissertation chair, Dr. Barbara Nicholson, thought it might be better to write about a topic with more national appeal.
convinced me to research and write about the rebranding of higher
education institutions,” he said. “Once I started on it, I found the
topic to be very interesting.”
His doctoral dissertation, titled
“Survival of the Fittest? The Rebranding of West Virginia Higher
Education,” explains the factors that led 11 institutions in West
Virginia during the past 30 years to restructure and transition from
college to university status.
“I guess I was able to write a little about MSU’s history anyway,” Owston said.
Owston credits MSU President Dr. Charles Polk with being a catalyst for his choice of the subject matter.
Polk’s engineering of the transformation of Beckley College eventually
to Mountain State University was remarkable,” he said. “Also, had Dr.
Polk not persuaded me a number of years ago to pursue doctoral studies,
I might have never sought the advanced degree.”
dissertation was a mixed method study with an atypical design. While
the dissertation focuses on West Virginia institutions, Chapter 9 is
primarily dedicated to schools in other states.
discussed in great detail was the rebranding of 13 Georgia institutions
in 1996,” Owston explained. “Georgia’s situation, although somewhat
unique, provides many powerful illustrations of what could go wrong in
the process of transitioning from a college to a university.
Additionally, the separation of the component community colleges from
the four-year institutions greatly influenced the
‘college-to-university’ change in West Virginia and is visited in a
number of contexts throughout the document.”
Owston focused on
several rebrandings in West Virginia, including Morris Harvey College
to the University of Charleston in 1979; Salem College to Salem Teikyo
University in 1989 (rebranded as Salem International University in 2000
and began using Salem University in 2007); Wheeling Jesuit College to
Wheeling Jesuit University in 1996; West Virginia Institute of
Technology to West Virginia University Institute of Technology in 1996;
The College of West Virginia to Mountain State University in 2001;
Concord College to Concord University, Fairmont State College to
Fairmont State University, Shepherd College to Shepherd University and
West Virginia State College to West Virginia State University, all in
2004; Ohio Valley College to Ohio Valley University in 2005; and West
Liberty State College’s plans to transition to West Liberty University.
to Nicholson, Owston’s dissertation was “the most thoroughly researched
and well-written, and the first I’ve nominated for an award in my 18
years of chairing doctoral committees.”
Because of the award,
Owston was also honored during Marshall University’s 171st commencement
in May; he was a December 2007 graduate.
“I was one of 10
graduates specially recognized by President Stephen Kopp during the
ceremony and the only one of 21 doctoral graduates from 2007 and 2008
so honored,” he said. “It was very humbling.”
Owston says his greatest joy in receiving the award came from his 14-year-old daughter, Lora.
“She was so excited for me,” he said. “She was telling everyone about how her dad received this national award.”
Owston said his wife, Pam, and 12-year-old daughter Kristen were also very supportive.
had to put up with me during all the long-hours it took to complete
it,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without the support from my
Dr. Jim Owston, left, a senior academic officer for instructional technology at Mountain State University, was presented with the Leo and Margaret Goldman-Malamuth Outstanding Dissertation Award on June 27 in Salt Lake City by Dr. Jerome Neuener, a member of the American Association of University Administrators, the sponsor of the national award.