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Doctor of Education, Community College Leadership Grad Credits Mother for Success

Dones holding a picture of his mother and father.

Abraham Dones is grateful for his traditional Puerto Rican cultural upbringing. He is proud of his identity and thankful for his mother’s example as a determined student who was the first in her family to pursue higher education degrees — even though his grandfather forbade her from seeking a career or attending college right after her high school graduation. Traditionally, In his grandfather’s mind, she was the eldest daughter and was expected to take care of the family and the household.

Dones chose to enroll in NC State’s Online program knowing it would be difficult to juggle his responsibilities as a husband and father, as well as his full-time workload at Durham Technical Community College. He is committed to living out the legacy of his mother, who began her educational journey at the Community College of Philadelphia while working full-time in addition to being a wife and mother to three teenagers.

“She worked her way through school and completed not only an associate degree, but bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” Dones said. “My mother worked in the K-12 sector. She began her educational career as a teacher’s assistant, then a bilingual elementary school teacher and eventually became a school counselor. I witnessed her resilience, commitment to her family, community and education as she worked diligently to reach her higher education goals and advance professionally. I learned from her that my education was an earned accomplishment no one could ever take from me. And, like my mother, obtaining my degrees would provide the opportunity to advance in my career and professional endeavors. My decision to pursue my doctorate was in honor of my mother’s spirit and the legacy she established for the entire family — I now wanted to become the first in my entire family to accomplish this goal of earning the doctorate.”

Experience with Summer 2019 Cohort and Belonging

Dones decided to enroll in the Summer 2019 Raleigh Cohort based on the type of program features offered through the Belk Center for Community College Leadership. In particular, the fact that the doctoral degree distance program is designed for practitioners and working professionals made his decision easier. In addition, executive mentors who currently serve as presidents and leaders in the North Carolina Community College System are paired with students to guide them with real-world experiences.

“The community college is where I know I belong,” Dones said. “Additionally, I wanted to be in a position where I can serve as an example for others who may not come from such affluent backgrounds with exposure to higher education — in particular for our Black and Brown students. Lack of educational equity really exists in our educational systems. Showing that regardless of where they are in their journeys, through perseverance, dedication, and understanding their cultural wealth — they are equipped with what they need to be successful in college and beyond and it is where they belong.”

Dones discovered you are never too old or accomplished to be affected by seeing yourself culturally represented by a role model. He strives to be a positive representative of Latinx leaders in North Carolina because he wishes to be a part of the solution for equitable educational attainment. Even at his level of experience, he found himself deeply moved by a speaker in the program.

“The one moment that will forever live in my mind was when a guest lecturer, Dr. David Gómez, who is the President Emeritus from Hostos Community College, presented in one of my courses,” Dones said. “Professor of Practice Dr. Ken Ender at NC State (also President Emeritus of Harper College) invited Dr. Gomez to speak to us. It was such an emotional experience for me that at times I was left speechless when engaging in the lecture. You see, it was the first time since elementary school that I saw a person who racially/ethnically identifies with me as a Puerto Rican speaking in front of a classroom. He spoke my native language, understood my culture and valued many of the same things that I do. That was a powerful moment that I will cherish throughout my lifetime. I challenge anyone who thinks that racial/ethnic and gender representation in the educational setting does not have impact or matters.” 

Dones’ cohort associates and classmates continue to be some of his greatest supporters and advocates. They became like family to him as they challenged his thinking and encouraged his potential as a leader in the community college professional arena.

“We shared our lived experiences as people of color in the classroom to the point it even impacted our professors and classmates in pressing yet positive ways,” Dones said. “This fostered engagement and learning for all my classmates in an attempt for them to understand and become informed of our experiences from the lens of people of color.”

He also had an even smaller group of cohort members who vowed to get through the program together.

“A few of us grew so attached to each other and we decided we were going to get through this journey together and not leave any of our ‘Culture Club’ members behind,” Dones said. “There were four of us in this particular group who dedicated ourselves in support to one another.  Even when three of them completed their degrees a year ahead of me, they still checked in and held me up and accountable for completing my doctorate.”

Mentors and Advice

Dones chose NC State because of the “great national reputation of the programs and its connectedness to national organizations and leaders of the community college sector.” Although he found the program extremely challenging when faced with life’s circumstances, he has already benefited from his knowledge and experiences gained while working his way through.

“I know that pursuing the degree has afforded me the opportunity to compete for the position I currently possess,” Dones said. “The learning and research were helpful in leveraging my practitioner perspective with theoretical frameworks and research. I see this work very differently now as I continue to seek methods to be innovative and transformative in my leadership. I use creativity to find solutions based on data, and to enhance our work and the communities which we serve.”

He is grateful for the unwavering support of his wife and children and considers his dissertation, Ed.D. degree, and now title of Dr., to be a family accomplishment and referred to as the ‘Dones Dissertation’. In addition, there were many NC State professors and faculty who helped him during his educational journey.

“Dr. Carrol Warren is so patient and committed to her students. She served as a co-chair for my dissertation and was available to provide guidance, support and feedback. She really provided me with such a warm and comfortable experience that I know we will have a friendship that will last a lifetime.” Dones said. 

“Dr. Audrey Jaeger put the fire under me and challenged me to understand how significant this educational milestone was and what awaited after I completed this degree. Finally, Dr. Ken Ender granted us the space to challenge each other. He was authentic and we all were transformed by being students in the classroom. He used his platform as a faculty member to give voice to those of us whose experiences might not have been as fortunate as others in our cohort. Not only did he embrace the conversation but he reflected on it himself and showed his humanity and furthered his own professional growth and development.”

Dones “wholeheartedly” recommends this program to other working professionals because of the flexibility, professional contacts and the unwavering support of the faculty members.

“The program allowed access to a network of professionals that contribute to my professional growth and development. I also engage with them to exchange information and ideas as peers. This experience helped me to remove the stigma of imposter syndrome and allowed me to build upon my confidence and what I contribute to the profession.”

This program also affected him on a deeper, cultural level. He feels stronger and prouder in his identity.

“I have appreciated the opportunity to bring my authentic self to this experience. Although there are instances where I continue to be the only one in the room with a specific identity, I have become even more confident in my ability to be a proud representative of the Latino community — more specifically being a Puerto Rican-educated male.”

Dones plans to attend both the college and university commencement ceremonies. 

“I do have plans to celebrate my accomplishment, my family members are traveling from different parts of the U.S. because they all understand what this means for us — to continue the legacy of my mother.”

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