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Alumnus Ainsley Rudolfo Recognized with AERA’s Prestigious 2023 Kottkamp Dissertation of the Year Award


“For me, this award is really a testament to the exceptional quality of the doctor of education (Ed.D.) program at Fordham’s Graduate School of Education (GSE),” stated Ainsley Rudolfo, Ed.D., recipient of the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) 2023 Kottkamp Dissertation of the Year Award. “The GSE faculty is in touch with the needs of practitioners; it’s a place where you earn a doctoral degree that truly is applicable to your everyday work in education. The GSE is doing something right.”

A member of the first cohort in GSE’s redesigned doctor of education program, Rudolfo is the 2nd student in the cohort to receive high-level recognition for his dissertation. Rosalyn Barnes, Ed.D., one of his first cohort colleagues, was awarded the national 2021 Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate Dissertation in Practice of the Year Award. Each year, AERA’S Learning and Teaching in Educational Leadership Special Interest Group (LTEL SIG) also selects a recipient for the Kottkamp Dissertation of the Year Award, recognizing a recent doctoral graduate and their dissertation advisor for outstanding research, evaluation, or scholarship that aligns with the LTEL SIG goals, mission, and purpose research. The award presentation will take place April 13, 2023, during the annual AERA meeting in Chicago.

“I submitted Ainsley’s dissertation for the Kottkamp award because his work demonstrates the critical need to be in touch with the needs of practitioners,” said Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy (ELAP) Division chair and professor Margaret Terry Orr, Ph.D., who served as Rudolfo’s dissertation mentor. “He embraces the value of using improvement science, putting it into practice for school leaders, and ultimately making a real difference for students in the classroom. I knew from working with him that Ainsley is bringing significant value to our profession.”

Rudolfo’s dissertation, “Assessing The Effectiveness of Networked Improvement Communities to Advance Improvement Science-Continuous Improvement Through Inquiry-Based Learning” centers on leadership development and supporting educational leaders by teaching them how to use the principles of improvement science and then transfer that knowledge to teachers to solve problems in the classroom. Working with Orr, the project started in person, then switched to online due to the pandemic. Study participants met every other week to go through learning modules and developed strategies and practices, then took them back to their schools to implement changes and test solutions, constantly tweaking the approach and then measuring learning outcomes at the end.

“Dr. Terry Orr is so passionate about improvement science and before she even knew I wanted her as my mentor, I considered her my mentor,” emphasized Rudolfo. “I just wanted to be like her – and I came to Fordham University because the Ed.D. program she leads concentrates on improvement science. It was then that I decided to do an improvement science dissertation.” He adds, “Another reason why I came to Fordham University is that it’s NYC-centric and supports NYC schools. I am so excited about the value of improvement science and its applications to real-world instructional practice; the opportunity to do this work with Professor Orr has been the icing on the cake.”

Rudolfo was initially trained in clinical social work with an emphasis on child welfare and adolescent mental health, and primarily worked with children who were in foster care or children and adolescents diagnosed with a mental health disorder. After 9/11, as an employee of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, he was responsible for providing targeted support to administrators and students in New York City public schools who were impacted by the events of 9/11, particularly those dealing with the grief and trauma associated with losing a parent or loved one to the terror attacks. Rudolfo acknowledged that many past colleagues and supervisors played a role in his journey to Fordham GSE and eventual enrollment in its doctoral program.  He specifically cited his first mentor, Alma Carten, Ph.D., professor of social welfare policy (retired) and child welfare expert at his alma mater, the Silver School of Social Work at New York University, as the first person to seriously encourage him to pursue a doctorate. That mentorship was followed by strong encouragement from Dorita Gibson, Ed.D., the first deputy chancellor (retired) and his past supervisor at the NYC Department of Education, who was also instrumental in his decision to enter Fordham University.

It was appealing to combine his clinical social work training with education, Rudolfo said. As he put it, “Another reason I loved coming to Fordham was that I was encouraged to draw upon my previous social work experience; Professor Orr recognized and valued that I had a unique perspective as an educational leader because I am good at getting people to trust me and the process.” Rudolfo was joined in his Ed.D. program cohort by other students from a broad range of educational disciplines, including teachers, principals, charter-school administrators, and district-level administrators, including the former chancellor of NYC public schools, Meisha Porter, Ed.D.

Now that the Ed.D. program and his time learning at Fordham’s GSE has helped Rudolfo hone his leadership skills and become more comfortable overall as a leader, he is eager to continue finding solutions to real-world problems of practice. He wants to dig even deeper into improvement science and share it with more of his colleagues and educators, a process that “starts with one class, one grade, one school, one district.”

Rudolfo concluded, “This award was a total surprise and is very gratifying. I am humbled to be recognized.” Receiving the award is especially meaningful because at one point during the program, Rudolfo doubted he would finish it. Emphasizing the support he received at that point, he shared that “the faculty and members of his dissertation committee, particularly Professors Orr and Huang really held me up and held my hand. I felt a palpable connection with Professor Orr, my other professors, and my cohort colleagues. I just knew the professors at Fordham cared about me and my success, they cared about all of us and wanted us to succeed and finish our dissertations.”

More About the Robert Kottkamp Outstanding Dissertation Award 

The Robert Kottkamp Outstanding Dissertation Award recognizes a recent doctoral graduate as well as her or his dissertation advisor for research, evaluation, or scholarship that aligns with the LTEL SIG goals, mission, and purpose research. The dissertation, successfully defended during the previous calendar year, may investigate educational leadership preparation and development programs, assess the impact of preparation on leadership practice, examine policy issues related to state or national leadership standards assessment and credentialing, or contribute through disciplined inquiry to the knowledge base about learning and teaching in educational leadership. The dissertation award also recognizes the contributions by former SIG Chair Robert Kottkamp (emeritus professor at Hofstra University) and co-founder of the UCEA/LTEL SIG Taskforce on Evaluating Leadership Preparation Programs.


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