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Graduation Review Boards and Assessment of Student Progress

The Central Role of WISR Faculty Advisors

Throughout most of the student’s program, decisions about the direction and quality of his or her work are made by the student’s primary faculty adviser(s), in consultation with the student and with other instructors, community resource people, and/or field supervisors, as the advisers and the student think useful.

Mid-Program Reviews and Oral Exams

In the middle of each of Bachelor’s and Master’s student’s studies at WISR, they are given an oral exam by two WISR graduate faculty members–to assess the student’s learning in their studies thus far, and to identify areas of strength to build on and areas of weakness or challenges to be addressed in their future studies. It is unlikely, but possible, that the exam committee will require that the student engage in some further study before pursuing studies in the last half of their program. More likely, the exam will provide the student with feedback that will help them to make good progress and to get the most out of their remaining studies.  The exam will also alert faculty as to those areas in which the student may need extra assistance and guidance, as well as areas of strength that can aid the student’s subsequent studies. In the doctoral program, there is an especially rigorous oral, comprehensive exam given by three WISR faculty, and a subsequent exam and discussion of the student’s dissertation proposal.  For MFT students, there is an earlier, added oral exam to determine if the student is ready to embark on their practicum.

Faculty review of student progress

An Executive Committee of at least three WISR faculty, will review each student’s progress semi-annually, in consultation with the faculty with whom the student has been most closely working.  The purpose of these reviews is to help students make timely progress toward their degree and their personal and professional career goals.  In conducting these reviews, faculty will be mindful that during the first year or so of study, students at WISR do not typically complete courses at the same rate as they do after that.   When faculty have concerns about a student’s progress, they will negotiate with that student a progress plan for the next six months.  The purpose of the plan will be to enable the student to make better progress, and to assess whether or not it is realistic for the student to succeed in completing the program in a timely fashion.  If, after the end of the six-month progress plan, WISR faculty do not believe that it is realistic that the student can complete the program within a reasonable time frame (specifically, 6 to a maximum of 9 years for the doctoral program and for the MFT/LPCC programs, 4 to a maximum of 6 years for the other MS programs, and depending on previous undergraduate work completed, 3 to 5 years or less for the BS  completion program, 6 to 9 years or less for the previous, now discontinued, entire BS program), then the faculty committee reviewing student progress will recommend that the student be disenrolled.  (Note:  students enrolled prior to July 2014 will have a longer period of time to complete their studies, but they will still be subject to disenrollment if they do not show continual progress. Furthermore, doctoral students enrolling after March 1, 2018 must complete their studies within 10 years, including any time off for leaves of absence.) The student may appeal any decision to WISR’s Board of Trustees. If the student is disenrolled, they will be given an opportunity, after a period of at least six months, to re-apply for admission, if they can make the case that their circumstances and/or ability to complete the program have improved.  If re-admitted, they will be given one six-month period to demonstrate good progress, and they must continue to demonstrate good progress in each subsequent six-month period.

BS and MS Program Graduation Review Boards

The recommendation of a BS or MS student’s readiness to begin the culminating senior project or Master’s thesis is made by the primary faculty adviser, usually only after at least three-fourths of the other requirements have been completed. At that time, the student writes a thesis proposal, which outlines (1) the major issues and questions to be addressed, (2) the significance of those issues to the student and to others, and (3) the sources of information, the methods of inquiry, and (if appropriate) the modes of action to be used.

The student then constitutes, with her or his major faculty adviser’s help, a Graduation Review Board composed of at least two WISR faculty members, two WISR students, and in the case of Master’s students, one or more outside experts in the student’s field. The Review Board members comment on, critique, and approve the student’s proposal. The proposal then serves as a general guide for the student’s thesis inquiry. However, it is subject to change, and the student is expected to discuss his or her thesis progress with each Review Board member throughout the work on the thesis. Review Board members comment on and critique at least one rough draft, but usually two drafts. The student’s major faculty adviser helps to facilitate and mediate disagreements if Review Board members make inconsistent suggestions for change.

Faculty serving on a Graduation Review Board shall have been active in their field of scholarship or profession during the five year period preceding their participation on the Review Board.

Once the faculty adviser and the student are confident that all Review Board members are ready to approve the thesis, a final Graduation Board meeting is held. At that time, the student discusses and answers questions about the thesis and his or her learning in working on it, and throughout the entire degree program. The student is questioned about his or her future plans, and how the experience at WISR will contribute to the student’s future work. The Review Board may also examine the student’s academic accomplishments throughout the program, and discuss them with the student. Finally, each graduating student is required to submit a written self-evaluation, which includes a critical reflection on what she or he has learned in the program, and a discussion of insights gained, challenges and obstacles encountered, and WISR’s strengths and weaknesses in contributing to the student’s learning.

Evaluation of Student Progress in the MFT/LPCC MS Program

In the MS program leading to the Marriage and Family Therapy License (and the LPCC license), there are the following additional steps in evaluating the student’s progress toward the degree.  Evaluation sessions are given to MFT students at three stages: (1) after six months or the completion of three areas of study and three major papers, to assess the student’s readiness for entering the practicum; (2) approximately at the midpoint of the student’s Master’s program; and (3) when the student has completed all requirements except the thesis. Each session is conducted by two core faculty members, at least one of whom holds the MFT License, and with a student peer. The student’s work in the practicum is evaluated as well. Evaluations are intended to offer constructive suggestions, to help students strengthen weak areas, and to support growth where the student shows strength.

Evaluation of Student Progress and Graduation Review Boards in the Doctoral Program

For Doctoral students, there are two formal evaluation steps prior to the Final Graduation Review Board meeting, when the dissertation is reviewed, approved, and authenticated by the Review Board. First, three WISR faculty members review the doctoral student’s completed projects, after most of the pre-dissertation requirements have been met, to determine if she or he is prepared to undertake the rigorous study required for a doctoral dissertation. The student also engages in a thoroughgoing review, critical reflection, and written analysis of what they have learned thus far—on how the WISR learning process has helped them to learn in areas of the doctoral program degree objectives and WISR’s meta-competencies. They discuss their reflections and written analyses with three WISR faculty members—assessing their breadth and depth of knowledge in the area(s) of primary interest, as well as the skills of action-oriented inquiry and knowledge-building, in preparation for undertaking the dissertation. Second, two current or former students, and quite importantly, an outside expert, join with the three WISR faculty to constitute the Doctoral student’s Graduation Review Board. Each Doctoral student’s Graduation Review Board evaluates the student’s dissertation proposal to determine if the topic design and procedures meet the Institute’s academic standards for quality action-inquiry and promise in contributing to others and to the student’s future life plans. 

Doctoral students must include three WISR faculty members, all of whom must have earned accredited doctoral degrees, on their Graduation Review Board; however, one of the faculty may hold a WISR doctoral degree.  Doctoral students include two current or former students on their Review Board, and have the option of adding additional experts in their field, if they so choose.

As with the process noted for BS and MS students, the Doctoral student’s Graduation Review Board provides feedback and support throughout the process–from the thesis proposal stage through the two or three drafts of the dissertation to the final approval of the dissertation.  The final Graduation Review Board meeting is scheduled once all members are ready to approve the dissertation, and the meeting is used:

  • to provide a celebration of the Doctoral student’s accomplishments,
  • to substantively discuss the dissertation, including its methods and findings,
  • to provide the student with a sense of closure, as well as an opportunity
  • to look to the future and to examine the ways in which the dissertation experience and outcomes can be used to support the student’s future endeavors.

Doctoral students submit a self-evaluation of their experiences throughout the program, including an examination of their future plans and a critical examination of WISR’s strengths and limitations in contributing to their learning.


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