York PhD graduate in education wins an award for her dissertation

She’s an artist, writer, teacher and a recent York University PhD graduate in education. Now Kathleen Vaughan can add co-winner of the 2007 Doctoral Dissertation Award, handed out by the University of Toronto chapter of the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK), to her list of achievements.

Her thesis "Finding Home: Knowledge, Collage and the Local Environments", was York’s first multi-modal doctoral dissertation, including not only a written component, but a visual one as well.

The PDK is an association of educators, citizens and politicians that began in the US in 1906 to promote quality education, particularly publicly-supported education from pre-school to the doctoral level as essential to the development and maintenance of a democratic way of life. The University of Toronto chapter, established in 1955, was the first international chapter of PDK. Its Doctoral Dissertation Award is open to all PhD recipients in Ontario.

Right: Kathleen Vaughan. Photo by Dianna Last, copyright 2001

"I’m absolutely thrilled to have been honoured by the Toronto Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, such a well-established and well-respected institution," Vaughan said.

Her thesis is an exploration of finding home wherever you are in the world. It is based in part on Vaughan’s own experience of making her own Toronto neighbourhood home. She did that through daily walks with her dog, meeting people, taking in the environment around her and then expressing that through her writing and her visual art.

"I knew that as I came to re-experience the neighbourhood on my daily walks with my dog and found out more about the stories of the people and this place, I felt more and more at home. And so I wanted to investigate this process, explore how it is that someone comes to be ‘em-placed’ and feel at home," she said.

"Dr. Kathleen Vaughan’s dissertation was judged an outstanding example of qualitative research, using an innovative cross-disciplinary approach, and having a strong foundation in scholarly research," said University of Toronto PDK Chapter Foundation Chair Susan Seidman.

Vaughan’s goal was to develop critical place-based arts education projects for children and youth in schools and community settings, and that’s what she’s doing. In January, with funding from the Ontario Arts Council’s Artist in Education program, she’ll be implementing a project with 100 students at Oakwood Collegiate Institute to explore the notions of home through mixed media, texts and digital media.

"This project aims to enhance the students’ feelings of being at home in the world and allow them to share those visions with each other, helping to build community within the student body," Vaughan said.

The students’ work will then be exhibited locally at SideSpace Gallery.

Vaughan believes her dissertation is particularly relevant today with so many people in the world being displaced by choice, as a result of economic need, violence, war or natural disaster.

"Half of Torontonians were born outside Canada as were one-third of the children enrolled in Toronto District School Board schools. They carry within themselves multiple senses of home, allegiances to other places that inhibit their capacity to grow and thrive here," she said. "My hope is that by knitting these various visions together in multi-modal representations the children and adults with whom I work can, without letting go of the love for other places, come to feel more at home here, can feel more connected to this reality and so develop a greater sense of agency in the world."

She also hopes her dissertation will inspire people to look more closely at their own worlds with a renewed sense of wonder and delight.

Right: Charcoal drawing by Kathleen Vaughan from her dissertation

As part of her Doctoral Dissertation Award, Vaughan will receive a free membership in the PDK and her dissertation will go on to compete at the international level. International winners will receive $5000 US and publication in PDK’s The Kappan magazine, an educational journal.

There are about 50,000 PDK members in 600 chapters around the world.

For more information about the Toronto chapter of PDK, visit the Web site at: www.pdk-ut.org or for PDK international visit: www.pdkintl.org. To see Vaughan’s dissertation and other works of art, visit her Web site at: www.akaredhanded.com.

By Sandra McLean, York communications officer.