Educational leadership student analyzes new Dominican Republic education model

Contact: Chris Hybels

Dr. Sally Joslyn Peña Martinez

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—As part of Western Michigan University's educational leadership doctoral program in the Dominican Republic (DR), Sally Joslyn Peña Martinez was motivated to examine the education system in her home country for her dissertation. Through multiple interviews and qualitative analysis, she decided to explore the impact of the DR's Instituto Técnico Superior Comunitario (ITSC).  

"In 2013, the Dominican government established the Instituto Técnico Superior Comunitario, the first academic institution founded with the aim of implementing an American community college model. Yet given the novelty of this community college model in the DR, no data has been collected on how graduates’ lives changed as a result of completing an associate degree at the first Dominican community college."

For the study, Peña Martinez used an interpretive qualitative approach to explain the experiences graduates had and how they've influenced their perspectives. After conducting an interpretive phenomenolgy analysis, exploring how the graduates are making sense of their personal and social world, she found that the community college as a higher education model can foster profound transformation in students' lives in vulnerable societal conditions.

"The important discovery is that the students feel and affirm that their transformation was not only academic learning," says Peña Martinez. "They described a transformation that allowed them to critically assess their epistemic and sociocultural assumptions, changing their frame of reference forever."

According to Peña Martinez, the research contributes to the conversation about community colleges in the broader context. She found ITSC graduates demonstrated that achieving an associate degree could develop new perspectives by challenging them to move out of their comfort zone, change their assumptions and the way they see themselves. And this all leads to drive them to find new endeavors that positively transform their lives and their communities.

Additionally, Peña Martinez says the study served a dual purpose. It provides actionable insights for educational leaders, advocating for the intentional design and implementation of transformative learning experiences in higher education. Also, the study reaffirms the community college's societal impact, aligning with the democratic mission of these institutions on a global scale.

"As ITSC community college celebrates its tenth year, this study stands as a testament to the transformative potential inherent in the community college model, inviting all policymakers to reflect on the broader societal implications of these educational institutions.," explains Peña Martinez. 

Peña Martinez successfully defended her dissertation and graduated from the educational leadership program in December 2023


Due to the increasingly complex tasks including research and data analysis within all types of educational institutions, there is a demand for strong, transformational leaders. Applying theory to practice is an overall theme for the Doctor of Philosophy in educational leadership, with the case-study approach to learning used extensively. In addition, a very integrated "professional inquiry, research, and dissertation core" has been developed to assist you in adding to your higher education knowledge base. Visit the program overview page to learn more.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.