Spotlight: Dr. Vicki Rusbult, UNE Online Alumna

Dr. Vicki Rusbult

Dr. Vicki Rusbult, UNE Online Alumna

UNE Online Alumna Dr. Vicki Rusbult fulfilled a lifelong dream last May and graduated from the College of Graduate and Professional Studies with her Ed.D.

And it turns out that her dissertation wasn’t only interesting to her faculty advisor… The ‘National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Rural Transportation National Newsletter’ recently published a link to her full dissertation in their national newsletter.

We’re so thrilled for Dr. Rusbult and her impressive national exposure!

We spoke with Dr. Rusbult to talk about her professional career, and how her Ed.D. from UNE Online is opening doors and helping further her work. Here’s a little more about how she is putting her Ed.D. to good use:

What was your experience like, getting your Ed.D. online?

Not being in a classroom was initially a concern of mine, but the thing is, with technology now you’re able to have valuable interactions. You still have group work, but instead of in-person, you communicate on the telephone or online via online meetings and video chats. A lot of people don’t realize you can accomplish so much, and be truly effective, 100% online. When you go and sit in a classroom you can potentially sit in the back and not say anything, letting the rest of the class carry the discussion. Online, there’s no hiding. You definitely don’t lose any interaction – in fact, there just may be more interaction online! Everyone is required to participate in each of the discussions. You hear everyone’s questions and the responses too, so you don’t lose that interaction. It’s just different.

I thought the field of Education would be more heavily represented among my Ed.D. classmates, but that wasn’t the case at all. While there were a significant amount of educators as I expected, we also had many professionals from a variety of industries, representing a large spectrum of professional backgrounds.

I got my doctorate as a mature adult, but I really didn’t find age to be a factor at all. I viewed the journey as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Can you tell us about your dissertation?

The title of my dissertation is Assessing Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) In Rural Maine As An Approach To Increase Transportation Options. The rural nature of Northern Maine presents significant challenges to residents who aren’t able to drive. My study included a series of interviews with low-income individuals, unemployed people, the elderly, handicapped people, and students. After analyzing the results of my research, I was able to provide insight into which factors are contributing to the transportation gap, and I was able to suggest possible solutions.

Why did you focus on transportation?

Access to transportation is a critical issue in rural areas but isn’t an issue that most people regularly think about. What if you can’t drive, and mass transit is not available, how do you get to your next doctor’s appointment? How do you get to the grocery store for fresh vegetables? If you can’t drive, how do you get to work? People who miss too many doctor’s appointments run the risk of being dismissed by their healthcare provider, which is potentially disastrous for people with chronic illnesses. People who lack access to fresh food are not as healthy as they could be. It’s all interrelated.

Raising awareness among non-drivers

In my research, I found a near-total lack of awareness that there were any options at all for transportation in rural areas. In many communities, there are already churches and localized transport companies that offer rides and non-profit organizations that help with transportation challenges, but there is a clear need for more awareness among the general population. Even among my own study participants, some people were couch surfing in order to get to appointments, and several had even moved into urban hubs where it’s more densely populated in order to be closer to services, jobs, shopping and cultural events.

What’s on the horizon, professionally?

On a national level, I’ve been asked to speak and present the findings of my dissertation at the upcoming National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) National Regional Transportation Conference, which is quite an honor.

On a state level, I’m participating in statewide public transportation planning groups and sharing the outcomes of my dissertation with other areas of the state as well as the Maine Department of Transportation. To be able to contribute on that level has been extremely rewarding.

One of the projects I’m working on identifies barriers to transportation in rural Maine and works to offer some alternatives. The website we have developed to help address the issue is gettingtheremaine.com, which features a ride share board and integrated employer portal that matches people that work at the same company to share rides to and from work.

My newest project concerns a new partnership that I helped create, which is working to expand Broadband Internet capacity to rural communities. The potential is great, and the timing of the partnership is even better. I’ve certainly been able to use my training with change, broad partner/organization investment, and other “leadership” best practice models that I learned at UNE, for this project!

How does Broadband Internet tie in with transportation?

Amazingly, dial-up Internet service still exists in parts of rural Maine. The expansion of tech connectivity and the introduction of Broadband Internet to these areas would eliminate some need to drive. With access to Broadband people can do their banking online, check out digital eBooks from the library, shop online, get their license renewed, grocery shop and arrange delivery, Skype with their grandkids or friends, or even go to school and get their degree online – all without needing transportation.

Telemedicine is another area that has big potential with the introduction of Broadband. For patients with chronic disease or postoperative patients who need to have their vitals taken daily, telemedicine can play a valuable role. Rather than having to drive to the doctor, more and more hospitals are providing care management via the Internet. Patients still interact with their health care providers, but their transportation needs are lessened by fewer in-person visits.

Moving the needle

Lack of access to transportation is an issue with far-reaching consequences. On an individual level, people tend to think that it’s only happening to them, but having been to been national meetings on the subject, I know that it’s happening on a national level. For my part, I’m happy that through my research and consequent work in this field, I’m making a positive difference to the health and welfare of some of the most vulnerable people in Maine.

 


Thank you, Dr. Rusbult, for speaking with us – and thank you for all of your hard work in improving our transportation resources in Maine!

 

If you were to be interested in the Ed.D. program at UNE Online, or if you would like more information, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (800) 994-2804 or via email at education@une.edu or fill out an online application now at go.une.edu/apply. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

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