School of Education News

Bowman’s drive to Ph.D. fueled by desire to improve education for indigenous students

May 08, 2015

Nicole Bowman started her journey toward earning a Ph.D. 14 years ago.

There were times when Bowman’s schoolwork and research at UW-Madison took a back seat to family responsibilities and work associated with running a small evaluation and education consulting business out of Shawano, Wisconsin. And during those stretches when she was able to direct more energy and time into her studies with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, the fact that she lives about six hours from campus, round trip, made for some very long days, months and years.

Yet Bowman, who is a community member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, insists she never considered giving up on her pursuit of a doctorate. Her passion for education and determination to make public education more responsive to the needs of Native American students outweighed the challenges.

Nicole Bowman
Nicole Bowman is receiving her Ph.D. from the
School of Education's Department of Educational
Leadership and Policy Analysis. 
“What I was trying to accomplish is much bigger than just me,” says Bowman. “This was about finding a way to better give Indigenous stakeholders a voice in public education policy debates, because most of our Tribal students, like me, attended public schools.”

Bowman will take part in the School of Education’s Ph.D. Hooding Ceremony and Reception on Friday, May 15, before heading to the Kohl Center for the university’s official commencement program. According to university registrar records, Bowman will be only the fourth person who self identifies as Native American to earn a Ph.D. from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis over the past decade.

Bowman explains that having a Ph.D. won’t change who she is or the work that she does as an applied social justice researcher. “But I do think it will make a lot of people more comfortable when they work with me because in the context of academic studies, a Ph.D. matters,” she adds. “Receiving my Ph.D. from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis will allow me to be able to jump into the big pond of educational policy debate -- and be taken seriously.”

Bowman is the president and founder of Bowman Performance Consulting (BPC), which is a professional consulting, scientific research and evaluation company. It provides education-related services to clients in the public, private, non-profit and tribal sectors.  Bowman’s academic work is through the American Evaluation Association, where she serves as international co-chair of the Indigenous Peoples group. She also provides conference workshops, webinars and advisory group work to the elected and employed leadership of AEA.  In addition, Bowman has also done academic and policy presentation work through the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Education Association, IMPAQ International, and the American Institutes for Research, to name a few.

Her company focuses its efforts on serving the needs of all people in a culturally responsive and academically rigorous way.  Some of the services BPC provides include policy, research and evaluation studies in education, economic development, health, justice and human service areas.  Most studies include evaluation and/or a multi-jurisdictional study where Tribal and public governments are collaborating for wide-scale initiatives.  Bowman’s company helps develop policies and evaluates initiatives so Tribal and non-Tribal governments and agencies can collaborate more effectively to yield stronger positive impacts through programming and policies. 

Bowman is a strong believer that education can be used as a social justice tool for empowerment, transformation of systems and building capacities for better outcomes in the future for Indigenous communities. However, she says that academia and most mainstream academic institutions lack an indigenous voice and perspective on educational topics in the classroom, within the academic literature, or through practical experience. She notes that this has led to gaps in services, poor resource allocation, inappropriate programming and a chronic systemic failure of the public educational system to meet the needs of American Indian learners. This includes higher education, where outcomes are poor.

So Bowman, under the guidance of Faculty Associate Bruce King, focused her dissertation research for the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis on, “Indigenous Educational Policy Development with Tribal Governments.”  It is a one-of-a kind study and will change the way Tribal and public education agencies do business with each other and the way educational policy is studied, according to several of Bowman’s dissertation committee members. 

Bowman’s case study produced three major findings:

• Tribal education policy development is a contextualized and multiple step process of the Stockbridge-Munsee tribal government.

• Multiple factors and contexts influence tribal educational policy development.

• Tribal and public education policy activities vary across educational agencies and affect the policy environment and inter-agency relations and perceptions.

“My study is first ever that uses a multi-jurisdictional or tri-lateral model to study how tribal education policy and tribal governments intersects with public education policy and governments (school districts),” says Bowman. “I received a call from the White House and several other state education agencies recently because people there are interested in learning more about my work as part of the many programs coming out in 2015 under the President’s American Indian and Alaska Native Initiative.”

Bowman adds that it is “exciting just to be able to contribute more to the discussion and I stand ready to help in whatever way I can because it is about a collective and shared vision to improve education for our Indigenous students.”

Nicole Bowman in front of UW-Madison's Education Building

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