Gateway PhD Program Congratulates 11th Graduate


The San José Gateway PhD program celebrates the achievement of its 11th graduate since the program’s inception in 2008.

Dr. Shelly Buchanan researched the middle school student experience of student-driven inquiry, which she described as an inquiry-based learning approach where the student determines the research topic and question, designs and executes the research, writes a paper and creates a relevant artifact demonstrating new knowledge and understanding, and presents the work to the larger school community. 

“In a nutshell, I learned through individual student interviews that all students valued the student-driven inquiry educational experience and were highly motivated to engage in the work,” Buchanan said. “They reported deep learning through challenging and sometimes stressful research, writing and creating processes that mattered to them, stating that such work prepared them for more advanced personal and academic learning.”

In Buchanan’s four years of research studies in the Gateway PhD program, she not only delved more deeply into her dissertation topic, she also learned about other areas of research conducted by her faculty supervisors and classmates through exchanging works for peer review. She said the collaborations broadened their learning experiences such that some are planning collaborative publishing projects.

Although “challenging,” Buchanan said being a student in the Gateway PhD program was a “rewarding learning experience,” and she “really loved every minute of it.” She explained, “The support I had from my three advisers and fellow students made all the difference.”

Dr. Mary Ann Harlan, who was one of her faculty supervisors, said Buchanan introduces a different approach to teaching that allows youth more control over what they’re learning and how they demonstrate that learning.

“What I think is particularly important is that the students describe their experience in this particular assignment. We don’t always have a student perspective of their experience – even when we ask them to assess a course or themselves, it is focused on outcome rather than the affective experience,” Harlan said.

According to Harlan, Buchanan’s research deepens the knowledge of student learning. “There are specific findings Shelly can share with the field to improve the approach to inquiry, but what I appreciate the most is the student voice, which revealed some interesting things.”

Buchanan said she felt “hugely supported” as she learned how to conduct research and honed her academic writing skills, saying the Gateway PhD program was a one-of-a-kind experience.

“In some ways, I’m sorry to have finished the program. It was an exciting experience with a dynamic group of researchers,” but she noted, “I’m beyond thrilled to be finally finished.”

Buchanan is a lecturer at the San José State University School of Information and teaches courses offered in the Teacher Librarian Services Credential program and Master of Library and Information Science program. She looks forward to expanding her teaching areas and developing her teaching and research practices with her fellow professors.

The San José Gateway PhD program was formed in a partnership between the SJSU School of Information and Queensland University of Technology.