An Interdisciplinary Approach to Cultural Relevance in the Curriculum

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Ashford University is working to create the content and the environment most engaging and conducive to success for all its students, including historically underserved racial and ethnic groups that form a large proportion of its student body. We report on a collaboration among faculty, library personnel, and instructional designers, intended to develop an academic program that not only aligns with academic and professional standards, but is also culturally relevant and exhibits principles of diversity.


Dr. Tanasescu is the Executive Dean of the College of Health, Human Services and Science at Ashford University. Dr. Tanasescu has 20 years of service in education and health, including prior work at the National Institute of Public Health in Romania, and as Dean of the College of Health Sciences and the College of Education at Trident University International. She carried out research at Harvard University and the University of Connecticut, is an education research and accreditation reviewer, and is the author of multiple peer-reviewed articles. She received her Doctor of Science from the Harvard School of Public Health, her MS from the University of Connecticut, and her MD from the Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Romania.
PAMELA HARDY-Shepard, PhD, MBA, MPH /MPH Program Chair Dr. Pamela Hardy-Shepard is an Assistant Professor with Ashford University, where she is the Program Chair for Master of Public Health Program. She is a Life Coach and holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Human Services, Management of Nonprofits specialization from Capella University. She also earned her Master of Public Health with an emphasis in Maternal and Child Health from San Diego State University and a Master of Business Administration with a Specialization in Marketing from National University. She completed her undergraduate work at San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences in Psychology. For the last 30 years, Dr. Hardy-Shepard, has worked in numerous health and human services capacities and has a strong background in public health, nonprofits, and business. Prior of coming to Ashford, she served as a Distinguished Faculty member for another institution of higher learning for 11-years. She served as the Director of the California Black Infant Health program for the county of San Diego; where she implement and direct all aspects of a community-based program that supports, facilitates, and promotes African American women of child-bearing ages to receive early and continuous prenatal health care so that they may have healthy birth outcomes. Additionally, she served our military families as a Navy Ombudsman and a Navy Alcohol facilitator in Dunoon, Scotland. In her position as Program Chair, she has sharpened her skills in curriculum, program review, faculty engagement, and assessment. As a faculty member Dr. Hardy-Shepard, believes that W.B. Yeats depicted the excitement of teaching when he wrote: 'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.' Dr. Hardy-Shepard’s goal as an educator is help illuminate the student’s path; while fostering the passion to create an institutional teaching and learning environment that cultivates a collegial relationship between faculty and learner.
Michael Kolodziej is the CEO and Founder of Adapt2U, an adaptive learning consultancy and ed technology firm that helps institutions more effectively leverage technology in support of learning and student success. Michael holds a Doctorate of Education in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University, and has focused his research on the integration of Computational Thinking and 21st century skills into formal learning experiences.
Jodie Hemerda, Ph.D. is the Director of Instructional Design & Academic Quality at Zovio where she oversees the instructional design team. With more than 20 years of experience in both the academic and corporate world, Jodie has been a business owner, instructor, instructional technologist, instructional designer, and curriculum innovative leader. Her passion for learning is evident as she actively facilitates dialogue in an effort to move people from passive to active participants in their lives, in both the classroom and conference room. Jodie completed her dissertation in Educational Technology on the use of feedback for self-regulated learning.

Extended Abstract

College access and achievement for US underserved student populations has been continuously increasing, but important gaps still exist. The US now ranks 19 in college attainment among OECD countries after being ranked first in 1995. Differences in access and achievement among racial and ethnic groups persist at the graduate level. A more important enhancement of educational attainment for diverse strata of the USA population is needed. However, serving diverse students requires institutional commitment and targeted strategy. 

A culturally relevant curriculum combined with culturally competent instruction, and appropriate support systems are likely to contribute to increased attainment. Online learning provides opportunities to enhance both access and success, but success varies. A model of modified instruction and comprehensive institutional strategies that consider the student as a whole and target all stages of the student lifecycle is likely to yield the desired results. 

While academic programs at Ashford University are developed in accordance with rigorous academic and professional standards, embedding diversity principles in the curriculum will further promote student learning and success. Such principles can enhance emotional engagement, self-efficacy, and a sense of affiliation, likely contributing to student retention and achievement.