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Lehigh Carbon Community College

By Jordan Beach

When Dr. Erin Hager Henthorne submitted a proposal to the 27th International Conference on Learning as part of her dissertation, she doubted her acceptance. Now she’ll present her higher education research as an “Emerging Scholar” at the conference in Spain this summer.

The Learner Research Network awarded Henthorne with the “Emerging Scholar” title to honor her work as a graduate student, one of two recipients in the United States to date. Henthorne serves as an adjunct faculty member and as the administrative assistant to Trey Drawdy, dean of the School of Professional Studies, Criminal Justice program coordinator and Police Academy director. In July 2019, the Dallas, Georgia resident, earned her doctorate degree in Educational Leadership of Higher Education from Union University.

Head shot of Dr. Erin Hager Henthorne

Dr. Erin Hager Henthorne

“Receiving the Emerging Scholar Award is exciting and awe-inspiring,” said Henthorne. “Receiving this award means my research is important and worthwhile because it is a passion of mine as I was an online student for most of my college career. Being an Emerging Scholar provides an international platform for me to discuss this important issue of online retention with other academics to discover different perspectives on the issue and generate creative solutions that I hopefully can bring back to Reinhardt University.”

A year after earning her doctorate, Henthorne will travel to the University of Valencia in Valencia, Spain to present her dissertation research, “Retaining Online Students: Engagement Indicators that Contribute to the Retention of Undergraduate Students in Online Programs at Traditional 4-Year Institutions,” as a themed paper presentation. Henthorne will additionally lead discussions, chair parallel sessions and assist in session rooms as an Emerging Scholar.

“My dissertation research is practical in nature. I focused on the institutional factors that contribute to the retention of online undergraduate college students at traditional four-year institutions. I wanted to focus on those factors as a means for the institution to implement in unique ways in order to address and increase student retention, as online retention is significantly lower than retention for on-campus students nationally.”

The Learner Research Network bestowed a small number of graduate students and emerging scholars with the Emerging Scholar Award, recognizing those with active research interest in the themes of the network’s conference, where award winners are invited to attend and present their work. The award also provides opportunities of professional development, such as meeting field experts, interacting with colleagues worldwide and creating a strong network of connections.

Henthorne, originally of Flaherty, Kentucky, hopes to use her research to implement improvements through her position at Reinhardt.

“I’ve learned that online retention is a complex problem for institutions, with multiple factors at play. Retention comprises the student and their background for persistence, the institution and the support services they offer, and the relationship between those two entities. If the institution can examine the relationship between itself and the student throughout the student’s journey from enrollment to graduation at every touchpoint, specifically with the instructors, advisors, and the higher-order course content being delivered online, the institution will then know how to improve the online student experience.”

Henthorne’s involvement in the variety of Professional Studies programs provides many perspectives. She assists Police Academy applicants undergoing the Georgia POST Council application process, while also assisting the advisement, registration and engagement for online Criminal Justice students. Recently, Henthorne took on the role as Research Mentor for the Master of Public Administration students.

“My teammates in the Office of Professional Studies and Graduate Admissions have been supportive and encouraging for me to seek out opportunities for teaching and becoming more connected with the campus and our students.”

Henthorne also takes on the classroom setting as an adjunct professor for Online Learning Seminar, Organizational & Management Leadership, First-Year Seminar, and Research Methods at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She hopes her doctorate degree will enable her to potentially transition into a faculty position.

“My role in the School of Professional Studies assisting our online students has allowed me to put into practice what I’ve learned through my studies and research to better serve our students both as a supportive role but also as a better online instructor. It is my hope that I continue to advance my career here at Reinhardt in the near future, maybe as a program coordinator or full-time faculty member.”