Caroline Turner, the Administrator-in-Charge at the College of Education, performed the hooding of doctoral degree candidate Esther Hattingh at the Spring 2016 Commencement. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)Esther Hattingh's dissertation, “A Leader’s Process: Educational, Social, and Community Values,” focused on sustainable leadership practices. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)Doctoral degree candidate Esther Hattingh received warm wishes from President Robert S. Nelsen at the Spring 2016 Commencement. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)President Robert S. Nelsen congratulated Esther Hattingh at the Spring 2016 Commencement. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Mandela Inspires Sac State Student to Soar

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As Esther Hattingh completed her doctorate in educational leadership at Sacramento State, her guiding light was Nelson Mandela with whom she had a personal connection. She grew up in South Africa as her country struggled to shed apartheid. Mandela inspired her to see the promise and potential in every child. 

Esther served as a member of Mandela’s flight crew in 1995 as he traveled the world as an ambassador of peace. More than two decades later Esther reached her dream, receiving her doctorate in educational leadership at the Spring 2016 Commencement.

While finishing her dissertation, Esther worked with the information technology team at the College of Continuing Education, and colleagues wanted to know more about her life. So we asked her to share some of her thoughts:

“I think my motivation comes from my background in South Africa where I experienced behaviors that caused heartache and pain. My motivation is to steer my own actions away from poisonous behavior. I witnessed ignorance and labeling of others, which strengthened my decision to oppose characteristics that cause hurt and despair. I think it was Douglas Biklen, Robert Bogdan, and Burton Blatt who said, ‘Label jars, not people.’ To me this makes so much sense.  I made a decision to lose the chains of pain and to free myself to respect and love others, first and foremost, for who he or she is. Thus, I made the choice not to allow pain to rule my life.

“I was also fortunate to have people in my life who were giants of hope and love. I met people who modeled hope. One such person was Nelson Mandela. Mandela modeled forgiveness and acceptance of others after being in jail for 26 years, and he decided to build bridges between people in a nation that was and still is divided. He responded with the utmost kindness and caring spirit with no ego attached to his actions. An example, Mandela wrote a beautiful note of encouragement to my nieces, which they cherish. What was so noticeable to me is that Mandela could have been bitter and only wish ill on white privileged kids, and instead he decided to see the very best in them. That to me is a lesson in what we can accomplish together as people when we see the best in others, instead of looking through a lens of negative thoughts, words, and actions.

“My desire to do my doctorate stemmed from my position as an information technology consultant at Sac State’s Academic Technology and Creative Services division. I provided technical assistance and creative guidance to support faculty and staff in learning and teaching. The goal was to ensure they could apply their expertise with the help of technology. I love knowledge and the joy it brings to design courses that empower faculty and staff to be the best he or she can be to build students’ human capital. 

“I became interested in my field of study because I was curious to find the reasons to what happened to the enthusiasm and exploration of two years olds by the time they reach middle school. I also wanted to know why the educational environment is so far removed from the everyday application of our skills. My aim was to find a pathway to make a change so education will be a renaissance, where people will discover and contribute as human capital to better their lives and that of others. I know that technology is only one avenue to learn and build one’s skills. Thus, I wanted to learn the foundation of the educational system so I may have the skills to spearhead inspirational educational change.

“My experience in the doctoral program was an unforgettable highlight of my professional career. I was given the gift of making lifelong friends. I learned the importance to use data decision-making skills that can be backed by policy, law, and then to express the ’so what?’ of why we need change. The doctoral program gave me the opportunity to enhance my thinking and actions as an educated person. Looking back at the experience, I am so thankful for the opportunity to have learned from my cohort members and professors.

“Working and going through the doctoral program at times seemed an impossible task. However, I think the strength to persist came from being in a cohort where we did it together. I made the doctoral program my priority and I sacrificed time with friends and missed sleep to reach the goal I had placed in front of me. There was no way out of the program but through it. I knew if I quit the doctoral program I would regret it for the rest of my life. Mandela states it well: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ I see now how true Mandela’s words are. I hope to use the knowledge I have gained as a conduit to be the change I want to see in the world.

“My dissertation, ‘A Leader’s Process: Educational, Social, and Community Values,’ focuses on sustainable leadership practices for agile educational growth. My research highlights four themes of sustainable leadership practices. First, is to validate all stakeholders to grow trusting relationships. Second, is to include all stakeholders to cultivate sustainable learning environments. Third, is to collaborate with stakeholders and empower them so they can contribute efficiently according to their strength. Fourth, is to inspire stakeholders so they may effectively influence human capital for educational, social, and community value.

“The doctoral program was mostly to make a change. I wanted to learn more about the policies and laws of what shaped a nation’s future. I wanted to know more about leadership practices and to take the best that I learned and apply it in my life. The doctoral program at Sac State is one of the best things I did in my life.”