A matter of degrees
With a combined 17 diplomas and six years of postdoctoral work, Barbara Raudonis, Tom Porter and Rangadhar Dash are among the state's most educated professors
by Danny Woodward
They never planned to take it this far, to the point where they’ve spent more time as students than teachers.
But nothing has quite turned out as planned for faculty members Barbara Raudonis, Tom Porter and Rangadhar Dash. Squelched dreams of biology, baseball and engineering led them to UTA in their own time and their own way.
Not one of them set out to be an educator, or to be so educated. It’s only by U-turns that the three earned at least five college degrees each, more than can hang on an office wall without appearing, well, showy.
The educators have attended 15 universities in 10 states and two countries, and they’ve done six years of postdoctoral research. They have 17 diplomas to show for it all, including four doctorates and seven master’s degrees.
But in the end, they say, they’re just like anyone else.
“The Ph.D. gets mystified, like you have to be a genius,” Dr. Raudonis said. “But a lot of it is just perseverance, being willing to give it some elbow grease.”
A nurse is born
In her homey, phone booth-sized office five floors up in Pickard Hall, Raudonis seems settled. A nursing assistant professor with an endearing laugh and an unrelenting passion for end-of-life care, she has found what she wants to do. It only figures that she’d be at home in the classroom.
“I always knew I’d go to college,” she said. But college is one thing, and a degree from a school in every North American time zone quite another.
So she started in on a more people-oriented bachelor’s degree. Only months after earning her master’s in pathology, she graduated with a B.S.N. from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Working with people, though, on a Navajo Indian reservation on the Arizona-New Mexico border, meant that she missed research. A second master’s, this one in adult health nursing from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, was the answer.
It let her combine both loves. As an instructor for two years at Montana State University’s Billings campus, she could work with people and conduct research.
But in academia, tenured faculty are expected to have a Ph.D. So she pursued a doctorate at U.T. Austin, then a postdoctoral fellowship.
Raudonis has worked or studied all over the country. But Texas struck a chord, and she came back for a faculty spot at TCU. She moved to UTA in 1997 and, she said, puts every ounce of her education to use.
“All of my education and research experience comes together in my nursing career. I use that knowledge in different ways at different times. All the degrees build on each other. That biology degree gave me my roots. I don’t feel like any of it has been a waste of time.
“My career has come full circle. I found something — nursing — that allows me to do research and also work with people. I didn’t set out to get that many pieces of paper. It’s just that one thing led to another.”
Raudonis would like her students to have all the opportunities she had, so she’s excited about the school’s recently approved nursing Ph.D. program. She looks forward to chairing dissertation committees and helping launch the next generation of nurse researchers and educators.
And, just maybe, she could earn another doctorate herself.
“Never say never,” she said. There’s that laugh of hers.
“The only thing is, my brother said he’d come to my graduation in Austin only if that was my last one.”