Higher education is a valuable commodity in today’s society. It elevates the student’s personal leadership, character and critical thinking skills, but also prepares them for myriad careers later in life.

Karen Buck (Turtle Clan) has taken those lessons to heart. With a Bachelor’s and two Master’s degrees under her belt already, she has been working seemingly non-stop to earn her doctorate of education (Ed.D) from St. John Fisher College over a vigorous 28 months. Karen successfully defended her dissertation in the summer of 2018.

The intensive Executive Leadership program leaves no time for extended breaks, or even a weekend off. As a part-time student working full time at the Onondaga County Health Department, Karen had to hit the books early and often.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work in short period of time,” Karen said reflecting on her doctoral student experience. “Our cohort attended class on Fridays and Saturdays, and we had two classes each semester.”

There were 14 other students in Karen’s cohort that met at St. John Fisher’s satellite campus at Onondaga Community College. Five drove more than an hour to get to class every Friday and Saturday. Although the school has several satellite programs available across the state, every student feels a part of the St. John Fisher community. Over the course of the program, the cohort attends lectures or events at least five times at the main campus.

The second semester is the beginning of the dissertation process, which allows the cohort to complete the program in the robust 28 months. The program also requires work outside of classroom to gain experience with leaders that implement social justice into their careers. Karen had two executive mentors during her time at St. John Fisher.

The mentorship part of the program counterbalances the intensity of the scholarly writing process. Karen spent a minimum of three to four nights a week – between 12-15 hours – at the computer. Half way through the program, students submit an official proposal and the college approves the research that will be conducted. Karen said the consistent and constant deadlines kept her honest with how much work she needed to do in a given day, week or month.

“It was a tremendous experience because the program is structured in a way that always keeps you moving forward,” she said. “They support and help you through the dissertation process so you’re not left to your own devices.”

Applying a social justice lens to the health care industry and criminal justice system was at the heart of Karen’s research. Specifically, she wanted to dive into the lack of health care rights of those incarcerated. It’s something she said she encountered throughout her career and that it was a significant problem.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that anyone incarcerated is entitled to health care. But Karen says there is no measurement or monitoring system to make sure that’s happening. Her research examines how jail administration can make an impact on their communities, the families of those incarcerated, and the effectiveness of its application.

“From a humanitarian standpoint, if we can’t provide them with health care should we really be locking them up?” Karen asks.

Addressing the question has helped some of Karen’s colleagues. Earlier this year, Upstate Hospital in Syracuse did a symposium on social justice in health care. A friend of Karen’s that she had worked with for years presented and acknowledged Karen’s research.

“She said ‘I’d like to thank my good friend Dr. Karen Buck whose research aided much of this presentation today,’” Karen said. “I felt such a significant sense of accomplishment and I wish my parents could’ve been here to see it.”

Family is very important to Karen. She was incredibly happy to have the support of her son Erich Haney (pictured at the top with Karen) at her dissertation defense, and to celebrate with him when she successfully completed the program. She hopes she’s been a consistent role model for education for him and her younger son, Matthew Haney.

Karen’s two kids always inspire her and make her proud each and every day. Erich graduated from SUNY Stony Brook with a degree in economics and currently works in the Syracuse area while Matthew is a trained welder and works at Tops Friendly Markets. Karen’s husband, Tom Buck, continues to work at Raymour and Flanigan as well. They married in 2013 and now reside in Camillus.

Education has always run in the family. Her eldest sister Deb Montroy (Turtle Clan) set the educational example early by attending college and going back to get advanced degrees. This past December, Karen’s younger sister Joann Fregin Trice (Turtle Clan) defended her dissertation from the same program at St. John Fisher College while her youngest sister Jennifer DiBello (Turtle Clan) is working toward a PhD at Syracuse University.

The Oneida Indian Nation’s Scholarship Program was a significant resource that helped each sister succeed in their post-graduate studies.

“That’s how I was able to get as far as I am today,” Karen said. “There was no way I could get here without the financial support from the Nation.”

Karen currently works at the Syracuse Community Health Center as a director of nursing. When asked about what she’d like to do next, Karen said she’d like to teach one day.

“I have no problem standing on a platform for social justice regardless of the political climate,” she said. “We need to learn how to talk about policy in a nonpartisan way and respect other opinions, or enlighten other people. I’d like to bring this to a classroom setting and get a good conversation going.”