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University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies releases white paper on role and opportunities of soft skills and graduate employability in a global labor market

By Sharla Hooper

White paper by Dr. Louise Underdahl, Dr. Shawishi Haynes, Dr. Mar Navarro, Dr. Myrene Magabo and Dr. Maureen Marzano draws upon case study of education doctoral students and employers 

University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies announces the release of a white paper exploring the ubiquitous interest in and value of “soft” skills across global labor markets which presents a case study of how soft skills contribute to education doctoral student employability, and proposes reimagining competency-based learning. The white paper, titled “Thought Leadership in Skills: Skill Sets, Graduate Employability, and Next Steps,” is authored by Louise Underdahl, Ph.D., fellow, Center for Educational and Instructional Technology (CEITR), Shawishi Haynes, Ed.D., Mar Navarro, Ph.D., fellow, CEITR, Myrene A. Magabo, D.Comm., and Maureen Marzano, Ph.D., MBA.

Building upon previous work in which the authors also published a framework for employability of education doctorate programs, the new white paper centers the case study of education doctorate students within the context of global labor markets and a widespread employer interest in soft skills, or “thought leadership” skills such as analytical and creative thinking, resilience, motivation and self-awareness, curiosity and lifelong learning, empathy and active listening, and leadership and social influence. The white paper highlights opportunities to reimagine competency-based learning, including how educators and employers can partner on developing curricula that bridge industry specific skills gaps as well as enhance students’ understanding of the professional workplace and capacity to communicate, be empathetic, and solve problems.

“Study after study indicates cognitive skills must be complemented by soft skills such as motivation, organization, resilience, communication, problem-solving, decision-making, leadership, professionalism, self-confidence, and aptitude for working effectively with others,” states Underdahl. “Opportunities abound for economic, education, industry and workforce policymakers to reimagine competency-based learning.”

Underdahl completed her doctorate with the University of Southern California. She is currently a reviewer at the College of Doctoral Studies’ Dissertation to Publication Workshop, and has been co-leader of College of Doctoral Studies Alumni Special Interest Group since 2019. Underdahl is a recipient of multiple faculty recognition awards at University of Phoenix including the Phoenix500, the Distinguished Service Award for Scholarly Leadership in 2019, and the Faculty Excellence Award in 2022 and 2018. Underdahl has been teaching at the University since 2004.

Haynes was Lead Faculty Area Chair with University of Phoenix College of Health Professions for about 10 years before transitioning to the College of Doctoral Studies as staff faculty and University Research Methodologist. She earned her Ed.D. from the University of Southern California and is completing a Ph.D. at University of Arizona. Board certified by the American College of Healthcare Executives, Haynes has been in healthcare nearly 30 years, specializing in healthcare revenue cycle management and recognized by her hospital employer as leader of the quarter. She is the recipient of several academic honors at the University of Phoenix including Faculty of the Year and award of excellence in andragogy. Haynes is a member of the WOW board of directors, an organization focused on women outreaching women and entrepreneurship. Haynes has been teaching at the University since 2008.

Navarro holds a doctoral degree in Applied Experimental and Human Factors Psychology from the University of Central Florida. As a University Research Methodologist in the College of Doctoral Studies and fellow in CEITR, Navarro’s research interests are in cognition and cognitive ergonomics, including how humans learn, understand and process information. Within this area, she has developed a special interest in online teaching and learning, has participated in the development of online course shells, and is certified by Quality Matters, national program in quality assurance in online learning. Navarro has been teaching at the University since 2009.

Magabo completed her doctorate and master's degrees at the University of the Philippines. She earned her bachelor's in Economics from the University of San Agustin-Iloilo, Philippines, where she presently serves in the Social Advocacy and Community Engagement Office (SACEO). Magabo is recognized as a great motivator, and an inspirational leader, devoted to empowering others through education, research, technology, and communication. Magabo is a recipient of the 2023 University of Phoenix Top 500 Faculty Award and taught at the University from 2008 to 2023.

Marzano completed her Ph.D. in Organization and Management at Capella University. She earned her MBA with a focus on technology management from University of Phoenix. Currently serving as a University Research Methodologist for the College of Doctoral Studies, Marzano is the recipient of multiple faculty recognition awards at the University of Phoenix, including Phoenix 500 for 2021, 2022, and 2023. She has been teaching at the University since 2008.

The full whitepaper is available at the CEITR webpage or as a direct link here.

About the College of Doctoral Studies

University of Phoenix’s College of Doctoral Studies focuses on today’s challenging business and organizational needs, from addressing critical social issues to developing solutions to accelerate community building and industry growth. The College’s research program is built around the Scholar, Practitioner, Leader Model which puts students in the center of the Doctoral Education Ecosystem® with experts, resources and tools to help prepare them to be a leader in their organization, industry and community. Through this program, students and researchers work with organizations to conduct research that can be applied in the workplace in real time.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix innovates to help working adults enhance their careers and develop skills in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, interactive learning, skills-mapped curriculum for our bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, and a Career Services for Life® commitment help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit