Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Practice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Keith Miller


Theresa Coble


Marlo Goldstein Hode

Lisa Overholser


This study aimed to explore and understand the impact of the Graduate Certificate in Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI Graduate Certificate) on master’s and doctoral students’ social empathy (SE) development. The participants in this certificate engaged in several online activities that increased their knowledge of microaggressions, privilege, and unconscious bias while building their social empathy. This certificate provided various tools and skills to its participants so that they might value diversity, look at the world from another’s perspective, and start a dialogue to promote social change. This case study involved 19 participants. To answer our research questions, we used different data sources: a pre-course survey given at the beginning of the certificate, a social empathy index administered at the beginning of Unit 2, discussion board postings that were part of the course assignments, and one-on-one Zoom interviews. We identified six overarching themes: (a) slow down, (b) be uncomfortable, (c) self-reflection, (d) perspective-taking (PT), (e) contextual understanding of systemic barriers (CU), and (f) behavioral intentions. This research strongly suggested that the participants’ social empathy increased, which was indicated by the exceptional number of behavioral intentions set by them through the online transformative learning experiences of the DEI Graduate Certificate. As Segal (2017) and Mirra (2018) found in their studies, we also found that social empathy development can be developed in a DEI professional development certificate. We recommend university leaders, that is department chairs, professors, and professional development directors, include social empathy development in their curriculums. We agree with the data outcomes of this study in recommending that university leaders include social empathy development in their curriculums and within their professional development programs to promote positive social change.