CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — During West Texas A&M University’s upcoming commencement ceremonies for the class of 2021, 18 students will be making university history as the first students graduating as part of the university’s doctoral program in educational leadership.
According to a news release from the university, the 18 students will graduate at 10 a.m. Saturday (Dec. 11). This comes after the online doctoral program in educational leadership was first launched in 2018, aiming at leaders for rural schools as well as those in higher education and educational organizations.
In this program, participants were required to take 60 hours of courses within an interdisciplinary curriculum which mainly emphasized action research, high-impact experiential residency and an endowed scholars program. Officials believe the curriculum helps students focus on decision-making skills while continuing to be grounded in their communities.
Students end the program with an “extensive literature review and two articles that are publication-ready,” the release states. Topics covered by this crop of students included academic success in schools of poverty, rural principals’ ethical decision-making in student-athlete discipline as well as educational inequality and COVID-19.
“This first cohort of Ed.D. candidates significantly advances the University’s vision of attaining recognition as a regional research institution while maintaining the University’s historic tradition of excellence in teaching and service to the region,” Eddie Henderson, the dean of the university’s College of Education and Social Sciences, said in the release. “Our rural-focused doctoral program empowers professionals to positively impact the future of rural communities by promoting excellence through research-based exploration of current problems and the development of research-based solutions.”
Linda Castañeda Aranda, an educational diagnostician for the Amarillo Independent School District, was a part of the first class, something that she said was “an honor.”
“Our professors have poured their hearts and souls not only into the program but into the (doctoral) candidates,” Aranda said in the release. “It has not been an easy ride. It’s very rigorous and demanding. But it has given us hope for bigger and better things to come.”
Mike Dominguez, the superintendent of schools at the Stratford Independent School District, said in the release that while the rigor of the program was challenging, it was ultimately rewarding.
“This program has honed my craft. Education impacts everybody. … It’s important for me to be a lifelong learner, and I have to set the tone for my community,” Dominguez said in the release. “When I was a student, there weren’t many people who looked like me at all. There weren’t many people who looked like me in the education profession.”
The first Ed.D. cohort also includes:
- Gabriela Arriazola-Rivera, Amarillo Independent School District assistant principal;
- Amy Clifton, WT College of Education and Social Sciences data specialist;
- Bethany Davis, Pampa Independent School District assistant principal;
- Matthew K. Driver, Canyon Independent School District teacher;
- Jerry S. Findley, South Plains College dean of health sciences;
- Misty Heiskell, Dalhart Independent School District principal;
- Tiffany Longoria, Denver City Independent School District assistant principal;
- Felix Isaac Martinez, Levelland Independent School District middle school teacher and coach;
- Byron May, Pampa Independent School District principal;
- Teresa Mora, former director of Hispanic Student Services and Upward Bound at Oklahoma Panhandle State University;
- Angelica Garcia Okamoto, Dimmitt Independent School District director of student services;
- Kelley Porter, Lefors Independent School District superintendent;
- Liz Marie Rascón-Alaniz, Wesley Community Center executive director;
- Justin Richardson, chief learning officer of lead4ward in Canyon;
- Eric Sosa, WT Business Office post-award manager of sponsored research; and
- Zeina Spaulding, executive director of professional development for the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida.