UNCG Campus Weekly

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Marcia Rock helps create ‘dream doctoral program’ in special education teacher education research

Specialized Education Services (SES) associate professor Marcia Rock had just moved to Greensboro two years ago when, returning from a family outing to Bur-Mil Park, she noticed a sign at the side of the road that said “Center for Creative Leadership.”

During her time at the University of Alabama, she had a grant to improve the quality of master’s-level programs for teachers of children with special needs; now, her focus had moved on to working on a doctoral-level program to educate the next generation of university faculty to prepare those teachers. What was missing in most doctoral programs, she had realized, was focused instruction in both leadership training and “rigorous” research procedures. Now, seeing that Greensboro was home to a world-class company focused on leadership, she began researching the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) to see if any of its programs would help fill a need in the UNCG SES doctoral program.

Thanks to Dr. Julia Jackson-Newsom, the then School of Education’s research director, Rock was soon in touch with Dr. Karen Dyer at CCL, and the collaboration began. This past spring, Drs. Rock, William Bursuck, Bonnie Billingley, Mary Compton, and Stephanie Kurtts submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in response to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) for the “preparation of leadership personnel.”

The proposal emphasized collaboration between UNCG, CCL, Guilford County Schools, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, and the university’s grant-funded Project ENRICH. Rock and her colleagues took particular care to base the proposal in the theories and recommendations currently being presented in relevant professional literature; the plan brought together these theories and provided a practical framework for applying them through Specialized Education Services’ existing doctoral program. Their plan, for a cohort of four carefully selected students, added scholarly seminars, leadership training, and performance based teacher education research to the coursework already offered. The end result was Linking Important Networks of Knowledge to Lead (LINK-2-LEAD), “the dream doctoral program based on the professional literature.”

OSERS agreed. Rock and her colleagues’ proposal was rated second in the country, and the project has been funded for five years and $1.25 million. Eighty-nine percent of this funding will go directly to SES doctoral student support, allowing students to be enrolled in the 75-hour program full-time. With distractions to the future teacher educators at a minimum, Rock hopes to “increase the quality of special education personnel who have been prepared at advanced graduate level – who are well qualified for, and can effectively carry out, leadership positions in universities.”

While these students work their way through the doctoral program, Rock and her colleagues will be researching as well as teaching. While large scale studies on the efficacy of this method of educating doctoral students will not be possible because of the small number of students/research participants, she and her colleagues will be able to compare the students in LINK-2-LEAD with the students in the traditional doctoral program, and begin studying how college and university faculty can prepare highly effective researchers, teachers, and leaders.

More information may be found at www.uncg.edu/ses/projectlink2lead/index.htm.

Rock notes they are in the midst of recruiting. Interested applicants may contact her at mlrock@uncg.edu.

This article written by Victoria Lare (Office of Sponsored Programs) originally appeared in Discovery: Research News at UNCG.