Christine Powell: “Find your passion, and pursue your dream.”

Christine Powell, doctoral student in the Special Education and Disability Leadership program.
Christine Powell (Courtesy Photo)

Christine Powell is a second-year doctoral student in the VCU School of Education’s Ph.D. in Education, Concentration in Special Education and Disability Leadership program (which transitioned to Ph.D. in Special Education in fall 2020) with an estimated May 2022 graduation. Originally from Emporia, Virginia, Powell earned both her undergraduate psychology degree and her Master of Teaching degree from VCU. She currently works as a program assistant in the Minority Educator Center, a center affiliated with SOE, and was recently accepted into the VCU Holmes Scholars Program.

What drew you to the field of education?

When I was a teenager, I taught Sunday school. In my classes, I often came up with impromptu plays or songs to represent the lesson for that week. My students would then perform that play for the adult Sunday school class. I would get so excited for these children – some my age, some younger – as I watched them perform. To this day, when I run into my students, they’ll recite a line from one of our plays or sing a song that we learned. Seeing their happiness and feeling their excitement has helped me realize that I have a passion for teaching. It’s my calling.

What has impressed you most about your program so far?

For me, the VCU motto “make it real” has really come to life. My professors and peers have been super-supportive of me and my research initiatives. I've been in my doctoral program for only one year, and I’ve already had so many opportunities. I attended two national conferences, as well as a state-level conference where I presented. I co-authored several manuscripts and co-authored a book chapter with my advisor, Dr. LaRon Scott, who is awesome! I’ve been very impressed with all of these experiences, and I know that the overall experience will help to prepare me to achieve my goals.

Is there anyone who inspired you to pursue study in this field?

Definitely my mom. When I taught Sunday school, she used to tell me how good I was with children. I didn’t believe it at first, but the more she told me, the more I believed it. I was a certified rehabilitation counselor before becoming a teacher, and when I switched careers, my mom was the first one to say, “You can do this.”

I know that her encouragement led me to develop better relationships with young adults, and later with adults. She's still my greatest supporter.

“Seeing their happiness and feeling their excitement has helped me realize that I have a passion for teaching. It’s my calling.”

What would be your dream job?

My dream job would be to combine all of my VCU degrees into a powerful policy to practice role in special education. First, I want to be a tenure track professor at an R1 university [R1 institutions like VCU have numerous resources for research, as well as many people conducting research]. Second, I want to be a consultant who works with special education teachers. I taught for three years after earning my master’s degree, and I'm still a licensed special education teacher. I want my work as a professor and researcher to make a positive impact on special education teachers, and I want to help those teachers realize that what they do matters. They need that support in order to succeed.

Any tips for students who are considering study in your program at VCU SOE?

Find your passion, and pursue your dream – remember why you chose to pursue it, and know that it’s worth pursuing. Build relationships with your advisor, your professors, and with an overall community of supporters, and remember that you are never alone. I’m very fortunate. I have supporters who rally around me, checking in to see that I’m okay, and making sure that I'm staying the course.

What drew you to the Holmes Scholars Program?

I want to be a tenure track professor, and the VCU Holmes Scholars Program provides students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. with resources and professional development to best position them for tenure track faculty positions. The program also supports students from historically underrepresented groups who are pursuing careers in education, and I feel that this program can provide me with the tools I need to be successful. Finally, it will help me develop as a solid lead researcher and writer, and provide opportunities for me to be mentored.