Nicole Peterson: BEST in CLASS project “a great match”

Headshot of Nicole Peterson, doctoral student at the VCU School of Education.
Nicole Peterson

Nicole Peterson is a third-year doctoral student in the VCU School of Education’s Ph.D. in Education, Concentration in Special Education and Disability Policy program (Ph.D. in Special Education as of fall 2020). Originally from Connecticut, Peterson double majored in elementary education and anthropology at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, and earned her M.Ed. in Special Education at SOE.

What drew you to the field of education?

I had the most wonderful teachers, who were also mentors. Specifically Bill Brown, director of the Eli Whitney Museum in New Haven, Connecticut. The museum made space for exploration using atypical methods of thought. We were asked to learn using our hands, to make mistakes and fix them, and to accept challenges. Through these experiences, I came to understand the value in this type of learning and was eager to be a teacher who could make this type of space for their students.

Why VCU SOE for your Ph.D.?

VCU was a great match for me as a Richmond resident but also because of the opportunity to work with Dr. Kevin Sutherland on the BEST in CLASS project. I am very interested in supports for teachers, particularly when working with students who show problematic behaviors. The BEST in CLASS project was a great match for my interests and long-term goals.

What would be your dream job?

I love teaching in higher education, so my dream job would allow me to continue doing that. I love working with teachers in classrooms, so ideally I would also have a role in a district that would allow me to design and implement teacher supports and collect data to measure effectiveness.

“The BEST in CLASS project: a great match for my interests and long-term goals.”

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

The best advice is to talk to as many people as possible and gather information. Talk to people who have completed the program you’re thinking about, talk to current students. I was lucky to have two former VCU students to help guide my decision-making, Drs. Nemer-McCullough and Kunemond. They encouraged me to consider long-term goals, program-match, and helped me make the best choice for me.

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

I give credit to Dr. Chin-Chih Chen, associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education who also served as my advisor during my master’s program, as a source of inspiration to pursue a higher degree in education. Dr. Chen gave me the opportunity to stay connected with the university after graduation by participating in several projects and the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant. These experiences lead to adjunct teaching opportunities and an interest in educational research.

What has impressed you most about your program so far?

The level of rigor and opportunity in the SPED program have been impressive. We have opportunities to engage in so many different types of projects through the varied work that is happening around us. Faculty are open to collaboration, and it makes for an impressive CV by the time you are finished.