“Special” ceremony honors Special Education graduates

Robin Michelle Pelt, Ph.D., with her dissertation chair, Kevin Sutherland, Ph.D.
Robin Pelt, Ph.D., and her dissertation chair, Kevin Sutherland, Ph.D.

Members of the Special Education faculty at the VCU School of Education honored seven recent doctoral graduates whose graduation ceremonies were impacted by the pandemic at a special ceremony on June 18 in Oliver Hall Courtyard.

Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, said that among all VCU students, doctoral students were particularly impacted by the events of the past 15 months.

“Our doctoral students missed the experience of being hooded by their faculty advisor and sitting on stage, signifying their changed status from a student to a colleague of the faculty,” Thoma said. “Now that restrictions are lifting in Virginia, the Special Education faculty wanted to honor these graduates and let them know how extremely proud we are of their accomplishments.”

As each graduate’s name was called in the courtyard ceremony, those in attendance came forward for their traditional hooding, signifying their success at completing the program.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Thoma recognized everyone who supported, encouraged and mentored the graduates during their doctoral studies, including family, partners, significant others, friends and faculty.

Below is a list of the graduates who were honored, along with the title of their dissertation study as well as chair or co-chairs.

Katherine Brendli, Ph.D.
Dissertation: Effects of a Self-Advocacy Intervention on the Abilities of College Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to Request Academic Accommodations.
Chair: LaRon Scott, Ed.D.

Paige Jane Carter, Ph.D.
Dissertation: Coaching Paraeducators to Accurately Record Student Response Data during Direct Instruction
Chair: Yaoying Xu, Ph.D.

Weade James, Ph.D.
Dissertation: A Critical Multiple Case Study Analysis Examining the Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act to Promote Positive School Climate.
Chair: LaRon Scott

Robin Michelle Pelt, Ph.D.
Dissertation: Teachers’ Attitudes Toward the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in the General Education Classroom in a Rural School District
Chair: Kevin Sutherland, Ph.D.

Joshua Taylor, Ph.D.
Dissertation: Inclusive Academic Education & Vocationally-Oriented Transition Predictors’ Association with Post-Secondary Outcomes of Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Chair: Colleen Thoma

Erin Stehle Wallace, Ph.D.
Dissertation: Language-Supportive Strategies and Their Association with Child Language Outcomes During Instructional Time.
Chair: Jason Chow, Ph.D. (hooding done by Kevin Sutherland)

Holly Nicole Whittenburg, Ph.D.
Dissertation: Effects of Behavioral Skills Training with In Situ Training on Workplace Conversational Skills of Transition-Aged High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Co-chairs: Colleen Thoma & Yaoying Xu

The attendees at the SPED Graduation Ceremony in Oliver Hall Courtyard on June 18, 2021.
Pictured in Oliver Hall Courtyard on June 18 (from left): Colleen Thoma, Ph.D.; Tonya Gokita, Ph.D.; Gabrielle Pickover, Ph.D.; Joshua P. Taylor, Ph.D.; Holly N. Whittenburg, Ph.D.; Michelle Boulanger Thompson; Cassandra Willis, Ph.D.; Paige J. Carter, Ph.D.; Robin M. Pelt, Ph.D.; and Erin Stehle Wallace, Ph.D.