Academics, Campus wide, College of Education, Diversity

First doctoral graduates from CSU turn tassels, make history

By Jenna Johnson | December 13, 2021
First doctoral graduates of Charleston Southern University. Photo by Ty Cornett

Twenty-three professionals walked the stage of Lightsey Chapel on Saturday to be hooded and become the first doctoral graduates of Charleston Southern University. The Doctor of Education (EdD) in leadership launched in January 2019 and is designed to provide current and aspiring leaders from a variety of disciplines the opportunity to attain a doctoral degree while also balancing a career. 

Though credentials and leadership experience were a large part of their qualification for the program, Dr. Robert Doan said one trait stood out. “Over the three years of the program, we quickly learned being amazing leaders are their second-best quality,” Doan, assistant dean for the College of Education and interim chair of the EdD program, explained. “All of them have incredibly large hearts who love and care for each other.”

Grit was another trait Doan said shined through with this cohort, especially completing most of their work during a global pandemic. “Getting a doctoral degree is extremely difficult. When CSU closed and we needed to conduct classes online, this cohort was halfway through their Quantitative Statistics course…now they had to learn the material through Zoom. They persisted by forming study groups.”

He added that each student had every reason to take a break or stop the program, but they persisted. “The cohort pulled together and pushed forward. My favorite cohort memory is watching the cohort support each other through comprehensive exams and the dissertation process. I cannot recall one dissertation defense that did not include a cohort member in the audience. I am so proud the students relied on their relationship with God and cohort members to finish.”

The first graduation of its kind at Charleston Southern, the new alumni represent a diverse group in every sense of the word. The first cohort of students has careers in fields such as education, healthcare, and business. Ten of the 23 are Black women. According to the National Science Foundation (2019), only 4.4% of doctoral degrees are earned by Black women.

Now a two-time alumna of CSU, Priscilla Johnson ’06, ’21 EdD said this statistic blows her away. “I think there was a mutual understanding amongst us without having to articulate it,” Johnson said. “Representation matters, and I’m glad to be part of history here at Charleston Southern University.”

Doctoral graduates walk by the Reflection Pond post-graduation on Saturday. Photo by Aneris Photography

Johnson currently serves as assistant principal of Joseph R. Pye Elementary School in Dorchester District Two. In the field of education, she has always considered herself a lifelong learner and knew a terminal degree would lead to a myriad of opportunities. All signs pointed to CSU. 

Being a part of the first doctoral cohort is not lost on Johnson. “Oh my goodness! Each time I think about it, I’m moved to tears. We were trusted to be pioneers for a program that will exist for years to come. It’s groundbreaking, and I’m humbled.”

Like many doctoral-level students, Johnson’s passion was demonstrated in her research. For her, it’s minority students having a voice in majority-centered systems. For others, topics ranged from education to healthcare.

Nearly half of CSU’s first EdD graduates are Black women, representing the diversity of the cohort. Photo by Aneris Photography

“To see a group of resilient students meet their lifelong goal of achieving a doctorate was inspiring,” said Dr. Julie Fernandez, dean of the College of Education. “I am proud of this diverse group of leaders who will change the world with their faith and knowledge of their field.”

Fernandez added that she is excited for what the future will bring to this program. “We look forward to teaching more future leaders who want to learn best leadership practices and create research that will impact the future of South Carolina and beyond.”

Listed below are the newest Charleston Southern alumni and the first doctoral graduates for the university, along with their dissertation title. Twelve are previous alumni, having attained a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree from CSU as well.

  • Danielle Moreau ’16 MEd – Effective Strategies for Teaching Intercultural Communicative Competence
  • April C. Sanders ’12, ’16 MEd – Academic Performance of Local vs. State Identified Female Gifted Students in South Carolina
  • Gary M. Seaboldt ’14 MEd – Elementary Music Teachers’ Perspectives of Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Amanda Snipe – Factors Influencing Minority Teacher Retention Decisions in Two South Carolina Lowcountry School Districts
  • Donna Timko – The Impact of Secondary Coursework on the Post-Secondary Academic Performance of First-Year Nursing Students
  • Shene White ’10 MEd – Impact of Selected Reading Intervention Strategies on State-Required Reading Assessments
  • Micah Behrens – Factors Associated with Teachers’ Decision Making and Response to Intervention Tier 1 Implementation
  • Courtney Creech – The Effects of the 4K Child Development Program on School Readiness
  • Quencenia Dantzler – Systems Thinking for Online Education
  • Priscilla Johnson ’06 – Intervention Before Identification: An Analysis of Culturally Response Teacher Self-Efficacy and Teacher Preparedness to Reduce Disproportion of Black Males in Special Education
  • Erica Taylor – A Study to Understand the Barriers Encountered by African American Women Education Superintendents in South Carolina
  • Angel Tucker ’01 – Digesting Diversity: Integrating Foodways to Create a Culturally Relevant Education in Secondary Schools
  • Sherry Dial ’15 MSN – Is Web-Based Learning Effective in Preparing the Nursing Graduate to Meet Competency Objectives in The Nursing Profession: Faculties’ Perception
  • Donald Lauer ’07, ’09 MBA – GRIT: A Comparison of Military Versus Non-Military Students at A Private Christian University
  • Delane Neuroth – Tomorrow’s National Security: A Study on The Relationship Between Screen Time and The Health Motivation of College-Aged Youth at A Military Institution
  • Jeffrey Payne ’08 – Crisis in the Hallways: A Qualitative Study of Mental Health Crisis Intervention Training for School Resource Officers
  • Ashleigh Wojslawowicz ’10, ’13 MS – Recruiting Amidst Crisis: Exploring Police Recruit Motivations in A Post-Ferguson Era
  • Keeley Jarrett ’07, ’11 MEd – Preferred Principal Leadership Styles Conducive to Teacher Retention
  • Paula M. Browne – A Study of Soft Skills Acquisition of High School Students as Perceived by School Counselors
  • Arthea Simmons – The Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Student Learning in South Carolina Rural Schools: An Examination of Inequalities
  • Tammy Smith-Thompson – Caring for the Care Teams: Nurses Thriving and Innovating by Design
  • Jerome Davis – The Impact of Employee Wellness Programs on Student Achievement in Title 1 Middle Schools in the Southeast Region of the United States
  • Mervin Jenkins ’01 MEd – The Effect of Hip-Hop Pedagogy on the Teacher-Student Relationship, Particularly of Black Boys 

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