The Tennessee Higher Education Commission approved Tennessee Tech's request for a Ph.D. program in Exceptional Learning only last February. The program is designed to prepare teachers and professionals how to effectively deal with students who have special needs such as disabilities and behavioral problems and are considered at-risk.
"We have enrolled our first class of 13 students this fall. This first class comes from in state, with such hometowns as Nashville, Spring City, Jamestown and Gainesboro," she added.
"We're ahead of our expectations in the number of students enrolled considering we had such little time to get the word out," Roe said.
Many of the students in the Ph.D. program are currently teaching in area school systems or are former teachers. There is also a school psychologist enrolled, an academic computing specialist, a current TTU administrative assistant and also a pediatric nurse practitioner, Roe said.
"However, the program is designed to serve both in-state students and those beyond our immediate region and state. Many of the same concerns we have about rural education are the same concerns that professionals have about rural education everywhere. We hope to be a delivery system of trained professionals that extends across the country," Roe said.
The program investigates the characteristics, strengths, and educational needs of individuals and groups whose learning potential and opportunities for success in life are frequently unrealized. Exceptional and at-risk populations include, but are not limited to, those persons for whom social, economic, and physical characteristics may serve as barriers to learning, Roe explained.
Core courses reflect cultural and learning diversity, rural schools and communities, learning and cognition, family collaboration and applications of technology with at-risk populations. Doctoral students can choose from three concentrations: Applied Behavior and Learning, Literacy and Young Children and Families.
Tennessee Tech already offers graduate programs in Education at the Master of Arts and Educational Specialist levels, which focus more traditionally on specific curricular areas related to the Ph.D. program.
Additional support to these programs is provided through graduate programs in curriculum, elementary education, secondary education and health and physical education.
With the addition of its third Ph.D. program, including environmental science and engineering, TTU now shows a greater commitment to doctoral programs and may soon see its state funding change for the better, said Rebecca Tolbert, associate vice president for Academic Affairs.