Three Recent School of Education PhD Graduates Secure Positions

November 17, 2021

BATON ROUGE, LA - Earning a PhD is a significant endeavor and is typically an experience that is fraught with successes, challenges, victories, and set-backs. Earning a PhD opens doors, provides wider opportunities, and increases earning capacity. The School of Education offers 11 terminal degree programs ranging from Educational Leadership to specializations in Curriculum and Instruction, such as English education and literacy, to a PhD in higher education. The School of Education PhD programs enjoy a healthy enrollment. Uniquely positioned, School of Education faculty mentor doctoral candidates in teaching, research, and service, the traditional three areas expected of doctoral candidates as they transition into advanced professional positions, new careers, and extension opportunities, career-wise, that a PhD affords. 
For three recent graduates, each earned her PhD, then explored extended opportunities the degree afforded. Each doctoral completer also was provided an opportunity to either teach or supervise teacher education candidates in the School of Education as part of their PhD experience, adding skill sets and expertise. Two candidates fulfilled existing obligations, then cast a wide and careful net in search of a position where the content and pedagogical knowledge built and skill sets developed during their PhD study would be utilized while a third recent graduate capitalized on her degree attainment to obtain an opportune entry-level assistant professor position.  
Dr. Margaret Weston Piccoli graduated in December of 2018 with her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. A mid-year graduation date presents unique issues in terms of employment. In December 2018 Dr. Piccoli was completing degree requirements, was an adjunct for the School of Education in the area of World Languages, and she was developing a robust consulting LLC. Piccoli was also the founder of the School of Education’s Conference on Second Language Classrooms. The unique experiences she brought to her PhD program were sharpened and honed over the time she was enrolled in her doctoral program, allowing her to build a portfolio of experiences, capacity, and skills that served her well when a position at the Louisiana Department of Education became available. Dr. Piccoli accepted a position as the English Language Strategy Coordinator in the Division of Teaching & Learning/Diverse Learners Section. Piccoli commented on her new position stating, “I am so excited about this opportunity to share the knowledge built and experience acquired while at LSU. I hope to provide teachers and school districts effective support through instructional practices, professional development, and other tangible strategies, so they can best meet the needs of their English Learners.” 
Dr. Earlisha Jenkins Whitfield earned her PhD In May 2019. At that time, Dr. Whitfield was an assistant principal at Iberville Charter Academy. Dr. Whitfield focused her dissertation study on tier 2 literacy interventions and was distinctively situated to provide an insider’s perspective on how tier 2 literacy interventions could be customized to students’ needs versus the standard practice of selecting a program to satisfy tier requirements. Dr. Whitfield continued at the charter academy, applying her knowledge about how school leaders could build teacher capacity while simultaneously positioning teachers as change agents. Ever mindful of how administrative turnover can impact teachers and subsequently, influence students’ growth, Whitfield needed to take care of ‘unfinished business’ and exit in such a way that the literacy leadership expertise she was known for continued. During the time between her graduation and the fall of 2021, she was also an adjunct instructor in the School of Education, teaching pre-service teachers in the grades 1-5 teacher education program. Summer 2021, Dr. Whitfield was ready to spread her wings and influence education in a much more expansive way, so she sought out opportunities that continue to challenger her but kept her close to her Louisiana roots. Her search led Dr. Whitfield to accept a position at McNeese State University (Lake Charles, LA). In August 2021, Whitfield began a new phase of her ever-expanding educational career as Assistant Professor and Residency Supervisor of Education Professions. Dr. Whitfield reflected on her new position, stating, “I am excited to bring the experiences and knowledge that I’ve gained in the Curriculum and Education Program at LSU to other parts of the state. My goal in this role is to positively impact educators through high-quality clinical experiences in which I provide preparation, support, and feedback to gain the critical skills to ensure all students have a day one ready teacher.” 
Dr. Langley Pierre McClay was a high school English teacher in the Diocese of Baton Rouge before resigning from that position to pursue her doctoral degree full time and immerse herself in educational leadership coursework. In addition to rigorous coursework, McClay also accepted supervisory responsibility within the School of Education, gaining additional expertise mentoring and supervising secondary student teachers. But fate had a different idea, and when an assistant principalship became available at another diocesan school, McClay, in her dissertation phase of her program, jumped at the chance. She expertly balanced the demands of school leadership with dissertation data collection and write up, positioning herself to gain valuable experience and expertise as a school leader while examining the unique positionality and preparation of assistant principals, an understudied and niche area of school leadership. Dr. McClay was awarded her doctorate in research and educational leadership with an emphasis in PK-12 educational leadership in May 2021. Well-prepared and ready when a one-year position became available, McClay accepted a position in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at University of Louisiana – Lafayette where she is currently an assistant professor. Dr. McClay remarked, “The educational leadership program was instrumental in refining my leadership practices and greatly influenced my pedagogical breadth and approach to research and teaching that I currently use as a faculty member in teacher preparation.”  
All three PhD graduates studied with School of Education faculty member, Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell, PhD, Cecil “Pete” Taylor Endowed Professor of Literacy, Leadership, and Urban Education in the School of Education, highlighting the opportunities afforded. Sulentic Dowell observed, “These three education scholars illustrate the depth and breadth of programming available in the School of Education, and Drs. Piccoli, Whitfield, and McClay epitomize how our programs “fit” students’ interests and growing expertise. In the School of Education, faculty push doctoral candidates to pursue their own research interests while acquiring research abilities.”  
“I want to congratulate all parties associated with earning a doctoral degree from LSU. This includes the major professor’s role in mentoring and leadership, Dr. Sulentic Dowell, the service provided by the Graduate School Committee members, coordination of administrative matters by Lois Stewart, and finally the hard-working students who completed the degree, Drs. Margaret Weston Piccoli, Earlisha Jenkins Whitfield, and Langley Pierre McClay.  We are proud of you and delighted that you have secured positions of leadership as a result of your outstanding research,” said F. Neil Mathews, Director of the LSU School of Education.  

Dr. Piccolo Photo

Dr. Margaret Weston Piccoli

English Language Strategy Coordinator, Louisiana Department of Education

Dr. Whitfield Photo

Dr. Earlisha Jenkins Whitfield

Assistant Professor and Residency Supervisor, McNeese State University

Dr. McClay Photo

Dr. Langley Pierre McClay

Assistant Professor, University of Louisiana at Lafayette