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EPC Features

2021 Educational Psychology & Research graduate, Dr. John Walker, took time to tell us about his research and experience in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology PhD program, and shared some advice for incoming graduate students.

Profile Photo of John Walker, ESM graduate

John graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Psychology and Research in the fall of 2021. He studied under the Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology concentration, with his dissertation research being the first of its kind to focus on differential item functioning (DIF) under a multidimensional graded response model framework. “DIF,” says John, “is important to detect in instruments like surveys because it could tell us if an item is bias toward one or more groups, which in turn tells us about the validity of the instrument, a backbone of instrument development.”

By studying three different approaches to psychometric analysis of DIF — classical test theory, item response theory, and factor analysis — Dr. Walker’s study “showed that under different circumstances (e.g., how many participants completed the instrument), one method may be preferred over another…Depending on what’s most essential for an instrumental developer or psychometrician, they’ll now know which approach is best to use to determine if their multidimensional graded repose model instrument contains biased items.”

John also holds a Master of Policy Studies from the University of Sydney, and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Grand Valley State University.

Currently, John is working in the roles of Psychometrician for Illuminate Education, and part-time Lecturer for the University of Tennessee.

Dr. Walker is continually contributing to the pool of research in the rapidly growing field of Evaluation, Statistics and Methodology, and has also been the distinguished recipient of several awards, including the EPC Graduate Student Research Excellence Award (2021) and the Sydney Achievers International Scholarship (2014).

To incoming graduate students, John’s advice is that students should always build periodic rest and relaxation into their schedules, to prevent burnout: “Make sure you take care of yourself, spend some time on your (non-academic) interests, and most importantly don’t neglect your family. A graduate program takes a long time to complete, so it’s important to get away from your work; otherwise, you’ll burn out.”

Of the many places in Knoxville where students can enjoy some well-earned downtime, John would particularly recommend Orange Hat Brewing Company in Hardin Valley area, or anywhere in Market Square.

The EPC department congratulates John, and the rest of the EPC class of fall 2021 once again for their hard work, achievements, and contributions to the fields of Educational Psychology & Counseling.

Full Interview:

Tell me about your journey as a graduate student, the ups and downs, struggles and triumphs.

One of my biggest struggles throughout my time as a graduate student was juggling full-time work and school. I often would take three to four courses at a time during the fall, spring, and summer. I had to manage my time well, find time to do my schoolwork, and take can of my mental and physical health, simultaneously. Although I was left with little time to socialize, I found ways to make this work and complete my degree in less time than if I were to take the more conventional approach of taking one or two courses per semester while working full-time.              

What advice do you have for students just starting this program?

Find time for yourself and your family. You don’t have to be doing your research or schoolwork 100% of the time. Make sure you take care of yourself, spend some time on your (non-academic) interests, and most importantly don’t neglect your family. A graduate program takes a long time to complete, so it’s important to get away from your work; otherwise, you’ll burn out.

Tell me about your research interests.

As of late, my research has focused on the experimentation of new methods to address non-convergence issues in computer adaptive tests, the examination of student growth patterns for curriculum-based measures in early math and reading, and the use of computer adaptive tests for survey data fitted to bifactor graded response models.

Would you like to share your hobbies and personal interests with us?

Outside of work, I enjoy playing my guitar, home brewing, and going on long walks with my wife and dog.

What is something you love/loved doing in the Knoxville area, or a restaurant you would recommend?

There are a lot of great places to visit in the Knoxville area. If you have a dog, Plum Creek Dog Park is a great place to let your dog expel some energy. For beer drinkers, I’m partial to Orangehat Brewing in Hardin Valley. You’ll also find a lot of great restaurants and nightlife in and around Market square.

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Jessica Osborne, ESM student









Meet Jessica: Recent Educational Psychology & Counseling 2021 Graduate.

Dr. Osborne earned her PhD in Educational Psychology and Research, with a Concentration in Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology, in the summer of 2021. She also holds a BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing.

Currently serving in the role of Director of First Year Programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Jessica’s passion and research pursuits are in the area of student success: “I have worked in the field of student success for over a decade, and this has continued to be my research focus as well. My dissertation focused on graduate student needs and success, and I hope to continue in that line of research.”

Her valuable research contributions have most recently been published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, (33)2, and she is the winner of the 2019 Tennessee Association of Student Success and Retention Graduate Student Research Award, among many other publications and accolades.

The PhD concentration in Evaluation, Statistics, and Methodology prepares students with the skills and hands-on experiences needed for a meaningful career in program evaluation, quantitative and qualitative research, and assessment. For more information about the PhD in ESM, click here.

We asked Jessica what made her choose the ESM PhD program at UTK, and she was kind enough to share with us: “The people sold me on the ESM program. I considered several options in terms of a PhD, and ultimately, I chose ESM because the faculty and staff were open, welcoming, and flexible in terms of my needs as a working mother. I am incredibly grateful for the ESM faculty and friends I made through the PhD process.”

In her spare time, Jessica enjoys reading, yoga, getting outdoors, and spending time with her family.

For anyone new to the Knoxville area, Jessica has plenty of great suggestions for things to do — and eat! “Downtown Knoxville and The Old City are full of wonderful restaurants: JC Holdway, Amelia, and Kefi are a few of my favorites. In the spring, there are also so many excellent festivals and music events; we always attend Big Ears, The Rossini Festival, and the Dogwood Arts Festival. The Downtown Farmer’s Market is also one of my favorite weekend events.”

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Student Spotlight: Baileigh Kirkpatrick

School Psychology

Baileigh is currently seeking her PhD in School Psychology. Originally from Lawrenceville, GA, she graduated with her BS in psychology at Berry College in 2015 and earned an MS in educational psychology with the Applied Educational Psychology program at the University of Tenessee in 2018. She joined EPC in 2015. We asked her to reflect on some past and current experiences. Read her responses below.

  • Mary Philips Shepard Graduate Fellowship, 2018
  • Chancellor’s Fellowship, 2015

In my time at UT I have contributed to a number of peer-reviewed presentations and publications. I have presented 13 presentations at national and regional conferences including the American Psychological Association (APA) Annual Convention and the National Association of School Psychology (NASP) Annual Convention. I have also contributed to several manuscripts. Topics include a class-wide positive peer reporting intervention, and emotional intelligence assessment development. I was also able to co-author a book chapter on nonverbal assessment. Aside from professional presentations, I have led study skills training for student athletes and served as the NASP student representative and social chair for UT’s School Psychology Association.

See Curriculum Vita for more information.

Current Occupation

Graduate Research Assistant (GRA)
Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP)
Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education (TPTE)
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

TBSP is a grant-funded program that provides training, materials, and tools to support administrators, teachers, and staff in the implementation of Response to Instruction and Intervention – Behavior (RTI2-B). At UT Knoxville, we are a multidisciplinary team housed in TPTE. Tara Moore, assistant professor, is our project director, and the team consists of five full-time consultants and five GRAs from School Psychology and Special Education programs.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I like to take advantage of the beautiful Smoky Mountains! I enjoy hiking and camping during the weekends, and try to trade out of the office for some fresh air when I can. I also spend free time baking and cooking! The smell of fresh bread baking is one of my favorite things.

Future/Vocational Goals

After finishing my PhD, I plan to work in as a school psychologist in a school district. I am excited to be involved with the community where I work and for the opportunity to serve students from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of needs. My long-term goal as a school psychologist is to work in private practice or in a clinic setting.

What sold you on the program/department/university?

The faculty’s commitment to student success is what sold me on the University of Tennessee. I was impressed by the emphasis faculty placed on making sure students got the most out of their time here, and knew that the faculty would be supportive in helping me achieve my goals.

What would you tell an incoming student who joins the department?

I would tell incoming students that they should not shy away from experiences that may be out of their comfort zone. There are a wide variety of opportunities the University of Tennessee and Knoxville provide, and I have learned the most from the times that I took on projects outside of my comfort zone.

Applied Educational Psychology

Ashlee earned an MS with the Applied Educational Psychology program in 2018 and currently lives in Fayetteville, TN. We asked her to reflect on past experiences with EPC and discuss where she’s at now. Read her responses below.

Current Occupation

General Education Teacher
Ralph Askins Elementary-Fayetteville City Schools

Currently, I am teaching 4th grade English language arts and social studies. I have been teaching for nine years in grades 1, 2, and 4.

Accomplishments Since Graduating

Although small to some, my greatest accomplishment was becoming a more successful teacher. Initially, I wanted to go through the EdPsych Online program to enhance my teaching/teaching style. Throughout my experiences, I have done just that. I have become a more competent and confident teacher who exhibits improved teacher self-efficacy. I find myself taking on more leadership roles and taking more instructional risks to create engaging and beneficial lessons. Also, I have challenged myself to teach to as many learning styles as I can.

Personal Interests

Being a teacher and mother, I find that I do not have time for many hobbies. However, I do love to spend time traveling and outdoor activities. Visiting the beach is a favorite! We also love UT football!

My husband and I enjoying searching for unique antiques. I love cooking and trying new foods. We are avid readers in our home as well.

What do you think was the most rewarding/challenging about this program?

For me, I believe my co-learners and professors were the most rewarding part of the program. They are some of the most hard working and compassionate people I have ever met. I believe to have found some lifelong friends along the way. Being an online program, many may find that hard to believe, but it is true. We watched each other “grow” throughout the program. We shared our triumphs, as well as hardships. We helped each other through coursework and learned to rely and trust people that we may or may not ever meet in person. Being a student who lived 4 hours from campus, this meant so much! I always felt connected, which I understand can be difficult for any online program. This particular program put much effort into making it a positive experience.

What would you tell an incoming/current student in the program/department?

“You can do it!” I knew going into a graduate program it would be difficult to juggle my work, family, and coursework. However, with organizing and some planning on my part, I was able to manage everything. I would also tell an incoming student to not be shy about reaching out to the professors and other students. Making connections is a vital part of this experience.

How did your experiences as a student help you in your professional/personal life after graduation?

I wanted to become a better teacher and I have done just that. I know that I am much more confident than I ever was before. The classwork and projects pushed me out of my comfort zone. Just last year I co-led a presentation on teacher mindset to my faculty. I would have never been able to do that before this program. The assignments challenged me and definitely pushed me into becoming a whole new teacher.

Adult Learning

Julie is currently seeking her PhD in educational psychology and research with the Adult Learning program. Originally from Knoxville, TN, she graduated with her AAS in radiologic technology at Roane State Community College in 2000, BS in biochemistry, molecular, and cellular biology at the University of Tenessee in 2004, and an MPH in community health education at UT in 2007. She joined EPC in 2011. We asked her to reflect on some past and current experiences. Read her responses below.

  • Finalist for Roane State Community College’s Ellen Benroth Award for excellence in teaching, which is awarded to one faculty member per year; winners are nominated and chosen by their peers and must demonstrate excellent student-based objectives and evaluation scores; Top 3 finalist in 2015, 2016, and 2017
  • Excellence Award provided by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), Roane State Community College, 2012
  • Spotlight on SAILS Award, Roane State Community College, 2011

Conference Presentations

  • Hall, J. (2016, Nov). Harmonizing self-direction and mandatory continuing education; Attitude of the health care professional. Proceedings of the 64th American Association for Adult and Continuing Education Conference. Albuquerque, NM.
  • Hall, J. (2014, Nov). I think I can! Positive psychology for health professional programs. Proceedings of the 63rd American Association for Adult and Continuing Education Conference. Charleston, SC
  • Hall, J. (2013, Nov). Leaving the nest: From novice to professional. Proceedings of the 62nd American Association for Adult and Continuing Education Conference. Lexington, KY
  • Shih, C. & Hall, J. (2012, Nov). Connect, communicate and collaborate: Using Facebook groups to build a community of practice. Proceedings of the 61st American Association for Adult and Continuing Education Conference. Las Vegas, NV

Peer-Reviewed Publication

  • Hall, J. (2014). Staged Self-Directed Learning Model: Leaving the nest; From novice to professional in J. Holtz, S. Springer, & C. Boden-McGill (Eds.), Building sustainable futures for adult learners. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing.


  • 2015 – 2016 Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) member for the IGI Global peer-reviewed book entitled, Handbook of Research on Training Evaluation in the Modern Workforce
  • 2014 – 2015 Adult Higher Education Alliance (AHEA), proposal reviewer for the national conference
  • 2014 – 2017 Wolters Kluwer Health (Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins), book reviewer
  • 2014 Pearson Higher Education, book reviewer

Accreditation Activities

  • 2014 Compiled a self-study report and oversaw a site visit for the Radiologic Technology Program by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT); the program successfully was awarded re-accreditation for 8 years (maximum amount allowed)
  • 2018 Completed an Interim Report as well as a Substantive Change Report for the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology

Significant Roles/Positions

  • 2018 – Present: Member of Roane State Community College’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) committee
  • 2018 – Present: Member of Roane State Community College’s Course Evaluation Committee
  • 2018 – Present: Member of Roane State Community College’s Tuition Reimbursement Advisory Group
  • 2017 – 2018: Member of Roane State Community College’s Promotion and Tenure Committee
  • 2015 – Present: Member of the Tennessee Board of Regent’s (TBR) Statewide Curriculum realignment committee for radiologic technology
  • 2014 – Present: Member of the Radiologic Technology Program’s Assessment Committee
  • 2013 – Present: Member of the Radiologic Technology Program’s Admission Committee
  • 2011 – Present: Member of the Allied Health Admission Committee
  • 2011 – 2015: Participated in the Students Achieving Improved Learning Strategies (SAILS) project by implementing a specific learning strategy in classes. SAILS was apart of Roane State Community College’s five year Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP)
  • 2010 – Present: Member of the Radiologic Technology Program’s Advisory Board (ex-officio)

Other Service Activities

  • 2015 – Present: Serve as a site visitor for the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (accrediting body for radiologic technology programs)
  • 2014 – 2015: Served as an item writer for the national licensure exam on behalf of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
  • 2011 – Present: Applied and obtained numerous grant requests for the program

Current Occupation

Program Director
Radiologic Technology Program
Roane State Community College

The Radiologic Technology Program has affiliation agreements with 17 clinical sites/hospitals across the East Tennessee region and is designed to provide students with the skills required to provide excellent patient care in the field of radiology.

Personal Interests

I am a mother/wife with two sons (Michael and Tyler). We enjoy traveling and seeing new places, but my favorite place to visit is Disney world! This past year, we were able to tour the American Southwest (epic road trip) and the year before visited Alaska with my mom. I also enjoy reading!

Future/Vocational Goals

My future goals are to continue conducting research in the area of allied health/radiologic technology. I am interested in topics related to self-directed learning and attitude towards continuing education.

What would you tell an incoming student who joins the program/department?

I have relished my time at UT Knoxville. Particularly, I have enjoyed my courses along with the faculty members and other students. This program has some of the best faculty members that I have ever had the opportunity to work with. They truly care about their students and find ways to help them grow as well as help them through the doctoral process. My advisor, Ralph Brockett, Phd, is absolutely a joy to work with and I could not have succeeded without his support over the years. I would recommend this program to any prospective student!