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Alumni Spotlight

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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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.

School Counseling

April earned an MS with the School Counseling program in 2012 and currently lives in Knoxville, TN. We asked her to reflect on past experiences with EPC and discuss where she’s at now. Read her responses below.

  • Awarded Tenure from Knox County Schools, spring 2018
  • Coalition Member of the Year from the Metro Drug Coalition, 2016
  • On the Leadership Team at Richard Yoakley, since 2012
Current Occupation

School Counselor
Richard Yoakley School
Knox County, Tennessee

Personal Interests

My husband and I have taken up hiking in the last few years. We especially enjoy hiking in the nearby Smoky Mountains. So far, we have just done day hikes, but we plan to start camping in the future.

Another hobby of mine is making jewelry. I enjoy making jewelry from glass, stones, metals, and found objects. It’s a fun, creative outlet.

Future/Vocational Goals

I very much enjoy my role as the school counselor at Richard Yoakley School. I plan to stay in this role for the foreseeable future and continue to improve my school counseling program. One day, I might pursue a leadership position in the school system.

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

I remember feeling welcomed and informed when starting the program. Our professors did a great job explaining expectations and program goals. I felt very prepared to complete assignments, and I also felt that I was cared about as a person. The school counseling program is rigorous with high standards and expectations, which is a great thing. I know I received a high quality education which prepared me for my current profession.

What is the best tidbit/find about Knoxville?

Two of my favorite things about Knoxville are the Market Square Farmer’s Market and the trails at Ijams Nature Center. The market is a great place to buy local produce as well as crafts, and Ijams Nature Center is a beautiful place to be in nature yet still close to the city.

Instructional Technology

Lindsey earned an MS with the Instructional Technology program in 2016 and currently lives in Littleton, CO. We asked her to reflect on past experiences with EPC and discuss where she’s at now. Read her responses below.

Current Occupation

Instructional Design Coordinator
Child Care Quality Initiatives
Office of Early Childhood
Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS)

I work in a team of two (hopefully four by the end of the year) to design self-paced online learning for the Colorado Shines Professional Development Information System (PDIS). These courses are targeted at early care and learning professionals, with the goal of increasing the quality of care and education provided in child care programs across the state.

Accomplishments since Graduating

In my first nine months at CDHS, I led development on the first hybrid course to exist in the PDIS: Medication Administration Training, a four hour, licensing required course for child care providers across the state of Colorado. Also, at the end of December 2017, my husband and I bought our first house.

Personal Interests

I’m a fiction writer in all my waking hours. A baker, an amateur painter, a paddle boarder, an always-losing-my-callouses guitarist, a gamer, a yoga aficionado, and a literature/media nerd. I also like to travel with my husband and spend time with our four cats.

Accomplishments Earned as a Student

I received invitations from several honors societies (Gamma Beta Phi, Phi Kappa Phi, Kappa Delti Pi), so I suppose that means I made it to a top tier of my class.

On a personal level, I maintained my grade level, kept interest in my classes, and didn’t crumble under pressure – even when I was finalizing my portfolio while packing our place and preparing for a cross country move – so I’d consider that an accomplishment.

Did you end up where you thought you would?

Yes. I’d been in the eLearning world prior to entering the IT Online program and that’s where I wanted to be once I got my degree. Though instead of working for a vendor, I ended up on an in-house design team (of two and soon to be growing), so this let me drastically expand my skills with project management, authoring software, and the creation of graphics and audio, in addition to writing content.

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

When I came to the program, I didn’t really speak the lingo of instructional design and technology (“dual coding, what’s that?”), so the foundational knowledge was helpful when talking about the work I’d done in the past, as well as in the first few months of being on the job.

Additionally, as a student, you deal with a lot of different personalities from a variety of backgrounds and not all of those personalities have technology backgrounds. Getting experience navigating the waters of instructional design with people outside my specific area was good practice for the job I’m doing now. While many people are happy to listen to and go with what a designer has to say, others do want additional information on why you’re making the design choices you are. Having had to explain or clarify design concepts in my classes gave me a leg up on doing so out in the working world.

What would you tell incoming/current students?

If you’re new to the world of instructional design and technology, start thinking about what you want to do within the field. You’ll learn a lot of foundational knowledge about education and how people learn in the program, and you’ll get familiar with the technical jargon, but there are a variety of ways to apply that knowledge out in the world and a varying set of skills for each area. Having an idea of where you want to be so you can direct your individual studies in that direction is immensely helpful for your future career.