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Evaluation, Statistics & Methodology

The PhD program in Evaluation, Statistics and Methodology (ESM) has been carefully designed to provide students with an integrated, sequenced, and experientially-based doctoral program leading to a meaningful professional career.

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The overall focus of the program is to provide students with the requisite skills and experiences essential for three types of professional careers:

  1. as an evaluation, applied statistics, and assessment or measurement faculty member in higher education settings,
  2. as an external evaluator employed by an evaluation group or organization providing external evaluation services, or
  3. as an internal evaluator or in-house ESM consultant serving the needs of the organization in which they are employed.

Located within the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling, the ESM program integrates evaluation, statistics, and measurement theory, content knowledge, technical skills, and highly relevant and meaningful field experiences to enable graduates to function as esteemed professionals, productive scholars, and leaders in their sub-fields of interest.

About the PhD Program

ESM Program Brochure

Intended Audience

The ESM program is intended for students with education, social science, applied statistics, and/or related academic backgrounds seeking employment within the growing fields of applied evaluation, assessment, and statistics. These fields have grown substantially in response to the needs of the federal and state governments, non-profit organizations and foundations, and private sector entities to demonstrate and continually improve the effectiveness of their programs and services. The ESM doctoral program is based squarely upon the needs of students seeking to enter ESM fields, expand opportunities within their current professional situation, or prepare for an academic career and engage in research.

Program Features

There are several unique features of the ESM program:

  • Focused Competency Development:  All students are exposed to a solid academic core of specific knowledge, skills and professional dispositions in the form of foundational ESM theory, concepts, and applied competencies.
  • Theory to Practice Course-Based Field Experiences: Each student is required to engage in multiple hands-on fields experiences linked to specific ESM courses content, enabling the students to personally experience the application of theory to real-world practical problems.
  • Theory to Practice Internships Targeted to Student Interests: Students are required to fulfill two evaluation internships in organizations settings (university,  community-based, or other settings) in an area of professional or career interests.
  • Highly Experienced & Engaged Faculty: The ESM faculty are highly experienced and productive scholars with a mix of expertise and experience in research, evaluation, assessment, and applied statistics. The current three faculty members have many decades of combined experience directly relevant to the ESM program. All ESM faculty are also actively engaged in major professional associations (e.g., American Evaluation Association, Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association).
  • Regular Access to One-on-One Faculty Support & Guidance: Advanced ESM courses, focusing on the application of knowledge and skills, have a small class size which provide students with ideal learning opportunities for targeted group and one-on-one instruction.

Program Goals for Students

Upon completion of the ESM doctoral program, students will have gained: a) knowledge of foundational evaluation, applied research methodology, and measurement concepts, theories, and applications; b) competency with research designs that include and integrate experimental, quasi-experimental, qualitative, and mixed-method approaches; c) extensive hands-on field experience in the application of evaluation, research, and methodologies to contemporary educational and social problems; and d) experiences in applying evaluation, quantitative and qualitative methodology, and measurement skills and competencies in diverse social and organizational settings.

Career Opportunities

Recent program graduates have found various professional opportunities upon graduation. Currently, alumni of the program are employed as higher education faculty members, senior administrators in a variety of organizational settings, and program evaluators. Some have even continued on to postdoctoral program evaluator opportunities.

Application Requirements

January 1 is the priority deadline for fall. Applicants may still apply through April 1 with the understanding that funding will be highly unlikely and space may be limited.

Applicants are required to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

Financial Aid Information

Includes EPC GA Application form, departmental fellowships/scholarships, and links

Leia Cain

Leia K. Cain
Assistant Professor

Jennifer Ann MorrowJennifer Ann Morrow
Associate Professor

Louis RocconiLouis Rocconi
Assistant Professor

Current Students & Alumni

Profile Photo of Austin Boyd, ESM Student

Austin Boyd

Austin completed his BA in psychology with a minor in biology from the University of Virginia. For the past four years he has worked part time as a substitute teacher in elementary schools, and over the last two years he spent his summers as an intern in the Prince William County Schools program evaluation department. His interests are in psychometric analyses and their use to improve standardized assessments, and more recently how network analyses can be used to improve organizational communication and effectiveness. Austin currently works as a graduate research assistant under Louis Rocconi, assistant professor.

Profile Photo of Nikki Christen, ESM Student

Nikki Christen

Nikki has a master’s degree in information science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice from Tennessee Tech University. Her research interests include higher education assessment and psychometrics. Nikki is currently the assessment coordinator for the College of Education at Tennessee Tech University.

Profile Photo of Nicole Jones, ESM Student

Nicole Jones

Nicole has a master’s degree in college student affairs administration and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, both from the University of Georgia. Her primary research interests include psychometrics and higher education assessment. Nicole currently works as a transition coach in the Office of First-Year Studies at the University of Tennessee.

Profile Photo of Rachel Ladd, ESM student

Rachel Ladd

Rachel graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2013 with a BA in psychology and returned to pursue a PhD in 2016. She has several years of professional program evaluation experience and enjoys working with community-based organizations, particularly those that focus on youth or mental health concerns. Her primary research interests include best practices in evaluation, cultural competency in evaluation, processes of identity development in youth, suicidology, and disparities related to mental health or educational attainment. She is currently a Graduate Research Assistant in the Office of Research Support.

Profile Photo of Noelia Pacheco, ESM Student

Noelia Pacheco

Noelia has a BA in English from Universidad de Santiago de Chile and a MA in Spanish literature and linguistics from Ohio University. Her main research interests are related to adult and higher education and particularly related to the question how systematic evaluation of educational programs can increase their effectiveness and their quality. She is currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant for Gary Skolits, associate professor.


Profile Photo of Christina Peterson, ESM Student

Christina Peterson

Christina is passionate about promoting sensible nutrition, inclusive communities, and economic diversity through food system program and policy evaluation. She has a MS in nutrition and a BA in economics. Prior to starting her PhD, she worked for a wellness professional development non-profit conducting needs assessments, program evaluation and research on certification standards. She is currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Office of Information Technology Research Computing Support group.

Profile Photo of Anthony Schmidt, ESM Student

Anthony Schmidt

Anthony has a BA in anthropology from the University of South Florida and an MSEd in language education (with an emphasis in TESOL) from Indiana University-Bloomington. He is originally from Florida but has been in Knoxville since 2014. Before moving to Knoxville, Anthony lived in Busan, South Korea for about seven years. He moved to Knoxville to take a position at the University of Tennessee’s English Language Institute, where he is currently a teaching associate. He has international teaching experience in South Korea, Japan, and China. His research interests are related to higher education, especially international students in higher education.

Profile Photo of John (Sam) Shoup, ESM student

Sam Shoup

John (Sam) Shoup is a PhD student of ESM. Before coming to UTK, he graduated from Covenant College with a BA in Psychology in 2021. His main research interests are psychometrics and item response theory, particularly of personality tests.

Profile Photo of Meredith York, ESM Student

Meredith York

Meredith has a master’s degree in college student personnel and a bachelor’s degree in management from the University of Tennessee. Her primary research interests are in program evaluation and sexual assault prevention programs. Meredith currently works as an evaluation specialist at the National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research.

Profile Photo of Patrick Barlow, ESM graduatePat Barlow, ’14

Patrick is an assistant professor at the Office of Consultation & Research in Medical Education (OCRME) at the University of Iowa. His primary research areas are in higher education assessment, specifically in graduate medical education (GME) settings as well as teaching statistics and research methods in the social sciences, epidemiology, and clinical medical fields.

Profile Photo of Pamela Bishop, ESM graduate

Pamela Bishop, ’12

Pamela is currently the Evaluation Manager with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, where she evaluates interdisciplinary science education and research programs. Bishop also conducts research on the collaboration practices and productivity of interdisciplinary teams of scientists.

Profile Photo of Jason Black, ESM graduateJason Black, ’12

Jason is currently a Senior Administrator in the Accountability, Research, and Assessment Office for Orange County Public Schools. Some of his research interests include: alcohol and drug prevention research, programming, and the evaluation of prevention programs. Also, he is interested in teaching quantitative research methods and psychology of substance use.

Profile Photo of Erin Burr, ESM graduateErin Burr, ’09

Erin currently serves as an Evaluation Specialist IV at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education (ORISE) working on program evaluations of math and science education programs that include K-12 students and teachers; university students and faculty; and PhD-level researchers.

Profile Photo of Brenna Berry Butler, ESM Graduate

Brenna Berry Butler, ’21

Brenna Butler is an Evaluation Specialist for Penn State Extension, housed within the College of Agricultural Sciences. Brenna’s primary responsibilities include designing, implementing, and analyzing the results of evaluations and assessments for educational programs and grants within Penn State Extension that deliver science-based information to Pennsylvanians. Brenna also coaches Extension faculty and staff on how to conduct a wide range of evaluation skills across the evaluation lifecycle (e.g., logic model development) to implement into their program development processes for their educational outreach programs. Brenna’s research interests include best practices in data visualization and evaluation report writing for both technical and non-technical audiences.

Profile Photo of Ann Cisney-Booth, ESM graduateAnn Cisney-Booth, ’15

Ann currently works as a Senior Administrator in the Program Evaluation Department for Orange County Public Schools located in Orlando, Florida. Her research interests include evaluation of domestic violence programs, community/non-profit organizations and K-12 programs.

Shannon Coutler, ESM graduate

Shannon Coulter, ’09

Shannon currently works at the San Diego County Office of Education as a coordinator in the assessment and accountability office. In terms of research, he investigates levels of program implementation and its relation to program outcomes and assessments for organizational effectiveness.

Profile Photo of Brittany Daulton, ESM graduateBrittany Daulton, ’15

Brittany’s primary research interests include higher education assessment, The First-Year Experience, measurement theory, technical education, and sense of belonging in college students.

Profile Photo of Joseph L. Donaldson, ESM graduateJoseph L. Donaldson, ’11

Joseph’s current projects include Co-Chairing a statewide strategic planning effort for UT Extension and researching the Extension Agent performance appraisal system.

Profile Photo of Shelley Esquivel, ESM graduateShelly Esquivel, ’10

Shelly is the Director of Institutional Research at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN.

Profile Photo of Terry Gibson, ESM Graduate

Terry Gibson Jr., ’19

Terry has a BS in mathematics from Savannah State University, an MA in curriculum and instruction from Tennessee Tech University, and an MST in mathematics from Middle Tennessee State University. He is currently an assistant professor of mathematics at Pellissippi State Community College. His research interests are in survey research, which includes survey development and validation, statistics education and quantitative methodology and higher education assessment and evaluation.

Profile Photo of Sam Held, ESM graduateSam Held, ’14

Sam is the lead evaluator at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. His research interests revolve around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and the STEM workforce.

Profile Photo of Jenny Holcombe, ESM graduateJenny Holcombe, ’12

Jenny is currently a faculty member in the School of Nursing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she teaches undergraduate research and graduate research, statistics, evidence-based practice, and epidemiology. Her current research is focused on graduate school selection instruments including interviews and measures of judgment, factors related to long-term allergen immunotherapy adherence, and relationships between religion/spirituality and end-of-life decision-making.

Profile Photo of Susanne Kaesbauer, ESM graduateSusanne Kaesbauer, ’12

Susanne is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Picker Institute in Oxford, England.

Profile Photo of Kevin Kidder, ESM Graduate

Kevin Kidder, ’20

Dr. Kevin Kidder graduated from the ESM program in 2020.  Dr. Kidder also earned a degree in Psychology from Middle Tennessee State University.  Dr. Kidder’s dissertation was titled “Creation and Validation of the Multi-Stakeholder Survey of the Learning Environment (MSSLE) for Medical Schools” and dealt with creating an instrument that would assist medical schools with measuring and evaluating the learning environment from a variety of stakeholders including faculty, staff, and students.  He is now working at Texas A&M University’s College of Medicine as the Director of Evaluation and Assessment and as an Instructional Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Education.

Profile Photo of Paul Kirkland, ESM Graduate

Paul Kirkland, ’19

Paul has a BS in mathematics from Tennessee Wesleyan College and an MM in mathematics from the University of Tennessee. His research interests include mathematics education, statistics education, educational assessment and measurement, and program evaluation. He is also interested in teaching statistics and research methodology. He is currently employed as a Mathematics Teacher for the Monroe County School System.

Profile Photo of Wenshu Li, ESM graduateWenshu Li, ’16

Wenshu is currently an evaluation fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her primary research interests include evaluation and assessment in Engineering Education in both K-12 and college setting.

Profile Photo of Sondra LoRe, ESM Graduate

Sondra LoRe, ’19

Sondra is a doctoral candidate in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement program. She works as an evaluator for the National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER) and has over 20 years’ experience in K-12 STEM education and leadership. She received her BA in economics from the University of Massachusetts, MS in curriculum and instruction from the University of Tennessee and EdS in educational leadership form Lincoln Memorial University.

Profile Photo of Sherry Marlow Ormsby, ESM graduateSherry Marlow Ormsby, ’17

Sherry currently works as the Director of Measurement and Evaluation in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Institutional Research (OPEIR) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her research interests include higher education assessment, student engagement and completion.

Profile Photo of Sarah Nadel, ESM graduate

Sarah Nadel, ’19

Sarah has a master’s degree in quantitative research, evaluation, and measurement from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northern Kentucky University. Her primary research interests include self-efficacy, motivation, and retention in higher education and within organizational settings. Sarah currently works as a survey researcher for the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR).


Profile Photo of Jessica Osborne, ESM student

Jessica D. Osborne, ’21

Jessica Osborne completed her PhD in the ESM program Summer 2021. Prior to attending the University of Tennessee, she attended UNC, Greensboro and earned an MFA in Creative Writing. She also earned a degree in English from Elon University. Jessica’s research interests include student success in baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate education. Currently, Jessica is Senior Associate Director at the Academic Success Center at UT, Knoxville and is continuing her research focused on post-baccalaureate student success. Jessica’s work on undergraduate success has been published in the Teaching and Learning Assistance Review and the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Profile Photo of Richard Parlier, ESM graduate

Richard Parlier, ’21

Richard earned his MS in professional counseling from Georgia State University and a BS in biology/cell biology at the University of Georgia. He currently works as a GRA for EPC. His current research interests include management, assessment, and sustainability of non-profits and organizational settings.

Profile Photo of Niranji Pathirage, ESM graduateNiranji A. Pathirage, ’15

Niranji currently works as the Teaching Assistant for Statistics in Applied Fields II course. Her primary research interests include statistics education, program evaluation, and educational assessment. She is also interested in teaching statistics and research methods.

Profile Photo of Carol Price, ESM graduateCarol Price, ’10

Carol currently works with the Institute for Assessment and Evaluation at the University of Tennessee on a variety of evaluation projects and as an independent consultant providing research support for local professionals and nonprofit organizations. Her research interests remain focused on the value of nature pursued through the newly created nonprofit organization LuNA, offering local support for nature and animals.

Profile Photo of Jennifer Richards, ESM graduateJennifer Richards, ’07

Jennifer currently directs Hands On: Real World Lessons for Middle School Classrooms, a multi-state food safety education research program housed in the Department of Food Science & Technology at UT. Her research interests include teacher professional development, interdisciplinary curriculum and instruction, and psychological constructs of behavior change.

Profile Photo of Tiffany Smith, ESM GraduateTiffany Smith, ’14

Tiffany is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Stout where she teaches subjects such as research methodology and evaluation to both undergraduate and graduate students. Her primary research interests include stakeholder communication and involvement as well as reflective practice in evaluation.

Profile Photo of Amy Sullins, ESM graduateAmy Sullins, ’10

Amy is an associate professor of Education at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, TN. She is also a member of the Athens City School Board.

Profile Photo of Lakmal Walpitage, ESM graduateLakmal Walpitage, ’16

Lakmal currently works as a research analyst at the Division of Health Care Finance at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. His primary research interests include statistics education, evaluation of programs for international students, and large scale assessment.

Profile Photo of John Walker, ESM graduate

John Walker, ’21

John earned his BS in mathematics from Grand Valley State University and an MA in international education policy from the University of Sydney. He currently serves as the assessment coordinator for the Experience Learning Initiative in the Teaching and Learning Innovation Unit. His research interests are primarily focused on higher education assessment and experiential education. He is particularly interested in what makes institutional assessments effective in a faculty initiatives, and what information faculty use from student assessments and how they use it to shape their pedagogy.

Profile Photo of Thelma Woodward, ESM graduateThelma Woodard, ’12

Thelma works as an associate director for Institutional Research, Planning, Assessment, and Effectiveness at Wiley College in Marshall, TX.

Updated 10/18/2021