After years of hard work, dedication and lots of hours spent preparing their dissertations, the first group of graduates from The University of Texas-Pan American Educational Leadership doctoral program received their degrees Saturday, May 12.
The first graduates of the program were Scott Hollinger of McAllen, Jacques Treviño of Donna and Alda T. Benavidez of La Joya. They received their Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees at the final ceremony of four commencement exercises held at the Fieldhouse.
"To graduate with a doctorate degree feels great, but to be the first in the program makes it more special," said Hollinger, a principal at McAuliffe Elementary in McAllen.
The program started in 1993 in cooperation with The University of Texas at Austin. It became a freestanding program at UTPA in 1998.
"For many years, UT Pan American was not given the authority to offer doctoral programs," said Dr. Maricela Oliva, program director. "Given the tremendous need and interest in this region, we were finally given authority to offer a doctoral training in educational leadership. "
Hollinger, an employee at McAllen Independent School District for 20 years, said obtaining his doctorate was like climbing Mt. Everest because it was a personal achievement for him. Originally from West Virginia, he acquired his master's degree in deaf education (1981) and bachelor's in education (1980) from The Ohio State University.
"I'm very pleased UTPA has a doctoral program for people who live and work in the Valley," Hollinger said. "I look forward to UTPA becoming a doctoral degree-granting institution in a number of fields and be on par with other universities in the state of Texas."
While in the program, Hollinger also worked toward obtaining superintendency certification through specialized coursework. He is now waiting to take the ExCET Superintendent test.
Treviño, a Rio Grande Valley lawyer and part-time professor in the College of Education Department of School Administration and Supervision, said receiving his Doctor of Education degree was a goal he set in 1996 after he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence from St. Mary's School of Law.
"This was a personal accomplishment for me because I believe I could be more effective as an attorney," Treviño said. "I already have a doctorate in jurisprudence, but I just wanted to keep learning because I'm a life-long student."
Treviño was unsure the day would ever come as he, Benavidez and Hollinger traveled back and forth to UT Austin when the three began working on their degrees through the cooperative program. Once the program became free standing, students no longer had to travel or take distant learning courses.
The first three graduates of the cooperative program were awarded their degrees in 1996, and the first cohort of students were accepted into the independent program in 1998.
"Part of the reason there was a cooperative program was because there was no type of degree program offered for people in South Texas," Treviño said. "Now that it's a free-standing program, the goal is to retain people in Valley schools and provide leadership in schools."
Benavidez, an assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for La Joya ISD, said the road to receiving her doctorate was long but well worth the time and effort. She considers herself a product of UTPA because she received her bachelor's in education in 1974 and master's in counseling in 1977 from the University.
"It was a long journey, but a positive one, both personally and professionally," Benavidez said. "It is hard to measure the full benefit of having completed the dissertation and degree."
The students presented their final dissertation defenses March 23 and April 5 before an audience.
"The availability of the doctoral study here has meant there is increased support for field research in education, and we have stronger connections to educational researchers around the country," Oliva said. "This will eventually help us to better understand and improve our educational practice."
This is the second freestanding doctoral degree UTPA offers. The University offers a Doctorate in Business Administration with an emphasis in international business, as well as a Doctorate in Pharmacy in cooperation with UT Austin.