SRU to award first doctorate of special education degrees


faculty and students of the special education doctoral program

From left: Jessica Jordan, education/assessment librarian and special education doctoral student at Slippery Rock University, speaks with Richael Barger-Anderson, professor of special education.

April 18, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When Slippery Rock University became the first institution in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education to offer a Doctor of Education in Special Education in January 2015 there were many students eager to enroll. Two of the 30 students who filled the inaugural cohort to full capacity were motivated enough to finish ahead of schedule.

Jerald "Jay" Barris, of West Middlesex, and Kayla Mohney, of Summerville, will become the first SRU students to graduate from the doctorate of special education program when the University confers degrees at its graduate studies commencement ceremonies at 7 p.m., May 12 at Morrow Field House.

Barris and Mohney completed the 60-credit program in just two and a half years, thanks in part to summer classes and credits they were able to transfer into the program.

But there is more to the story.

"We both have very ambitious goals in life," Mohney said. "We did it because we were able to provide those extra emotional pushes along the way."

"I tease Kayla all the time that when we were defending our dissertations she said she was defending hers the first week of March and I said, 'Well, I have to schedule mine for the last week of February,'" Barris said. "Regardless, I couldn't have done it without her and she couldn't have done it without me."

Barris and Mohney complement each other. Both earned their master's degrees in special education from Slippery Rock, but there is a symbiotic relationship to their career journeys as well.

SRU's doctorate in special education focuses on two areas: pedagogical, by equipping college faculty to prepare future special education teachers, and professional, by developing graduates to be practitioners in the field in leadership positions in the K-12 system or related support service agencies.

Mohney, an adjunct faculty member at Clarion University, recently accepted a tenure-track faculty position in special education at Lock Haven University. Barris is completing his third year as the principal for the grades 6-8 academy at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, where he oversees more than 80 teachers and 2,600 students across the entire state and evaluates standardized testing.

Both taught undergraduate courses at Slippery Rock as students in the doctorate program. Mohney also served as a teaching associate where she supervised a block of student teachers and had other departmental responsibilities.

"Both are highly motivated, dedicated to education, talented and very driven throughout the entire progression of the program," said Richael Barger-Anderson, SRU professor of special education. "It's monumental for us as a department to have the opportunity to have the program. (To have the first graduates come through) is professionally a capstone experience for all of us."

Barger-Anderson also credits Keith Dils, dean of the College of Education, for his tremendous support in advancing the special education doctoral program.

Despite their efficient progression through program, Barris and Mohney made the most of their journey, conducting meaningful research that will propel them in their careers.

"With my role as a principal, I deal with data on a daily basis," said Barris, who will have three degrees from SRU. He earned his bachelor's degree in special education and elementary education in 2009 and his master's degree in special education supervision in 2013. "Being able to really understand qualitative and quantitative research at a very high level helps to assist me as a middle school principal," he said.

"Slippery Rock already has an outstanding history of producing high-quality educators," Mohney said. "So it only makes sense that their doctoral program would be an excellent route to get more adequately certified higher education faculty to train and teach the next generation of special education teachers."

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MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |