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Dean Niles: On the School of Education


By: Mary Kate Watkins, M.Ed. ’19

In the first half of my interview with Dean Niles, we focused on his experience as a student and his advice for students seeking a career in education.  

How do you view your role at William & Mary?

My motivation is really around identifying ways that my service can be useful to our faculty, students and staff.  A primary goal I have is helping people and programs achieve their goals.  I strive to create a climate within the school where people feel valued and aware that their presence matters.  Higher education is so much a hierarchy, right?  Undergrad, Master’s, Doctoral, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, and wherever it goes from there. In terms of what we learn from each other, however, we know that the learning process is mutual and multidirectional.  Personally, I learn important things every day from our staff, students, and faculty.

Part of what I value, as a person who’s been in higher education for a while, is that you don’t have to be in an administrative role to be a leader.  Everyone has a role to play in leadership.  Faculty do this by mentoring students, staff do this in the ways they make our school better through their dedicated service, students do this when they are fully engaged in the learning process.  In my work with students, I have been very intentional about engaging students in that process.  In a way, it is my opportunity to pay forward what was offered to me by my advisor when I was a doctoral student.  I have about 150 publications and probably about 140 of them are with students because it’s so important to me that I can help other students feel that sort of empowerment that I experienced as a student.  One of the things I like least about being a Dean is that I don’t have the opportunity to work as frequently with students as I would like.  I do know that I will finish my career as a as a professor again because I really value that sort of work opportunity.  Being part of a student’s developmental process is a real honor. 

What makes the William & Mary School of Education unique?

That’s an easy one.  Our faculty really do care about your personal and career development.  Our faculty and staff are incredibly committed to the work that they do in the School of Education.  Your presence and your contributions are incredibly important to what we are as a School of Education.

I think for deep learning to happen people have to feel like who they are and what they bring to the work that they do, whether it’s faculty, staff, or student, is sufficient to contribute. And it’s not about always “getting it right.”  There’s much more learning that happens when it’s not perfect.  We’re all operating from a coping model when it comes to who we are how we live and what we do.  And when we acknowledge that, we engage in our work and our interactions with others with genuine humility that creates the space for us to take risks and grow into the best people we can be – it shifts the focus from whether we are failing or succeeding to learning.   If we lose a sense of humility, then we move into dangerous territory because then we assume a level of arrogance that is detrimental to the learning process.

Another piece that’s important is that we have to take the time to reflect upon what our daily experiences have to teach us about our place in the world.  Paying attention and engaging in mindful practices are essential for being able to integrate our experiences into our self-awareness.  When we aren’t intentionally reflective, we tend to gloss right over this process. Instead, we focus on human doing and exclude human being.  We get too caught up in probability thinking, which is always there at some level, but it’s much more essential to focus on the possibilities because that’s usually where the creative solutions to complex problems reside.

How would you describe your leadership over the School of Education?

Here, we try to be transformational for students schools and communities. One of the ways we can help be transformational is by committing to our own transformation. We have many faculty doing very transformational work.  As a leader, I try to join them in that process by taking on a service orientation to leadership. Shared governance is important for many reasons, but one is that is allows for group ownership of solutions to our challenges.  We hire very strong people as faculty and staff, and we admit outstanding students – that is a powerful confluence of resources that collectively is transformative.

What would you like everyone reading this to know about you?

First of all, what I’d like to say is that there’s a standing invitation to people; if there are ways that I can be useful to them, then I genuinely want to help. We’re here to work on things together and learn together.  It’s a real honor to be connected to this school and the people in this school.  We have an important commitment to continuous improvement.  And one thing is very exciting is that we have a president that really exemplifies that commitment. I think she is already energizing us as a university and leading us into some very exciting places.

Part 2: On Being a Student

____________________________________________________________________________ Mary Kate Watkins is an Editorial Assistant for Wren’s Nest and a M.Ed. ’19 student in the Educational Policy, Planning, & Leadership program at William & Mary.

Image: Joshua Chung

Scholarship in Practice | Justine Okerson Ph.D. ’16


In academia, a dedication to lifelong learning and the pursuit of knowledge to enhance our practices is critical for higher education administrators, as demographics continue to change and impact our current vision of what “college” looks like.  I was attracted to William & Mary’s Higher Education Program as it would allow me to continue my work as a practitioner in the field focused on admission visitations, while also challenging me to design my own research on college choice and the campus visit, eventually defining my own college choice theory.

When I finished my Ph.D. in 2016, I knew the educational experience provided me with the historical knowledge and research experience to back up my practitioner-based expertise with college choice and the campus visit.  I improved my problem-solving skills, fine-tuned my academic writing, and prepared for the next steps on my career trajectory, as I plan to become a Dean of Undergraduate Admission.

My experience at William & Mary will forever inscribe the Tribe in my heart, but also assisted me in making the jump to working at Duke University with the Office of Undergraduate Scholars & Fellows.  In my role as the Associate Director for Merit Scholarship programs, I direct the annual recruitment of 150 merit scholars out of the top applicants at Duke University.  I lead the campus visitation program/interview process for all merit scholarship finalists, and my team and I support over 500 scholars programmatically throughout the year.

When I reflect on my ability to implement scholarship into practice, I immediately consider all the techniques I learned from my experiences with research, reflection, and assessment at William & Mary to put positive change into practice.  When I first arrived at Duke, the schedule for programming for the year was set, and I learned quite a bit during that first year about what I personally observed to be working and what needed some additional tweaking.  I utilized surveys and conversations with my scholars in order to better inform the work for my second year.  Over the summer, I was able to utilize the feedback I had received, create collaborative spaces for discussion, and draft and revise a new programmatic plan for the current academic year.

This year I implemented a first-year program series for all first-year scholars across 10 different merit scholarships at Duke University.  In this program, I introduced them to the benefits and responsibilities of being a merit scholar, allowed them to engage with a life-values inventory and reflected on what they hope to get out of their college experience. I also brought in author Tara Westover from the New York Times best-selling book Educated to teach them grit, resilience, and gratitude, including their introduction to the world of the arts in Durham, outside of the Duke bubble. 

But the learning in my job does not stop here.  Much as the programming has become more intentional and more successful this year thanks to the tools I learned in Educational Planning and Evaluation & Assessment at William & Mary. There is always room to continue growing and improving.

My time at Duke has been a whirlwind: I was asked to serve as my high school’s Chair of Ideas and deliver a speech about my career to students; I use research and focus groups to create more equitable scholar selection and recruitment practices; I utilize texts and articles frequently in staff trainings/meetings; I presented research at the NACAC conference with over 10,000 attendees;  I enrolled in Managing at Duke and attended a series of Racial & Social Equity trainings, and I applied for a Fulbright IEA Seminar for Higher Education Administrators.  I attribute these successes to my time and education at William & Mary in the Higher Education Program.  I will forever exercise my intellectual curiosity, desire to improve myself and others through Higher Education, and passion for research and scholarship.

Dr. Justine Okerson is the Associate Director for Merit Scholarship Programs in the Office of Undergraduate Scholars & Fellows (OUSF) at Duke University. Justine earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from William & Mary, where she completed her dissertation on college choice and the campus visit.

Image: Duke Today

Virtual Reality as a Social Skills Intervention | Daria Lorio-Barsten Ph.D. ’22

Cute little child girl playing game in virtual reality glasses.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects one in 68 children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevalence, 2014). As the numbers of identified individuals with ASD rise, students with ASD continuously underperform on the requirement of graduating with a standard diploma. The national graduation rate for students with disabilities is 61% (Samuels, 2015), yet students with ASD graduate at a rate of 40% (or less) (Barrat et al., 2014). Social, economic, and employment outcomes for adults with ASD also remain poor (Parsons, 2016).

Individuals with ASD demonstrate persistent deficits in the areas of social interactions across a variety of contexts, which lead to deficits in forming and maintaining relationships (APA, 2015). Consequently, these deficits lead to an increased risk for loneliness and social isolation (Didehbani, Allen, Kandalaft, Krawczyk & Chapman, 2016). Special education teachers frequently struggle with developing and delivering effective instruction on social skills due to a strong academic focus within the schools and a lack of training or existing curriculum for social skills.

However, to improve graduation rates and, more importantly, social and employment outcomes for students with ASD, schools must find a way to address the need for effective social skills instruction. Using virtual reality (VR) can be one of the potential solutions to the current lack of an instructional match to the students’ social skills deficit (Parsons, 2016; Didehbani et al., 2016; Lorenzo, Lledo, Pomares, & Roig, 2016; Irish, 2013).

Among evidence-based practices for individuals with ASD are social skills training, video modeling, and technology-aided instruction and intervention (National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, 2014). VR as an instructional option combines technology-aided instruction and intervention, social skills training, and video modeling. Depending on the VR design, additional evidence-based practices of prompting and reinforcement may also be simultaneously implemented with intentional design.

Didehbani et al. (2016) proposed that VR allows individuals to practice socially challenging interactions with less anxiety than more traditional social skills interventions. This is accomplished by providing opportunities for repeated practice in a constantly changing and dynamic environment within a safe context. Traditional instructional methods cannot create such intricate contexts. Within a VR setting individuals with ASD can make social mistakes without the fear of rejection or intense anxiety. Additionally, computer technology can frequently be highly motivating as well through immediate feedback and dense sensory input.

Complexity and variability of VR experiences impact the effectiveness of VR as an intervention (Parsons, 2016).  Most current VR environments display visual experiences on a desktop computer screen for single users (Lorenzo et al., 2016) while others allow students to collaborate with additional students in a virtual learning environment (Wang, Laffrey, Xing, Ma & Stichter, 2016; Parsons, 2015).

A recent application of VR provided an immersive virtual reality experience through the use of L-shaped screens, robots with eye-in-hand camera system, sound system, and software with an algorithm that identifies and quantifies the user’s basic expressions of anger, happiness, sadness and surprise (Lorenzo et al., 2016). Using VR to improve social skills may be a promising practice (Parsons, 2015; Didehbani et al., 2016; Irish, 2013), though most studies include small samples and lack longitudinal and follow-up studies (Irish, 2013). Questions remain if the participants can generalize those skills across other settings and real people. 

Costs and installation present practical barriers for the use of VR as an instructional strategy within a school system. Investing in a costly, not-yet deemed evidence-based practice is likely to present a challenge. Additionally, special education teachers may not possess a strong knowledge base in VR design or the ability to troubleshoot technical aspects.

Statista (2017) forecasted the total number of active virtual reality users to reach 171 million by 2018. As more VR is developed further studies should explore using VR as an intervention strategy for students with ASD. However, VR should not be an intervention in itself. Instead, VR should be one of the tools to enhance student engagement and success. VR designers and special education teachers need to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration in order to combine the exciting possibilities of a dynamic and safe VR world with effective teaching practices.

Daria Lorio-Barsten is a Ph.D. student in the EPPL K-12 Administration program at William & Mary. Her interests include special education, behavior management, and creativity. @DariaLorio


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

Barrat, V. X., Berliner, B., Voight, A., Tran, L., Huang, C. W., Yu, A., & Chen-Gaddini, M. (2014). School mobility, dropout, and graduation rates across student disability categories in Utah. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of

Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=REL2015055

Centers for Disease Control and Prevalence. (2014). CDC Estimates 1 in 68 Children Has Been Identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0327-autism-spectrum-disorder.html

Didehbani, N., Allen, T., Kandalaft, M., Krawczyk, D., & Chapman, S. (2016). Virtual reality social cognition training for children with high functioning autism. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 703–711. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.04.033

Irish, J. E. (2013). Can I sit here? A review of the literature supporting the use of single-user virtual environments to help adolescents with autism learn appropriate social communication skills. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, A17–A24. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.12.031

Lorenzo, G., Lliedo, A., Pomares, J., & Roig, R. (2016). Design and application of an immersive virtual reality system to enhance emotional skills for children with autism spectrum disorders. Computers & Education, 98, 192–205. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2016.03.018

National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders. (2014). Evidence-based Practices. Retrieved from http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/evidence-based-practices

Parsons, S. (2015). Learning to work together: Designing a multi-user virtual reality game for social collaboration and perspective-taking for children with autism. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 6, 28–38. doi:10.1016/j.ijcci.2015.12.002

Parsons, S. (2016). Authenticity in virtual reality for assessment and intervention in autism: A conceptual review. Educational Research Review, 19, 138–157. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2016.08.001

Samuels, C. A. (2015, May 29). Graduation rates vary for students with disabilities. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/06/04/graduation-rates-vary-for-students-with-disabilities.html

Statista. (2017). Number of Active Virtual Reality Users Worldwide from 2014 to 2018. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/426469/active-virtual-reality-users-worldwide/

Wang, X., Laffey, J., Xing, W., Ma, Y., & Stichter, J. (2016). Exploring embodied social presence of youth with Autism in 3D collaborative virtual learning environment: A case study. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 310–321. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.09.006 

Image: Yuganov Konstantin

Faculty Spotlight | Dr. Katherine Barko-Alva


“My students and I want to work from the margins, not to transform the margins, but from the very humble perspective of ‘We’re here to learn from our students… we’re here to learn from our ELs, we’re here to learn from our parents, to understand their narratives and to collaborate’.”  -Dr. Barko-Alva

On a rainy January afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Katherine Barko-Alva to discuss the M.A.Ed. in ESL and Bilingual Education, her experience as an English Learner (EL) moving through the public education system in America, and the future of bilingual education.

It was clear from the first few moments of our discussion that she is a truly compassionate and humble educator with a firm commitment to her students. Dr. Barko-Alva was very open and candid about her path to W&M and shared her experience immigrating to the U.S. and enrolling in public high school without speaking English. She recalled the experience as “horrible” but noted how grateful she was for a social studies teacher, Mr. Dunn, one of many positive role models, that helped guide her through the system.

Through her tenacity and hard work, she graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in English and a deep passion for community service. As an undergraduate student, Dr. Barko-Alva became involved with programs under the Institute of Hispanic & Latino Culture and the College of Education including Proyecto Sol conceived by Dr. Coady, an initiative to teach English to migrant workers. Dr. Barko-Alva “fell in love” with this work and recalled how it shaped her path and became a high school ESL teacher.

As she spoke about her time as a high school teacher, she described a crucial element of teaching that can easily become forgotten—to teach is to advocate. Dr. Barko-Alva’s pride in her students was evident as she described what they accomplished after graduation. She recalled:

“some of my kids came to UF to start their undergrad and then the other ones went to community college has one decided to become a chef. The idea was that everybody who wanted to do something else with their lives could, right? But it was a lot of work. It was checking their credits, making sure they had all the academic classes they needed, they weren’t missing class, their families were being heard … so there was a lot of community building, classroom connections, talking to parents, visits. But I loved it… I knew my little ones were going to be okay when I left.”

Eventually, Dr. Barko-Alva pursued a master’s and then a Ph.D. at UF studying under some of the premier researchers in bilingual education, Dr. Ester de Jong and Dr. Maria Coady, but her heart remains with teachers in the classroom.

Anyone who steps into her office can immediately see that this feeling is mutual amongst her students; she has an entire bookcase with trinkets, mementos, cards, and pictures to remind her of her past students. When I asked about the M.A.Ed. program offered through the School of Education, I was surprised by how recent the formal program has been around—the current class is the first cohort of students to pursue this program. Dr. Barko-Alva conscientiously acknowledged how many voices had come before her to advocate for this program and led to the creation of her position.

She credits Dr. Jonathan Arries, Dr. Chris Gareis, Dr. Gail McEachron, Dr. Katherine Kulick, Dr. Jeremy Stoddard, Mr. Robert “Bobby” Oliver, and Ms. Joy Martin as some of the strongest allies of this program. She holds a deep gratitude for these individuals which I felt was a vital reminder that no one achieves anything alone. Unsurprisingly, her students are captivated by her energy and passion.

Last year, they produced a promotional video (see below) describing their perspective on the importance of bilingual education. Their authentic and candid responses beautifully capture what this program means for the future of the Commonwealth as the need for bilingual teachers grows.

M.A.Ed. in ESL/Bilingual Education | School of Education

After our conversation, I scribbled out a few notes attempting to identify some common themes of our conversation. First and foremost, Dr. Barko-Alva’s deep compassion for teaching, students, learning, and for community not only spoke directly to my own values, but to William & Mary’s values that we cultivate in our students.

Second, I recognized that humility is absolutely essential in education and Dr. Barko-Alva exemplifies this quality in every way. Finally, her undeniable fidelity to building communities and preparing the next generation of educators to be advocates for their students embodies the core values of W&M.

Her teaching philosophy embodies the Wren’s Nest mission of applying scholarship beyond the classroom where we build communities and advocate for others. My afternoon with Dr. Barko-Alva was a much-needed reminder that here, we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by compassionate and humble leaders who want us to flourish so that we may help others flourish.

Samantha Nussbaum is an Editorial Assistant for Wren’s Nest and a M.Ed. ’20 student in the Educational Policy, Planning, & Leadership program at William & Mary.

Image: Joshua Chung

Maximizing the Benefits of Group Work: An e-Learning Initiatives Conversation | Jennifer Hoyt, Ed.D. ’20


Over a brown-bag lunch and workshop setting, William & Mary’s e-Learning Initiatives tackled a topic that frequently creates challenges for both faculty and students of K-12 and higher education: group work. The 20-plus attendees met on January 23 to share their experiences of applying the popular method of teaching and learning, while considering how to help students balance interpersonal reliance with academic growth. They left with a detailed perspective from two students who are well-versed in the opportunities and challenges associated with teamwork.

“I think that it’s sometimes good to hear about the challenges the students are experiencing because, as a professor, unless things get really bad, a lot of times all you see is the initial five-second divvying up into groups and then the ultimate product,” shared W&M undergraduate, Jessica Laury ‘20. “You don’t always see all the work that went into the collaboration of that project.”

Laury teamed up with Ethan Jones, also a W&M senior, as they offered their points of view on what it takes to successfully produce academic work with their peers. Jones stated that discipline and dedication must drive the projects in such a digitally-structured learning environment. He also added, “This is what the idea of group work looks like, when people are really doing it for the learning and doing it in terms of objectives.”

Faculty members shared their own opinions on assigning group work, specifically on designing assignments that actually warrant collaboration and how they determine the amount of participation required by everyone involved, instructors included. Those who attended the workshop raised concerns over structuring productive teams, the opportunity for diverse perspectives, the use of time management, and the application of knowledge once teams disband.

The two seniors presented their points from an extreme example of group work, one that extends to an international level of competition and scholarship. Currently, Jones and Laury are working with other William & Mary students as they participate in a year-long competition known as the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition, which is an annual, international synthetic biology event aimed at undergraduate university students. Competing against other groups from Harvard, Princeton, and MIT, among others, the two take the practice of teamwork to new levels, yet they remain focused on the basics of communication, timelines, objectives, and quality.

“There are always goals with group work, and then there is the actual outcome with group work,” Laury explained. As for Jones, he believes their discussion at the e-Learning workshop will benefit faculty as they plan future group work assignments. “You can sort of get what students think from evaluations or the general sentiments, but different voices will always be louder than others.”

Once the workshop concluded, faculty offered their appreciation to Laury and Jones for voicing their experience with teamwork in a realistic description of trial and error. Dr. Gene Roche, Executive Professor of Higher Education, shared, “I found it to be valuable, and I’ve been doing group work for 30 years.”  Moreover, Dr. Angelica Serna Jeri, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies, believes the focus on student collaboration crosses over to all fields of academic study and stated, “I think it was very useful for me because I come from the humanities, and I always want to incorporate new ways to work in groups.”

Jennifer Hoyt is an Ed.D ‘ 20 student in William & Mary’s Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership program. Prior to entering the School of Education, Jennifer served as a full-time lecturer of journalism at Old Dominion University.

Image: William & Mary

Navigating the Information Age | Angelo Letizia Ph.D. ’14


Translating research into practice is obviously an important consideration for educational schools across the country and the world. How can we, as professors, students and administrators utilize research to impact practice in a variety of settings? Before embarking on this question however, I think it needs to be reframed.

The question is simple on its surface, but like an iceberg in one of those motivational posters, it continues downward and touches on many other ideas and levels which may not seem apparent at first. At its core, I think the question brings attention to the fact that there is so much research. And the amount of research is never static, rather, it continues to grow at bewildering rates. The research to practice endeavor may signal just how massive of an undertaking it actually is.

Research to practice becomes the information age in living form. As information and knowledge proliferates, translating even a small chunk of that ever-growing stream is what professors, students and administrators are actually trying to do. It may be akin to damming and diverting a small trickle of Mississippi river or the Pacific Ocean. Sound intimidating? It should! This is no easy task.

For me, this is where my training at the College of William & Mary shines. Translating research to practice is not a simple or one-to-one translation. In our volatile world, there is so much complexity, as well as obfuscation and even purposeful deception from many parties. I realized through my coursework, conversations with my professors, and courses of study that to translate research into practice would require not only a knowledge of what that research is, but a type of flexibility and foresight.

Reality in the information age is too complex and too big for myopic research.

Translating research to practice requires more than simply reading a how to manual or being unthinking practitioners. Rather, this translation requires those translating to be active, to see new and novel ways to apply ideas, to sense how similar ideas work in vastly different circumstances and how emerging ideas interact with each other and long held practices. Indeed, we may need to incorporate more radical modes of research, such as arts-based research alongside traditional modes of research, in an effort to see social phenomena in new ways (Barone & Eisner, 2012).

As such, translating research in practice is a messy endeavor. And while some academics may appreciate this messiness and see it as an opportunity for creativity and growth, I would argue that larger mainstream culture does not value this messiness. Instead, mainstream culture largely values soundbites, instant gratification and simplistic solutions from politicians who want another term, who want to placate their bases and need to show progress now.

Many do not want complexity, they want simplicity. Simplicity is comforting, ignorance is bliss, but it is detrimental to true progress. Of course, these ideas may be a little preachy, but there is some truth in it, even if I am a cranky. The point is that that the academic who translates research into practice may not only have to navigate the complexity of the information age and the messiness of research practice itself, but also social and political obstacles as well.                        

At William & Mary, I began to understand this volatile and ever changing situation. (I am not expert, I learn a little more about it every day). I learned to be comfortable with this messiness and complexity. And I realized that anything I learned would have to be practiced in this volatility and many times in the face of resistance. I welcome the challenge and I am better for it. Thank you William & Mary.

Dr. Angelo Letizia is an assistant professor of education at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore Maryland, and a 2014 graduate of the EPPL Higher Education PhD program. He specializes in social studies education, arts based research and history.

Image: Rawpixel

Part 2: A Conversation with President Rowe


II: Reflecting on Roots

Read Part I of the exclusive Wren’s Nest conversation with President Katherine Rowe here.

Throughout our conversation with President Rowe, we gathered a sense of the keen awareness Rowe has of her personal and professional capacity. “We’re in the business of creating community with each other,” she shared as “always front of mind.” A key ingredient being hospitality. But not the dinner party kind, rather a genuine inclusivity. 

Rowe has an extraordinary gift of recall, and so far, has transitioned well into William & Mary’s community and the deep traditions embedded into its structures. Like Charter Day. What follows is the second part of our conversation with Rowe, detailing the challenges women face as leaders and her upcoming inauguration on February 8th, 2019, as the 28th President of William & Mary.

Women and Play

The University of Washington’s President, Ann Marie Cauce, wrote in a much-read November 2018 Chronicle of Higher Education on leadership that “men are stars while women are hardworking,” spotlighting challenges for female presidents. We asked what challenges Rowe had overcome in her career, including how they impacted her style as a leader. 

In her unflinching and poised manner, Rowe shared how women “are socialized to work hard, and less to play.” This means, she explained, “we are leaving out domains of extraordinarily valuable cognitive, social and physical experience that brings with it tolerance of risk and failure.”

Rowe was quick to note how her own educational experiences – receiving her Ph.D. from Harvard and teaching careers at Yale and Bryn Mawr College – allowed her to integrate play into her work. But not everyone has that luxury. Rowe noted that most female leaders experience “a lower threshold of tolerance for failure or for error.” 

Time spent coaching competitive ultimate frisbee, as well as on-stage work with thespians has instilled the necessity for, and love of, play in Rowe. 

“Propose and tolerate failure; optimize and improve; and collaboratively take joy in risk taking. I would say that’s an asset that I bring. I think that probably most women presidents have that somewhere in their DNA or they wouldn’t be where they are.” Rowe’s presidential DNA, currently under the microscope, has yet to experience failure, but that “joy in collaboration” has been experienced across William & Mary’s campus.

326th Charter Day

President Rowe’s inauguration as the first woman to lead the College of William & Mary is staged for this week. 

“It is absolutely a moment of punctuation…a moment of reflection,” acknowledged Rowe. We wondered how she was internalizing the historic moment, and Rowe responded that “Inauguration is for the campus, and for William & Mary, more than it is for me.”

The importance of the College’s Charter is not lost on Rowe. “We look back to look forward.”

Her expert eyes on historical English prose allow her to pick out apparently mundane statements and expound on their extraordinariness. For instance, the original Royal Charter states, eight times, in all time comingand for all times coming

Rowe exclaimed, “For all time coming! Just thinking about that, the ambition, boldness, contingency that kind of prospective thinking is a powerful invitation right now.” 

The President’s eyes nearly glowed with delight, the kind a researcher has at sifting through her finding. As she dons the storied mantle of leadership, we reflect that same scholarly anticipation for how we will become a stronger, more inclusive community of scholars.

Johann Ducharme is an Associate Editor with the William & Mary Educational Review, and founding editor of Wren’s Nest. He is currently a Ph.D. student, studying Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at William & Mary.

Photo by: Eric Lusher

Pay Attention and Advocate for Policy You Want | Madeline Vann M.Ed. ’19


“The profession is dying!” Kathy Burcher, director of the Virginia Education Association Office of Governmental Relations and Research, firmly stated her warning into the microphone, commanding the attention of everyone gathered in Richmond’s John Marshall hotel ballroom for a legislative pre-session roundtable.

She recited the statistics we are all increasingly familiar with – Virginia is lacking 1,000 full-time teachers this year, (as reported by Richmond Times-Dispatch) and qualified educators are slowly moving away from the profession.

I attended the roundtable session because social justice advocacy is a core passion of mine, and a core competency of the counseling profession I plan to enter. I am also an active member of the League of Women Voters who believes passionately in the value of a strongly worded letter, email, phone call, meeting with a representative, and, when needed, protest sign. The League hosts an annual pre-session roundtable before the General Assembly begins, so that members and the public can learn more about some of the issues that may come up during the session.

This year, the focus is on the budget. Governor Northam asked for an increase in pay of 2 percent this year on top of the 3 percent the General Assembly has already approved for public school teachers as part of his proposed budget. While willingness to pay teachers well is an important part of supporting the profession, Burcher and others speaking at the roundtable informed us there is much more on the table. For example, many school districts may not be able to accept the pay raise for their teachers because the districts themselves can not afford to contribute, as required by law. Proposed legislation this session could free districts from that requirement. Other legislation seeks to provide additional training for school resource officers (SRO), require Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between school boards and law enforcement regarding SRO duties, and end the criminalization of disruptive behavior in classrooms. 

That morning we listened to a litany of upcoming legislative items that may be of interest to future counselors, educators, and higher education professionals. Expect the 45-day legislative session to address legislation on issues including:

  • The creation of a “Virginia Loves Teachers” license plate
  • The creation of a Commission on Wellness and Opportunity
  • Increased funding for Community Service Boards.
  • Increased funding for mental health crisis care, with an emphasis on children’s crisis services.
  • Increase Medicaid reimbursement for some outpatient mental health services.
  • Increase mental health training for law enforcement.
  • Banning the death penalty for defendants with serious mental illness.
  • Increasing the capacity of the prison system to address mental health needs.
  • Permission for teachers to carry weapons inside school buildings.
  • Permission for safety resource officers to carry weapons in private or religious schools.
  • Removal of firearms from people deemed to be at risk to themselves or others.
  • “Grow Your Own” teacher funds intended to support low income students getting a bachelor’s degree and entering the teaching profession.
  • Encouraging localities to provide increase school counselor positions.
  • Advocacy for driver’s licenses for undocumented individuals.
  • Legislation requiring menstrual supplies to be free and available in all school bathrooms.
  • Legislation prohibiting the use of electroshock therapy, aversion therapy or other physical treatments as part of conversion therapy for persons under the age of 18.
  • And more – scroll through all proposed bills online: Here 

Here in Williamsburg, we are only 45 minutes away from the “sausage making” process of policy development. We have a unique opportunity every Wednesday morning to attend free legislative roundtables hosted by the state League and then spend some time attempting to educate our legislators about the issues that affect our professions, clients, students, and communities. It’s important to keep an eye on the legislative process, because the status of proposed legislation – and the emergence of new legislation you’ll care about even more – can change with very little notice.

Going to Richmond to speak to a legislator, attend a session, or speak in front of a committee is an eye-opening and truly awesome experience. It can also be terrifying, exhilarating, impactful, and frustrating as you learn how many bills simply die in the committees to which they are assigned, without ever coming up for a vote by our elected representatives. All of these emotions feel better to me than the blissful ignorance that yields to surprise when policy decisions made not too far from our classrooms impact our professions and our communities. 

Show up. Show up in the ballrooms, in the halls of power, and on the streets. Make the calls. Write the letters. Hashtag the selfies.

For those in the education field, January 28 was a critical lobby day organized by the Virginia Education Association, as part of the “Wear Red for Ed” movement to increase awareness of the value and needs of public education. The #RedForEd movement is a national effort to encourage supporters of education to dress in red on Wednesdays to raise awareness. In addition to showing support visibly in our communities and schools, individuals are encouraged to post images on social media with the hashtag, to spread the word about the importance of education and policies that support education. 

The Virginia Counseling Association (VCA)’s legislative day was also January 28. For more information about lobbying alongside the VCA, visit their website: https://www.vcacounselors.org/page/legday

Madeline Vann is a M.Ed. ’19 Counseling student and a Family, Marriage, and Couples Counseling Intern with New Horizons Family Counseling Center at William & Mary

A Conversation with President Rowe


I: Cultivating Connection

“I’ve talked to students, the Student Assembly, with the president aides, the wellness ambassadors, recreation sports guides and leaders – it’s been right at the front of mind: How do we do the work? How do we ensure that everybody feels fully welcomed and then can fully participate?” 

President Katherine Rowe, the 28th President of the College of William & Mary and the first woman to lead the College in its 326-year history, spoke with the Wren’s Nest in an exclusive interview in January 2019. 

We have followed her Thinking Forward campaign, and our conversation underscored much of what has made these conversations so rich among students, faculty, staff and the wider community. Her posture as we spoke, relaxed and angled toward us in intent listening, was consistent with her demeanor in a room 200-strong, as it was for her final Thinking Forward town hall forum back in November. 

We were eager to hear President Rowe’s initial insights from the Thinking Forward campaign. “To me, the important questions, pedagogically, are always the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ questions. Not so much the ‘what’ questions. And that how question is really active on this campus. How is community crafted?”

The bulk of our conversation centered around this question Rowe posed: how is community crafted? Our takeaways were stirring and thought-provoking: her eloquence in describing the intentionally-welcoming community of William & Mary; the scholarly authors who anchor her values as a leader; how she is processing her imminent inauguration; and how the power of play inspires entrepreneurial thinking for female leaders. 

We walked away with a glimpse of how President Rowe sees herself, and why she was chosen as the next to lead our community of scholars. 

Creating Community

When asked how one crafts community, Rowe responded with missional conviction, “Creating community is not just an epiphenomenon of the way that we teach and learn, pursue research and work together. It is a core mission.”

This commitment to creating community was a theme in her campus-wide Thinking Forward campaign, called cultivating deep human connections. Her campaign started in fall 2018, shortly after she took office, and has garnered responses from College students, staff, faculty, alumni and the broader Williamsburg community. To date, these responses amount to more than 800 data points from forum respondents, online submissions and social media comments.  Their authenticity, comprehension and synthesis will inform Rowe’s ability to adapt quickly to her new surroundings and provide a foundation for a forthcoming strategic plan.

Rowe assured us that she’s not the only one that has benefitted from these data points. “I didn’t just hear the preoccupations and aspirations of the community, but the community at-large got to hear them as well.” She continued, “People will use phrases like ‘Oh, there’s been administrative or staff bloat,’ and so my question is, ‘Okay, has there been? Let’s find out.’” 

The focused listening portion of the campaign is wrapping up, and Rowe shared that this spring will be “a period of inquiry and investigation to give us the data we need to head into strategic planning by the fall.”  

[If you’d like to share your thoughts for President Rowe, you can do so here.] 

One practical example that has emerged from the campaign is a new learning studio, to be housed after renovations in Swem Library. “I think we should do a listening session on that,” Rowe added. “Here’s a schema, here’s some goals, here’s a vision statement. Let’s bring who’s interested on campus – faculty, staff, students, alums, board members, administrators together – to dig into it for an hour and a half, and reflect back.”

Milton and Arendt

As a Renaissance scholar, Rowe anchors her values – and shared that she had some of her greatest teaching moments – in studying and reckoning John Milton’s 12-book epic, Paradise Lost

“There’s a profound argument about the value of disobedience and error-correcting. So, I think about that a lot. My politics are not his. My religion is not his. But the idea of dissent and conflict are productive if shaped well. And if embraced in partnership with others, a really, really important idea to me.” Rowe talked at great length about her love for the 17th century epic, and how to teach Milton in light of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materialstrilogy, stating “it’s a deeply pleasurable process for me and has been part of my thinking for a long time.” 

She added that Milton’s Paradise Lostwould be the first course she would entertain teaching at William & Mary.

Rowe also mentioned, at several points, how important it is to take the time to deeply engage with your thoughts, issues of importance, and actually thinkabout your actions. To that end, German philosopher and political theorist, Hannah Arendt anchors Rowe’s desire for professional introspection and meaning making. Arendt has had a profound influence on Rowe’s development as both a scholar and leader.

Rowe referenced The Human Condition, commending Arendt’s “reflectiveness as an essential, moral and political practice.” More specifically, something Arendt stated in her seminal work, “very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.”This phrase – think what we are doing– reflects Rowe’s own values as well as educational, societal and political values. 

Rowe mused, leaving us with fodder for our own contemplation, “What is the practice of reflection? What are we doing? How do we do it deliberately? Who is the ‘we’ that has to participate in that? Who do we conjure as our community to do that in? And then, what is the relationship between that and the actions we choose?”

Part 1 of 2. (Next week, Part 2: Reflecting on Roots)

Johann Ducharme is an Associate Editor with the William & Mary Educational Review, and founding editor of Wren’s Nest. He is currently a Ph.D. student, studying Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at William & Mary.

Photo by Stephen Salpukas

Wren’s Nest: An Introduction


Nearly 60 years ago, William & Mary’s Board of Visitors established the School of Education on January 14th, 1961, which initially awarded baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Before that, professors and students studying education were situated as a department under the Arts & Sciences.

The College has a long-standing tradition of concerning itself with the resources and training of local, regional, and national educators. “Effective teaching,” as stated in William & Mary’s Mission Statement, “imparts knowledge and encourages the intellectual development of both student and teacher.” And throughout these years, it is the intellectual endeavor of faculty, students and alumni to understand, research, and practice the very foundation of ‘effective teaching’ and the ‘development’ of faculty and student alike.

Wren’s Nest situates itself as a trestle between the School of Education past and present. Here we specifically welcome Scholarship Beyond the Classroom. By ‘Scholarship’ we mean the reflexive pursuit of academic achievement and further study. Educators hold primary the metacognition of learning – a thankless, rudimentary endeavor. However, to the trained teacher or skilled professor, this scholarship holds the door to the future and possibilities yet to be discovered.

Here at the Wren’s Nest, we also concern ourselves with the ‘Beyond.’ What parts of human development and learning await to be noticed, uncovered, or examined? How are new educational experiences folded into prior meaning-making? Where are the boundary lines of theory as a guide for practice? Into these questions, the School of Education students commit to the exploration of life-long learning, and our alumni practice the outgrowth of their terminal degrees. Beyond the classroom, moreover, means the synthesis and integration of learning.

Wren’s Nest | Scholarship Beyond the Classroom | 1.30.2019.

Our inaugural pieces include an exclusive conversation with William & Mary’s 28th President, Dr. Katherine A. Rowe (Part 1: Cultivating Connection) and a reflection on Virginia Governor Northam’s education policy from Master’s student and New Horizon Family Counseling Center Intern, Madeline Vann.

Image: Google Images