In 2011, Western Carolina University suspended admission into its Educational Leadership program in order to re-engineer its curriculum.

Now, more than 10 years later, the program found itself being honored as the Carnegie Project on the Educational Doctorate’s (CPED) 2021 Program of the Year award winner in October. This win comes on the heels of claiming WCU’s Program of Excellence Award for Academic Programs in April.

“This award is the result of more than 10 years of continuous and collaborative improvement efforts from the Educational Leadership faculty, including myself, Kofi Lomotey, Brandi Hinnant-Crawford, Robert Crow, Emily Virtue, Darrius Stanley, Heidi Von Dohlen and Cathy Andrews,” said Jess Weiler, assistant professor and the Educational Leadership program director.

“We have sought program improvements that prepare educational leaders to enact systemwide, research-supported, equitable and socially just practices ensuring the fair distribution of access and opportunity for all students,” Weiler said.

In 2013, a new and more diverse faculty challenged colleagues to consider whether the program’s professed commitment to equity and social justice was genuine, giving the sparsity of curriculum and pedagogy around critical theory and critical praxis.

They reconsidered student learning outcomes, created and added courses connected to leadership for equity and justice and clarified what they wanted students to know and be able to do upon completion of the program, which is now outlined in the WCU EdD Student Handbook:

Upon program completion, scholar-practitioners will continuously cultivate their critical understanding of the social construction and power relations perpetuating the unfair distribution of access and opportunity by educational organizations and demonstrate the scholarly enactment of systemwide, research-supported, equitable and socially just practices that ensure the fair distribution of access and opportunity for all students, starting with a dismantling of oppressive structures and practices.

“Candidates engage in a problem of practice with the goal of bringing about change and assessing whether the change is an improvement,” said Kim Winter, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions.

The program is a hybrid (both face-to-face and online instructional delivery) cohort model, designed across three years (including summers) for practicing educational leaders in PK-12, community college and four-year college/university settings.

“Through our teaching, service and scholarship, our faculty demonstrate a shared and relentless commitment to justice in education,” Weiler said. “It is this shared commitment that has brought success to our program, our students and our educational communities.”

“With an increasingly diverse, competent and informed faculty, we are creating a program wherein our graduates are committed to disrupting inequitable, unethical and socially unjust educational programs – from pre-K to professional school – in an effort to epitomize equity, ethics and social justice,” said Lomotey, WCU’s Bardo Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership.