First doctoral graduates include front, from left: Jamie Starlin Bleckley Nichols, Tracy Shea Byers, Mary Bradbury-Bailey, Ann Adcox Gazell, Anna Lynn Rambo; middle: Keith Allen Bryant, Rita R. Frady, Kimberly M. Griffin, Barbara Jerri Maraccini; back: Jeremy H. Williams, Vijay Pratap Purugulla, Ulrich Heinz Wilms, Wallace Andrew Felt, and Krista Lee van Beurden. Not pictured is Ashley D. Hope.

Piedmont awards first doctoral degrees

(Photos) (Graduate Photos)

Among the 402 graduates who received degrees from Piedmont College on Saturday, there were 15 students wearing decidedly different commencement gowns. They were the 15 students to earn the college’s first Doctor of Education degrees.

After three years of classroom study, research, completion of comprehensive exams, and writing and defending their dissertations, the first 15 graduates of the program received their special doctoral hoods at the Dec. 10 graduation ceremonies held at the Johnny Mize Athletic Center in Demorest.

Dr. Robert Cummings II, Dean of the School of Education, said that Saturday’s graduation was the culmination of an effort that began five years ago when the college first sought the Level V accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) required to award doctoral degrees. Cummings said the initial review, conducted under former Dean Dr. Jane McFerrin, resulted in a “perfect” score from the accrediting agency, prior to the enrollment of the first doctoral students at both the Athens and Demorest campuses.

The first class was made up of working teachers and principals, all with at least four years of teaching experience, Cummings said. “It has truly been a transformational process for the students and the college,” he said. “It has taken the faculty and the students to a higher level. It is also good for the schools systems where the students work to have people who can do the research to continually improve schools.”

One of the newly minted doctors is Vijay Purugulla, of Woodstock, a science teacher at Etowah High School in Cherokee County. Purugulla had earned his Education Specialist Degree from Piedmont and said that he wanted to continue at the college to earn his doctorate. “I feel honored to be part of something so significant and historical. Like anything else, there were some bumps along the road being the first ever group; but thanks to good leadership and good input, the next groups will benefit even more from what we have learned and gone through. It was all worth it in the end,” he said.

Purugulla wrote his dissertation on the effectiveness of programs in middle school to prevent bullying. “Even though I teach science, bullying is an issue some of us have faced personally and have had to handle,” he said. “Unfortunately, bullying is even more common today, and I wanted to evaluate a program that a middle school in our district implemented for the first time and see if the program could help reduce bullying.  We do not need more children suffering unnecessarily, and their hurt was my motivation for researching bullying.”

In addition to the 15 students to earn the Doctor of Education degrees, Piedmont President Dr. Danny Hollingsworth and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Thomas A. “Gus” Arrendale III presented 121 students with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. The School of Education awarded diplomas to 148 graduates receiving Master of Arts and Master of Arts in teaching degrees and 134 graduates receiving Education Specialist degrees. The School of Business awarded Master of Business Administration degrees to 20 graduates.

The Commencement speaker was Piedmont Board of Trustees member Mylle Mangum of Eatonton. Mangum is the Chief Executive Officer and owner of IBT Holdings, a company leading in designing and building retail environments for bank branches, specialty retail, and mixed-use concepts. She earned her B.A. from Emory University and has held numerous management positions at companies such as MMS Incentives, Holiday Inn Worldwide, and General Electric.

“If you’ve got a dollar and a dream, the whole world is open to you,” Mangum told the graduates. “You’ve got to work hard to get there, but a dollar and a dream is really what you need. … The world is open to you. It takes effort, nobody says it is going to be handed to you, but the world is open to anyone who just rolls up their sleeves, gets busy, and is really a self starter.

“Over the years I’ve had the privilege of observing some really strong leaders,” she said. “They’ve all managed to master the tools of leadership, but success actually starts within themselves. And you know what? The best of those are the most humble.”

Mangun said she admired the quote from G.K. Chesterton:  “Angels fly because they take themselves so lightly.” “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she said. “That’s easier said than done, by the way, because deep down we all experience fear—fear of what people might think of us. We fear failure. Studies say that fear is the most powerful force that leaders have to overcome. What makes them different is that they take action anyway. That is the first step.”

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