There will be plenty of spouses beaming with pride at next week’s Commencement ceremonies, watching their partners walk off the stage with their hard-earned degrees.

Silas Dick will be one of them, cheering on his wife, Mandi Martinez-Dick, as she receives her Ph.D. in school psychology. And when Silas gives Mandi that big hug after the ceremony and tells her he knows exactly how much work she put into it, he’ll mean it. He’ll really, really mean it.

That’s because Silas and Mandi are both receiving their doctorates in school psychology, a rare Commencement feat that took more than six years of dedication, sacrifice, and spousal support. And for this impressive couple, who met as undergrads outside a psychology class and managed to fit in their first child between dissertations, it’s a fitting capstone to their academic lives.

“Grad school is one of the most demanding things either of us has ever done,” Silas said. “And we love spending time together, but to be able to say, ‘Sorry, I’ve got a paper due for Dr. Landau,’ and the other person to know exactly what you mean, it helps immensely, so one of us didn’t feel left out.”

Students at Commencement

Around 3,555 students, including Mandi and Silas, will participate in Commencement ceremonies next week.

Around 3,555 students, including Mandi and Silas, will participate in Commencement ceremonies next week. That includes more than 600 graduate degree recipients across six colleges.

Silas and Mandi got married while undergraduates at the University of Utah. After a year in the work force, they started applying to grad schools for psychology and were both admitted to Illinois State for the fall 2006 semester. Mandi had her sights on a Ph.D. since childhood, and she pursued school psychology in part because of her love of being in and around the school setting.

That passion rubbed off on Silas, who started at Illinois State in clinical counseling but switched to school psychology the next year. The chance to work with kids also spoke to Silas, because of a friend of his whose resilience after a troubled, abusive childhood was a major source of inspiration.

While grad school is never easy, Silas and Mandi say doing it together helped. They were in class together, and worked side-by-side in their office. They also share their faith, so they were diligent about finishing up their work so they could rest on Sundays and get away from school for a day.

“We could collaborate,” Mandi said. “We knew what the other was going through.”

Balancing family life

They were on campus for four years before both being selected for a 12-month internship program in the Chicago area. They now live in Evanston and both work for the Northern Suburban Special Education District in school psychology positions—Silas with therapeutic day school, Mandi in district services.

Mandi now works part-time so she can be home with Ezra, the couple’s 8-month-old son. Ezra was born last August, just as Mandi was finishing her dissertation. She studied how middle-school girls perceive cyberbulling by setting up a fake social networking site. The girls observed the interactions of a bully, bystander, and victim, then gave their perceptions of the conversation and effective intervention strategies.

Silas’ dissertation took a bit longer. He spent 18 months collecting data for a needs-assessment study on families of Illinois National Guard soldiers before, during, and after a deployment. It wasn’t easy, Silas said, balancing a demanding full-time job with special needs students, and his marriage, and the baby, and the dissertation. He’d occasionally daydream about giving up the Ph.D., but he stuck with it.

“It really came to a head,” Silas said. “Something on my plate had to go away, and I loved my job, and I loved my son, and I loved my wife, and so I had to get rid of the dissertation.”

He got rid of it by finishing it, just last month.

“It felt amazing to finish,” Mandi agreed. “I could see the world differently. I had space to think.”

Silas and Mandi were a “package deal,” and they both praised the Department of Psychology and its school psychology program for its flexibility and openness. Silas, especially, raced against several Graduate School and department deadlines, and “won every one of those races” in hopes of receiving his degree with Mandi, said Alberto Delgado, Illinois State’s director of Graduate Studies.

They’re a wonderful couple, he said, articulate, hard-working, and successful.

“I’m really proud of Mandi and Silas,” Delgado said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for me to introduce the Drs. Dick and Martinez-Dick at Commencement. Probably a once-in-a career opportunity.”

Mandi and Silas both said Illinois State’s comprehensive school psychology program gave them the opportunity to go in many different directions professionally, and helped them mature from undergraduate thinkers, to graduate researchers, to credentialed professionals. They reserved special praise for their dissertation chairs, Professors Steven Landau (Mandi) and Adena Meyers (Silas).

Most of all, they feel confident, well-trained, and ready to take their careers to the next level. Now, on the verge of receiving their doctorates together, it all seems a little surreal.

“It’s been this long, long journey,” Silas said. “We feel really confident in saying that we’ve earned it.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at