Nancy Lopez ’82, was the department chairperson of special education at Thornton High School, located south of Chicago, when she first started in the Department of Special Education at Illinois State’s hybrid, Chicago-based doctoral cohort program. She also served as the special programs support facilitator for her district while working on her degree.

Lopez, who retired from teaching in 2015, is currently completing her dissertation for the Ed.D. program. She is also excited to continue to continue to make a contribution to the field through her extensive practitioner and research experience. She recently offered feedback from her time in the program so far.

As a career educator who was nearing retirement when you started the program, your actions demonstrate that you are a lifelong learner. What were some of your motivations for pursuing a doctoral degree?

There were really two things. First, I enjoy learning and I realized there was so much more I could learn about the field of special education. Second, I knew that I wanted to continue to work in this field after I retired from teaching high school, and I was hoping this degree would open new doors and opportunities for me.  But the funny thing is, I wasn’t necessarily looking to apply to a ‘doc’ program when I received an email about the program.  I really don’t even recall why I was one of the recipients of the email. I guess it was fate!

What are the specific aspects of this program were most impressive or gave you the most value?

Besides earning a doctoral degree from Illinois State University, which is one of the most respected special education programs in the country, having access to this program within an hour’s distance from my house is what sold me. I was even more impressed that the professors from ISU would drive 2–2 1/2 hours each way to teach a course once a week. Although some of our courses included online seminars or sessions, the majority of our course work involved face-to-face sessions in a small group, cohort setting.

Additionally, the support I received from other members in my cohort who were also working full time and attending classes at night helped me through the difficult times when school, work, and life in general became a bit challenging. Knowing that someone else is experiencing the same challenges that you are gives you the added push you sometimes need to make it over the next hurdle.

Finally, the doctoral program coordinators, the advisors on campus, and the professors who taught the courses could not have been any more supportive. It was apparent from the start of the program that if you were willing to put the effort in to attain the degree, you would have their support every step of the way.

How has this program enhanced your skills and knowledge?

My involvement in the program has, first and foremost, enabled me to become a better teacher. Through my exposure to the content, the research in the field, and the personal experiences of the professors and cohort members, I have been able to bring much more to the table for my students. Furthermore, I’m more aware of the future direction of special education. As a result of this program and my anticipated degree, my vision as well as my practices have changed. When I complete my degree, I believe new doors in the field of education will be opening for me. Options may include but may not be limited to teaching at the postsecondary level, consulting with schools to improve their current practices for students with disabilities, or carrying out research with others in the field of special education.

Would you recommend this program to an educator who is considering all of his/her options for pursuing a doctoral degree in special education? 

I would definitely recommend this program to any educator who strives to earn a doctoral degree in special education. The program at ISU is one of the most respected programs in the country and includes both the rigor and the support one would expect from a program of this caliber.

For more information or to apply to the doctoral program, visit the Department of Special Education’s website. The application deadline for fall admission is March 31.