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Evaluation, Statistics & Methodology PhD

The PhD program in Evaluation, Statistics and Methodology (ESM) has been carefully designed to provide students with an integrated, sequenced, and experientially-based doctoral program leading to a meaningful professional career.

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The overall focus of the program is to provide students with the requisite skills and experiences essential for three types of professional careers:

  1. as an evaluation, applied statistics, and assessment or measurement faculty member in higher education settings,
  2. as an external evaluator employed by an evaluation group or organization providing external evaluation services, or
  3. as an internal evaluator or in-house ESM consultant serving the needs of the organization in which they are employed.

Located within the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies (ELPS), the ESM program integrates evaluation, statistics, and measurement theory, content knowledge, technical skills, and highly relevant and meaningful field experiences to enable graduates to function as esteemed professionals, productive scholars, and leaders in their sub-fields of interest.

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About the PhD Program

ESM Program Brochure

Intended Audience

The ESM program is intended for students with education, social science, applied statistics, and/or related academic backgrounds seeking employment within the growing fields of applied evaluation, assessment, and statistics. These fields have grown substantially in response to the needs of the federal and state governments, non-profit organizations and foundations, and private sector entities to demonstrate and continually improve the effectiveness of their programs and services. The ESM doctoral program is based squarely upon the needs of students seeking to enter ESM fields, expand opportunities within their current professional situation, or prepare for an academic career and engage in research.

Program Features

There are several unique features of the ESM program:

  • Focused Competency Development:  All students are exposed to a solid academic core of specific knowledge, skills and professional dispositions in the form of foundational ESM theory, concepts, and applied competencies.
  • Theory to Practice Course-Based Field Experiences: Each student is required to engage in multiple hands-on fields experiences linked to specific ESM courses content, enabling the students to personally experience the application of theory to real-world practical problems.
  • Theory to Practice Internships Targeted to Student Interests: Students are required to fulfill two evaluation internships in organizations settings (university,  community-based, or other settings) in an area of professional or career interests.
  • Highly Experienced & Engaged Faculty: The ESM faculty are highly experienced and productive scholars with a mix of expertise and experience in research, evaluation, assessment, and applied statistics. The current three faculty members have many decades of combined experience directly relevant to the ESM program. All ESM faculty are also actively engaged in major professional associations (e.g., American Evaluation Association, Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association).
  • Regular Access to One-on-One Faculty Support & Guidance: Advanced ESM courses, focusing on the application of knowledge and skills, have a small class size which provide students with ideal learning opportunities for targeted group and one-on-one instruction.

Program Goals for Students

Upon completion of the ESM doctoral program, students will have gained: a) knowledge of foundational evaluation, applied research methodology, and measurement concepts, theories, and applications; b) competency with research designs that include and integrate experimental, quasi-experimental, qualitative, and mixed-method approaches; c) extensive hands-on field experience in the application of evaluation, research, and methodologies to contemporary educational and social problems; and d) experiences in applying evaluation, quantitative and qualitative methodology, and measurement skills and competencies in diverse social and organizational settings.

Career Opportunities

Recent program graduates have found various professional opportunities upon graduation. Currently, alumni of the program are employed as higher education faculty members, senior administrators in a variety of organizational settings, and program evaluators. Some have even continued on to postdoctoral program evaluator opportunities.

Application Requirements

December 1 is the priority deadline for fall. Applicants may still apply through April 1 with the understanding that funding will be highly unlikely and space may be limited.

Applicants are required to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

Leia Cain

Leia K. Cain
Assistant Professor

Jennifer Ann MorrowJennifer Ann Morrow
Associate Professor


Fatima Tuz ZahraFatima T. Zahra
Associate Professor


Louis RocconiLouis Rocconi
Associate Professor & Program Coordinator

Current Students & Alumni


Richard Amoako

Richard holds a B.A. in Social Work and Information Studies from the University of Ghana, a Master of Public Health from Ensign Global College & KNUST-Ghana, and an Advanced Master of Development Evaluation and Management from the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Richard currently works as a Graduate Research Assistant in the ELPS department. His research interests focus on impact evaluation, higher education program evaluation, and the integration of artificial intelligence technologies into evaluation and assessment. Richard employs interdisciplinary approaches drawn from health, education, and international development.

Julie Cruz

Julie Cruz started a PhD in ESM in the summer of 2023. Her career in education spans 20 years, including K-12 and higher education design and instruction as well as writing center administration. She currently works at UT Honors as the Haslam Leadership Scholars coordinator. Julie is passionate about helping students achieve their next level goals, broaden their opportunities, and commit to lifelong learning. She hopes to use the skills she is learning in the ESM PhD for educational policy and advocacy work. Julie received her BA in English and History with a French minor from Hope College (2002), an MFA in Poetry from the University of Florida (2004), and an MA in Literature from the University of Tennessee (2018).


Profile Photo of Rachel Ladd, ESM student

Rachel Ladd

Rachel graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2013 with a BA in psychology and returned to pursue a PhD in 2016. She has several years of professional program evaluation experience and enjoys working with community-based organizations, particularly those that focus on youth or mental health concerns. Her primary research interests include best practices in evaluation, cultural competency in evaluation, processes of identity development in youth, suicidology, and disparities related to mental health or educational attainment. She is currently a Graduate Research Assistant in the Office of Research Support.

Jake Working

Jake started in the ESM program in Fall 2022 and chose the ESM program to strengthen his love for data-driven decisions. He is interested in higher education research with a focus on engineering students as he currently works as an Academic Advisor in the Tickle College of Engineering serving Materials Science & Engineering and Biomedical Engineering students. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2017 and Master of Science in Engineering Management in 2019, both from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana. Jake is originally from Northern Indiana and he and his family love the East Tennessee region after moving in 2019.

Andrew Young

Prior to joining the ESM program at UTK, M. Andrew Young completed three business degrees from different institutions, the most recent was his MBA from Tusculum University. For the past four years, he has served as the Director of Assessment & Institutional Excellence for the ETSU Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. His academic interests include studying factors for student success, particularly in Graduate/Professional studies programs, but also enjoys studying processes (such as continual process improvement for assessment). His personal interests are spending time with his family (spouse and children), chess, writing music, rock climbing, pickleball, disc golf, and collecting bowties.


Profile Photo of Patrick Barlow, ESM graduatePat Barlow, ’14

Patrick is an assistant professor at the Office of Consultation & Research in Medical Education (OCRME) at the University of Iowa. His primary research areas are in higher education assessment, specifically in graduate medical education (GME) settings as well as teaching statistics and research methods in the social sciences, epidemiology, and clinical medical fields.

Profile Photo of Pamela Bishop, ESM graduate

Pamela Bishop, ’12

Pamela is currently the Evaluation Manager with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, where she evaluates interdisciplinary science education and research programs. Bishop also conducts research on the collaboration practices and productivity of interdisciplinary teams of scientists.

Profile Photo of Jason Black, ESM graduateJason Black, ’12

Jason is currently a Senior Administrator in the Accountability, Research, and Assessment Office for Orange County Public Schools. Some of his research interests include: alcohol and drug prevention research, programming, and the evaluation of prevention programs. Also, he is interested in teaching quantitative research methods and psychology of substance use.


Erin Burr, ’09

Dr. Erin Burr is a Senior Assessment & Evaluation Portfolio Manager in the STEM Workforce Development (STEM-WD) program at Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). Her work focuses on evaluation of STEM education and workforce development program portfolios for the US Department of Energy, other US government agencies, private and non-profit organizations, and universities that target K-12 students and teachers; university students and faculty; and Ph.D.-level researchers. She has experience evaluating national and international, single-site and multi-site STEM-focused programs and focuses on evaluating federally funded programs, processes, and services at national laboratories and universities.

Profile Photo of Brenna Berry Butler, ESM Graduate

Brenna Berry Butler, ’21

Brenna Butler is an Evaluation Specialist for Penn State Extension, housed within the College of Agricultural Sciences. Brenna’s primary responsibilities include designing, implementing, and analyzing the results of evaluations and assessments for educational programs and grants within Penn State Extension that deliver science-based information to Pennsylvanians. Brenna also coaches Extension faculty and staff on how to conduct a wide range of evaluation skills across the evaluation lifecycle (e.g., logic model development) to implement into their program development processes for their educational outreach programs. Brenna’s research interests include best practices in data visualization and evaluation report writing for both technical and non-technical audiences.


Nikki Christen, ’23

Nikki is a 2023 graduate of the ESM program and is currently an Evaluation Specialist at the Synergy Evaluation Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She previously earned a Master in Information Science at the University of Tennessee and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with a concentration in Criminal Justice from Tennessee Tech University. Her research interests include higher education assessment, data visualization, teaching evaluation, and survey research methodology.

Profile Photo of Ann Cisney-Booth, ESM graduateAnn Cisney-Booth, ’15

Ann currently works as a Senior Administrator in the Program Evaluation Department for Orange County Public Schools located in Orlando, Florida. Her research interests include evaluation of domestic violence programs, community/non-profit organizations and K-12 programs.


Shannon Coulter, ’09

Dr. Shannon Coulter is a graduate of the University of Tennessee (’09) and is currently the Director of Research and Evaluation at the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE). Shannon plays an important role in assisting educators and administrators in San Diego’s 780 schools in making well-informed decisions regarding the efficacy of school programs and services. His experience encompasses the evaluation of more than 80 programs designed to support diverse student populations, including those who are economically disadvantaged, English learners, students with disabilities, and military-connected students. Furthermore, Shannon is a fellow within the Harvard Strategic Data Project, where his work involves exploring the impact of school accountability on student achievement. Prior to his tenure at SDCOE, Shannon served as an Educational Psychology professor and as a classroom teacher in alternative education settings.

Profile Photo of Brittany Daulton, ESM graduateBrittany Daulton, ’15

Brittany’s primary research interests include higher education assessment, The First-Year Experience, measurement theory, technical education, and sense of belonging in college students.

Profile Photo of Joseph L. Donaldson, ESM graduateJoseph L. Donaldson, ’11

Joseph’s current projects include Co-Chairing a statewide strategic planning effort for UT Extension and researching the Extension Agent performance appraisal system.

Profile Photo of Shelley Esquivel, ESM graduateShelly Esquivel, ’10

Shelly is the Director of Institutional Research at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN.

Profile Photo of Terry Gibson, ESM Graduate

Terry Gibson Jr., ’19

Terry is currently the Assistant Dean and Professor of Mathematics at Pellissippi State. His research interests are survey development and validation, quantitative methodology, higher education assessment, student-centered learning, and student transition to college.

Profile Photo of Sam Held, ESM graduateSam Held, ’14

Sam is the lead evaluator at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. His research interests revolve around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and the STEM workforce.

Profile Photo of Jenny Holcombe, ESM graduateJenny Holcombe, ’12

Jenny is currently a faculty member in the School of Nursing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she teaches undergraduate research and graduate research, statistics, evidence-based practice, and epidemiology. Her current research is focused on graduate school selection instruments including interviews and measures of judgment, factors related to long-term allergen immunotherapy adherence, and relationships between religion/spirituality and end-of-life decision-making.

Profile Photo of Susanne Kaesbauer, ESM graduateSusanne Kaesbauer, ’12

Susanne is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Picker Institute in Oxford, England.

Profile Photo of Kevin Kidder, ESM Graduate

Kevin Kidder, ’20

Kevin earned a degree in Psychology from Middle Tennessee State University.  His dissertation was titled “Creation and Validation of the Multi-Stakeholder Survey of the Learning Environment (MSSLE) for Medical Schools” and focused on creating an instrument that would assist medical schools with measuring and evaluating the learning environment from a variety of stakeholders including faculty, staff, and students.  He is now working at The Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine at Texas Christian University as the Assistant Dean of Admissions and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Education.

Profile Photo of Paul Kirkland, ESM Graduate

Paul Kirkland, ’19

Paul has a BS in mathematics from Tennessee Wesleyan College and an MM in mathematics from the University of Tennessee. His research interests include mathematics education, statistics education, educational assessment and measurement, and program evaluation. He is also interested in teaching statistics and research methodology. He is currently employed as a Mathematics Teacher for the Monroe County School System.

Profile Photo of Wenshu Li, ESM graduateWenshu Li, ’16

Wenshu is currently an evaluation fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her primary research interests include evaluation and assessment in Engineering Education in both K-12 and college setting.

Profile Photo of Sondra LoRe, ESM Graduate

Sondra LoRe, ’19

Sondra is a doctoral candidate in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement program. She works as an evaluator for the National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER) and has over 20 years’ experience in K-12 STEM education and leadership. She received her BA in economics from the University of Massachusetts, MS in curriculum and instruction from the University of Tennessee and EdS in educational leadership form Lincoln Memorial University.


Sherry Marlow Ormsby, ’17

Sherry Marlow Ormsby serves as the Executive Director of the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Institutional Research (OPEIR) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In this role, she leads the OPEIR team to support UTC’s planning, assessment, evaluation, and institutional effectiveness efforts. Prior to earning a Ph.D. in the ESM Program, Sherry earned a Master of Public Administration from UTC and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science from Washington State University. Her research interests center around student access, success, and completion. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, hiking, and traveling with her spouse and dog.

Profile Photo of Sarah Nadel, ESM graduate

Sarah Nadel, ’19

Sarah has a master’s degree in quantitative research, evaluation, and measurement from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northern Kentucky University. Her primary research interests include self-efficacy, motivation, and retention in higher education and within organizational settings. Sarah currently works as a survey researcher for the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR).


Profile Photo of Jessica Osborne, ESM student

Jessica D. Osborne, ’21

Jessica Osborne is the Principal Evaluation Associate for the Higher Education Portfolio at The Center for Research Evaluation at the University of Mississippi. Her primary goals are to advance the field of evaluation within higher education and to improve outcomes for students and student support programs for graduate and undergraduate students. Jessica’s publications focus on evidencing best practices in student support and needs assessments. Jessica has a PhD in Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and a BA in English from Elon University.

Profile Photo of Richard Parlier, ESM graduate

Richard Parlier, ’21

Richard Parlier has a PhD in Educational Research from the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He currently works for the Office of Assessment and Accountability at the Georgia Department of Education. As an Assessment Specialist, his current roles include conducting quality control analysis of standardized assessments for K-12 students. His published research studies include the impact of learning communities, supplemental instruction, and faculty use of end-of course evaluations.


Niranji A. Pathirage, ’15

Dr. Niranji Pathirage graduated from the ESM program in 2015. Dr. Pathirage also earned a MS in Statistics and a BSc in Statistics from the University of Tennessee and University of Sri Jayewardenepura – Sri Lanka, respectively. She currently works as a Senior Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where she develops analytical, predictive and ETL solutions with grant, finance, student, faculty, and HR data. Her research interests are focused primarily on higher education assessment and evaluation as well as workforce retention strategies. She is also interested in teaching statistics and research methods..

Profile Photo of Carol Price, ESM graduateCarol Price, ’10

Carol currently works with the Institute for Assessment and Evaluation at the University of Tennessee on a variety of evaluation projects and as an independent consultant providing research support for local professionals and nonprofit organizations. Her research interests remain focused on the value of nature pursued through the newly created nonprofit organization LuNA, offering local support for nature and animals.

Profile Photo of Jennifer Richards, ESM graduateJennifer Richards, ’07

Jennifer currently directs Hands On: Real World Lessons for Middle School Classrooms, a multi-state food safety education research program housed in the Department of Food Science & Technology at UT. Her research interests include teacher professional development, interdisciplinary curriculum and instruction, and psychological constructs of behavior change.

Profile Photo of Tiffany Smith, ESM GraduateTiffany Smith, ’14

Tiffany is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Stout where she teaches subjects such as research methodology and evaluation to both undergraduate and graduate students. Her primary research interests include stakeholder communication and involvement as well as reflective practice in evaluation.

Profile Photo of Amy Sullins, ESM graduateAmy Sullins, ’10

Amy is an associate professor of Education at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, TN. She is also a member of the Athens City School Board.

Profile Photo of Lakmal Walpitage, ESM graduateLakmal Walpitage, ’16

Lakmal currently works as a research analyst at the Division of Health Care Finance at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. His primary research interests include statistics education, evaluation of programs for international students, and large scale assessment.

Profile Photo of John Walker, ESM graduate

John Walker, ’21

John earned his BS in mathematics from Grand Valley State University and an MA in international education policy from the University of Sydney. He currently serves as the assessment coordinator for the Experience Learning Initiative in the Teaching and Learning Innovation Unit. His research interests are primarily focused on higher education assessment and experiential education. He is particularly interested in what makes institutional assessments effective in a faculty initiatives, and what information faculty use from student assessments and how they use it to shape their pedagogy.

Profile Photo of Thelma Woodward, ESM graduateThelma Woodard, ’12

Thelma works as an associate director for Institutional Research, Planning, Assessment, and Effectiveness at Wiley College in Marshall, TX.