Dr. Sara Coble Simmons has been appointed acting dean for the School of Graduate Studies at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She began her new duties on July 1.
Dr. Simmons has been serving as the associate dean for accountability and outreach for the School of Education. The current dean, Dr. Kathleen C. Hilton, is moving into the newly created position of associate vice chancellor of planning and special projects.
The appointment was announced by Dr. Charles Harrington, provost and vice chancellor of the Office for Academic Affairs.
“We are delighted that Dr. Simmons has agreed to assume the graduate deanship,” Dr. Harrington said. “Her knowledge of the institution and our service area, her administrative skills, and her ability to organize and facilitate this work will be a definite asset to UNCP. I anticipate that under Dr. Simmons’ leadership, graduate enrollment and graduate program development will be elevated to the next level.”
Dr. Simmons said this is a time of enrollment and program growth for the School of Graduate Studies.
“This is an exciting time for graduate studies at UNCP,” she said. “Building upon the firm foundation laid by Dr. Hilton and graduate program directors, I anticipate strong growth and continuous improvement in graduate programs.”
The Master of Social Work (MSW) program will be launched in fall 2008. The School Administration (MSA) program and its add-on licensure option are experiencing growth in enrollments, as are the School Counseling, Reading Education, Elementary Education and Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs, Dr. Simmons noted.
New graduate programs are being explored by the Office of Academic Affairs, including Early Childhood Education, Special Education, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Mass Communications and American Indian Studies.
“There is a growing demand for one or more doctoral programs to be offered at UNCP in the near future,” Dr. Simmons said. “There is great potential for doctoral level programs in Public Administration/School Administration, Curriculum and Instruction and/or Higher Education Leadership.
“Joint programs with other institutions also may come to fruition,” she continued. “However, along with a focus on growth and expansion, all graduate programs must be continuously monitored for quality.”
New directions at the state level will impact graduate programs at UNCP, Dr. Simmons said.
“The North Carolina State Board of Education is in the midst of an ambitious initiative to align educator practices with 21st century leading, teaching and learning,” she said. “New standards and evaluation instruments for practicing and prospective educators have been developed. During the 2007-2008 academic year, all of the licensure programs across North Carolina must be “revisioned” so that candidates will be prepared to meet the new standards.”
Currently serving on the Department of Public Instruction’s Advisory Committee on Program Approval, Dr. Simmons understands the changes taking place and is well positioned to assist with the “revisioning” process for UNCP’s graduate licensure programs.
In addition to concerted efforts to recruit prospective students into existing, newly created and continuously revised programs, Dr. Simmons includes among her goals a focus on retention.
“It is important to address the unique needs of graduate students and to establish appropriate support systems, such as strong advising and mentoring programs and targeted intervention for struggling students,” she said.
Dr. Simmons’ other goals include strengthening the research component of graduate programs and creating international alliances to promote, market, and grow study abroad and exchange programs for graduate students.
“It is imperative for all UNCP students, especially our graduate program completers, to be competitive in our 21st century global economy,” she said.
Dr. Simmons grew up in Laurinburg, N.C., in a family of educators, so she has deep roots in rural, southeastern North Carolina and in the field of education. Her late father, Bill Coble, was principal of Laurinburg High School, and her late mother, Jeanette Coble, was a special education teacher who completed licensure course work at what was then Pembroke State University.
Dr. Simmons earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and her M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas at Austin.
Her career has spanned roles in various aspects of public education. Immediately prior to coming to UNCP, she worked in the Division of Educator Assessment and Appraisal at the Texas Education Agency, the state’s department of education.
Joining the faculty at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 1996, Dr. Simmons has taught over 20 different undergraduate and graduate courses. She was the recipient of the UNCP Outstanding Teaching Award in 2005.
Although she has taken on increased administrative duties in recent years, Dr. Simmons retains her passion for teaching and expects to continue to teach graduate courses for the School of Education.
She is the founding president of the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators, the only professional organization in the state - and one of two in the nation - established expressly to advocate for and serve elementary level educators and children.
She is a frequent presenter at state, regional, national, and international conferences. Her areas of research interest include teacher leadership, differentiated instruction, and online pedagogy.
In November 2007, Dr. Simmons led UNCP’s Teacher Education Program through successful accreditation reviews by both the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the North Carolina State Board of Education. She facilitated the refinement of the graduate assessment system and oversaw the collection and compilation of data on candidates’ performance at key points during their program progression.
“During that process, I gained a thorough knowledge of the graduate licensure programs,” she said. “That experience will be of great benefit to me in my new role.”
In mid-July, Dr. Simmons will travel to Vail, Colo., to attend a New Deans Institute and Summer Workshop for Graduate Deans sponsored by the Council of Graduate Studies.
“I look forward to being exposed to creative ideas and differing perspectives on all aspects of graduate studies,” she said.
“The decade that I have spent in the School of Education and working with teacher education faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences has been a rewarding and productive period of time for me,” Dr. Simmons said. “I have developed close personal and professional relationships that I will continue to nurture, just from a different office and a different building on campus.
“In my new position, I look forward to making a strong contribution to the quality of academic programs at UNCP,” she said. “I will work closely with Dr. Hilton and the deans, chairs, faculty members and staff across campus to ensure a smooth transition in the Office of Graduate Studies. I am excited about my new leadership role, and I appreciate the opportunity to take on fresh challenges.”