UHV to award first-ever specialist degrees at Saturday’s commencement

A University of Houston-Victoria Specialist in School Psychology degree will be awarded for the first time Saturday after being officially established 12 days earlier.

Elainna Drumgoole of Houston, Crystal Eubanks of Bay City and Tikeela Evans-Johnson of League City will become the first three students in UHV’s 44-year history to earn a specialist degree.

Shannon Viola

The new degree is 66 credit hours. UHV students pursing a master’s degree in school psychology already were completing the same requirements, but now will be rewarded with the advanced degree.

“Our students already were doing the curriculum to get a more advanced degree,” said Shannon Viola, a UHV assistant professor of school psychology. “They will now be getting credit for it. This degree acknowledges the work students put in and gives them an opportunity for a higher salary.”

As the name suggests, a specialist degree is highly specialized. In terms of hierarchy, it is higher than a master’s degree but not as high as a doctorate. It is one of two terminal degrees UHV offers, joining the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

UHV School of Arts & Sciences faculty members began the process in fall 2015 of researching other specialist programs, Viola said. UHV’s new degree evolved from there and was approved earlier this spring by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The degree went into effect May 1.

David Cockrum

“Having the ability to grant a specialist degree is a sizable step forward for UHV,” said David Cockrum, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “It also sets us on a path to possibly offer a doctorate one day.”

Because UHV’s existing master’s program in school psychology was so rigorous, the switch to a specialist program required no changes to classes or the curriculum. The only change for students is they have to fill out a new degree plan indicating that they want the specialist degree.

Viola said UHV’s classes are guided by what the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists has laid out for the license. The university also bases the curriculum on the National Association of School Psychologists guidelines.

“I’ve long thought of school psychology as a specialized program because of the rigor involved in our curriculum,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “It’s great to see the program become a specialist to give students more opportunities in the field.”

Jeffrey Di Leo

School psychologists help children succeed academically, socially and emotionally. They collaborate with educators, parents and other professionals to create safe, healthy and supportive learning environments for all students that strengthen connections between home and school.

Current UHV students studying school psychology have the option of sticking with a master’s degree or switching to the specialist. Viola said most will switch. New students will pursue a specialist’s degree. A master’s degree will no longer be offered.

“Our current students are really excited about being able to finish with an advanced degree,” Viola said. “Some school districts offer higher pay to school psychologists who have a specialist degree.”

Most students complete the program in three years. The first two years are coursework, and then the third year is an internship. The coursework is a mixture of face-to-face and online classes. The degree leads to a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology, which is the license needed in Texas to work in public school districts as a school psychologist.

Evans-Johns said what she liked about UHV’s program is it helped her and her fellow students be more prepared and knowledgeable.

“In our field, we are diagnosing students with psychological and psychoeducational disorders,” she said. “By learning more, it prepares us to help the students we are serving.”

For more information about the specialist degree, contact Elise Hendricker, director of the UHV school psychology program, at 281-396-3706 or

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro