Dean’s Road to R1 Excellence Awards

Five Simmons researchers received the Dean’s Road to R1 Excellence Awards. Dean Stephanie Knight presented the awards during the Simmons Fall Faculty and Staff meeting on August 30.

For bringing in over $1,000,000 in external research funds:

Dr. Annie Wright-Executive Director of SMU Simmons Center on Research and Evaluation
Wright and her CORE team are working with Temple University in conducting a “Learning through Play” national study. The LEGO Foundation has awarded a $19.98 million grant to fund the longitudinal study. SMU Simmons’ CORE will be the Dallas site lead for the national study and will receive $2.8 million over 5 years to conduct the work locally. The research will follow Pre-K through 4th graders and will study how creating active, engaged, socially interactive classrooms can bring about deeper learning and joyful teaching.

For being awarded $500,000 in external research dollars:

Dr. Jill Allor – University Distinguished Professor, Department of Teaching & Learning. A former special education teacher, her research is school-based and focuses on literacy acquisition for students with and without disabilities. She has received numerous awards for both research and practice, published and presented widely in leading outlets, and received nearly $10 million of external research funds.

Dr. Tony Cuevas – Assistant Dean for Technology and Innovation and Clinical Professor
He designed the curriculum for the SMU Guildhall Master of Interactive Technology degree program and served as Academic Director for several years before transferring to Simmons School. He heads up the Center for VR Learning Innovation and co-chairs the TEIL search committee. He was part of the SMU Adult Literacy XPrize team that developed an award-winning app to help adults learn to read.

Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller – Professor, Department of Education Policy & Leadership, Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education, Director of Research in Mathematics Education and Faculty Fellow for K-12 STEM Initiatives in the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education. Her research focuses on the development of formative assessment procedures in mathematics and valid decision-making systems for students with diverse needs. She has received over $20 million in external funding and recently received the largest single grant in SMU history for $8m.

Dr. Akihito Kamata – Professor and Director of the Ph.D. Program and Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Endowed Professor in the Department of Education Policy & Leadership. Dr. Kamata’s primary research interest is psychometrics and educational and psychological measurement. Currently, Aki’s primary focus is on psychometric model development for oral reading fluency (ORF) assessment data, through three grant projects funded by IES. He has numerous journal articles and book chapters in leading publications and handbooks in the field.

Dr. Corey Brady to Speak at International Conference

Dr. Corey Brady, Simmons Assistant Professor and one of the newest members of SMU’s Technology Enhanced Immersive Learning (TEIL) research cluster, will speak at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)’s Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology, in their speaker series, Experiences from the Classroom of the Future.

Dr. Brady, who is fluent in Spanish, will deliver his talk, A vision of STEAM: Constructing powerful ideas through participatory activities, in Spanish.

The UNAM is the largest public university in Latin America, and a center for STEM and STEM Education research.  The prestigious invitation to speak at the Experiences in the Classroom of the Future 2023 seminar came from the Continuing Education Network of the UNAM and the Network of Classrooms of the Future.

Brady will present in a live webinar on August 25 at 11 a.m. CST which will be transmitted on the Aula del Futura channel on YouTube.

SMU SIMMONS College Access Camp offers an experience that helps students see college as a realistic option

Students from high schools throughout the Dallas area are on the SMU campus for the Upward Bound Math and Science camp. The students arrived June 19 and will attend the camp through July 11. They are part of the SMU Simmons College Access Program which assists low-income, first generation, and underrepresented students prepare for college success.

The goal is to help the students have fun learning how math and science are utilized in a variety of areas including entrepreneurship and drone technology, with hands-on activities such as building robots and working with drones.

Students are also experiencing campus life by staying on campus in dorms during the 4-week-long residential camp. According to SMU Simmons College Access Director, LaChelle Cunningham, “The Upward Bound program and this camp can truly be life-changing experiences for these students. It helps them understand that they can dream big and that a college education can be part of their future.”

The Upward Bound program and summer camp assists students in setting achievement goals that will help those dreams become reality. Participants are empowered to become successful college graduates working in businesses, government, medicine, law, education, research, finance, politics, computer science, technology, engineering, and other areas.

Started in 1966 when SMU was awarded its first Upward Bound grant from the U.S. Department of Education, TRIO Programs, the SMU College Access program has assisted thousands of local young people in changing their lives.

Department of Counseling welcomes new faculty members

Dr. LaKaavia Taylor is joining the SMU full-time faculty as Clinical Associate Professor effective Fall 2023. Dr. Taylor earned her Ph.D. in counseling with a specialty in play therapy and psychoeducational assessment at the University of North Texas. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor, National Certified Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, Certified Child-Centered Play Therapy Supervisor, and Certified Child-Parent Relationship Therapy Supervisor.

For over a decade, Dr. Taylor has provided counseling services to children, adolescents, adults, and families in various settings including community agencies, public schools, private practice, and university clinics. Her specialty is multicultural counseling and trauma-informed practices.

Dr. Taylor’s lifelong commitment is to reduce mental health barriers for individuals and families from marginalized and underserved populations. She has delivered numerous presentations at professional conferences, published chapters and research on play therapy, and engaged in social justice advocacy in her leadership positions in national counseling organizations. She is a former 2020 American Counseling Association (ACA) anti-racist task force member. On the task force, she worked with social justice counseling leaders in the field to develop an anti-racist action plan for dissemination to ACA’s membership. Dr. Taylor is a Counselor Educator Trustee for the Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling (ACAC). She is the 2022 recipient of the Rho Kappa Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota Outstanding Research Award. She also received the College of Education Outstanding Lecturer Award in 2022 for her teaching excellence.

Dr. Denise M. Walker is joining the SMU full-time faculty as Clinical Assistant Professor effective Fall 2023. Dr. Walker is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas and Louisiana, and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Louisiana. Dr. Walker earned her B.S. and M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Dr. Walker completed her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at Texas A&M University-Commerce with a specialization in Student Affairs.

Dr. Walker has clinical experience working with adolescents, adults, couples, and families with varying levels of psychological and relational concerns in numerous settings including higher education, community-based counseling centers, home-based services, juvenile detention centers, and private practice. Dr. Walker is also trained in EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and Level 1 – Gottman Method Couples Therapy.

Dr. Walker has published research on the delivery of clinical mental health services in home based settings and has provided professional presentations on numerous topics including narrative family counseling, stress management, domestic violence, and supporting Black students at predominately White institutions.


Toyota, SMU Simmons, and Dallas ISD partnership named a finalist in D CEO’s Nonprofit and Corporate Citizenship Awards for 2023

Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) and partners SMU Simmons and Dallas Independent School District are nominated in the Corporate Citizenship Category for  developing a Pre-K – 8th grade  West Dallas STEM School in the 75212 zip code.

As part of the partnership, Simmons has designed a STEM curriculum, offers professional development for faculty, coordination of community-based services, and comprehensive research and evaluation.

Toyota USA Foundation and TMNA provide ongoing contributions of volunteer time and industry partner collaboration on project components including sizeable grants to the Simmons school in support of the project. Dallas ISD supplies operational needs including the building, renovations and staffing at the school which is located in the former Pinkston High School.

The ultimate goal of the partnership is that West Dallas STEM School will prepare students for college and the workforce while establishing a model that can be replicated in other schools and communities both locally and around the country.

Simmons Dean Stephanie Knight responded to the nomination. “We are honored to be nominated for this recognition along with our incredible partners, Toyota Motor North America, and Dallas ISD. We are humbled to be one of the five nominees in the Collaboration of the Year category and hope we can be an example of what is possible when community organizations work together for positive change.”

The full story and complete list of categories and nominees are found at

The winners in each category will be announced in July. The D CEO’s sixth annual Nonprofit and Corporate Citizenship Awards are presented in partnership with Communities Foundation of Texas and sponsored by Capital One.

Simmons Graduation Ceremony celebrates students’ academic milestones

2023 May Simmons School Graduate and Family

Congratulations to the more than 300 graduates who received degrees from Simmons School of Education & Human Development at two ceremonies on May 12, 2023.  The joyous event held in McFarlin Auditorium was attended by thousands of proud family members and friends who  witnessed and cheered the culmination of their graduates’ hard work and commitment.

The following degrees were conferred at the morning ceremony: Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, Doctor of Education in Higher Education, Master of Education in Educational Leadership, Master of Education in Higher Education, Master of Bilingual Education, Master of Education, Bachelor of Science in Educational Studies.

The following degrees were conferred at the afternoon ceremony: Doctor of Liberal Studies, Master of Science in Counseling, Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution, Master of Liberal Studies, Master of Science in Health Promotion Management, Master of Science in Sport Management, Bachelor of Science in Applied Physiology and Sport Management.

2023 May Simmons School Graduates2023 May Simmons School Graduates















Outstanding 2023 Grads of Simmons School of Education & Human Development chosen as graduation ceremony speakers

Hannah Lawrence and Elizabeth Parrot
Hannah Lawrence and Teresa Valerio Parrot

Teresa Valerio Parrot is graduating with her EdD in higher education. Her dissertation title is “Presidential and Board Governance of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics: How the Players, the Rules, and the Game are Influenced by Temples, Prestige, and Positioning.

With over two decades of work in higher education, Parrot’s career has focused on making higher education relatable and understandable. She is the founder and owner of TVP Communications and serves as founding co-editor and contributor to the Inside Higher Ed blog, Call to Action, which focuses on marketing and communications topics in higher education.

Parrot’s expertise has been featured in numerous publications including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, U.S. News & World Report, The Chicago Tribune, and Huffington Post.

Hannah Lawrence is receiving her Master of Education with Teacher Preparation degree. She joined the Simmons Teaching and Learning graduate program in 2021. Faculty and staff describe her as “absolutely exceptional, a thoughtful student who produces excellent work.” Department leaders say she is one of the strongest new teachers they have ever seen in the field.

Lawrence is a STEM teacher at Donald Elementary School in the Lewisville Independent School District in Lewisville, Texas. She says she is thrilled to be able to inspire the next generation of learners through hands-on, project-based lessons, while building children up in their unique passions. She also looks forward to continuing to learn from her students.

Courtney Harbour and Elizabeth Klevana
Courtney Harbour and Elizabeth Klevana

Courtney Harbour  known to many as “CC,” began her Doctor of Liberal Studies journey in the fall of 2018. Her DLS studies led to a career change last year. Harbour moved from an Executive Dean role at Dallas College’s Eastfield Campus, overseeing fine arts and humanities to Broadway Dallas (formerly known as Dallas Summer Musicals).

In that new role she leads interdisciplinary educational programming for K-12 performing arts students and teachers in the DFW area. One of her signature programs includes hosting 3, 400 theater and dance students and teachers for a dedicated Broadway performance followed by a S.T.E.A.M. project inspired by the show to bring STEM to life through the arts.

Her DLS dissertation is titled: Remixing a Revolution: Embodied Politics, Identities, and the Transfiguration of Hip Hop Culture.

Elizabeth Klevana is receiving a B.S. in Applied Physiology & Sport Management with a concentration in Sport Performance Leadership.

Klevana is a faculty-appointed Simmons Ambassador, an indication that she has excelled at SMU as a student and a leader among her peers. Faculty and staff in the Department of  Applied Physiology and Sport Management say that Klevana’s optimism, drive, and humility set her apart, providing her classmates and faculty with a selfless commitment to ensuring everyone’s success. They believe she embodies the values of a world changer and a top scholar, which is why she has the prestigious honor of being one of the Simmons commencement speakers.

SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development Breaks into Top 50 of Best Graduate Schools in the United States

Harold Clark Simmons Hall, Southern Methodist University

DALLAS (SMU)  ̶  In six short years the SMU Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development has risen to the rank of 49 in the U.S. News & World Report national rankings. The annual report which ranks 272 participating public and private graduate schools of education around the country was released online on April 25.

The latest ranking represents a significant leap from 105 in 2019 and from 54 in last year’s report. It moves Simmons one spot higher among the top private graduate schools in the U.S. to number 11, up from 12 in the previous year’s report.

In the state, Simmons maintains the number one spot among private universities and is third among all colleges in Texas. Only University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M at College Station, both public universities, have a ranking higher than Simmons.

The school’s rankings have steadily climbed under the leadership of Leon Simmons Endowed Dean Stephanie L. Knight who joined SMU in 2017. She says dedicated research faculty members are significant factors in the school’s continued advancement. “External funding per faculty member is $369,200 which is up from the last report. In fact, funding has risen since 2019 when $143,700 per faculty member was reported. That means our researchers are doing meaningful work to improve education which is perhaps more important now than ever before in our country and world.”

To rank schools of education, U.S. News & World Report considers many factors including research activity, academic quality, faculty resources, student selectivity, doctoral degrees granted, as well as peer assessment scores.

Knight says Simmons will continue to strive for excellence. “We are thrilled to have jumped so significantly in this national ranking. We now continue to assess what we can do to improve learning through our research and will work diligently to further advance and build the reputation of SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.”

Volunteers to plant 30 fruit trees Monday at West Dallas Stem School, Launching Learning Garden

DALLAS (SMU) – Volunteers will plant a fruit tree orchard between 9 a.m. and noon Monday, Dec. 12 at Dallas ISD’s West Dallas STEM School — the first step of the school’s planned learning garden.

When the trees mature in three years, students will harvest as many apples, pears, peaches, figs and paw paws as they can eat. Other produce will be distributed through the campus general store, or shared with West Dallas nonprofit, Brother Bill’s Helping Hand.

School volunteers and partners from SMU, Toyota USA Foundation and the West Dallas community will prepare the site for each tree, then plant and stake them. Grow North Texas, the Dallas affiliate of the Giving Grove, a national nonprofit serving communities experiencing food insecurity, is providing the trees and will oversee the planting process. To ensure a healthy and productive orchard, Grow North Texas has trained two tree stewards from Brother Bill’s Helping Hand to oversee continuing care.

The West Dallas STEM School orchard is the 11th Dallas-area orchard planted by GROW North Texas’ Giving Grove program this fall, with more scheduled by the end of February. A grant from Domino’s Pizza is funding the project through One Tree Planted, a global reforestation organization.

The mature orchard is expected to produce more than 20,000 servings of healthy fruit each year, with a typical tree lifespan of 20-30 years or more. The orchard will preserve urban greenspace, increase tree canopy and offer important environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration, improved soil biology and stormwater absorption.

In addition, the orchard will be an outdoor laboratory that will strengthen the unique project-based STEM curriculum at the West Dallas STEM School, opened in 2021 as a collaboration between Dallas ISD, SMU, the Toyota USA Foundation and the West Dallas community.


What: An urban orchard of 30 fruit trees will be planted at Dallas ISD’s West Dallas STEM School

When: 9 a.m. remarks and groundbreaking. Planting to follow.

Where: West Dallas STEM School, 2200 Dennison St., Dallas. Orchard entrance off Hampton Road, south of Texas Quality Remodeling

Tackling the Great Teacher Resignation – One Teacher at a Time

DALLAS (SMU) – College students like Mary Cabanas are in the pipeline to relieve the impact of widespread teacher resignations threatening U.S. public education. But what sets Cabanas apart is that she will enter a tough profession with her eyes wide open, thanks to determination, mentorship and training from SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Ongoing problems in education have been magnified by the pandemic and the political division in the U.S.,” says Stephanie Knight, Simmons School dean. “And previous approaches to solving the teacher shortage, like alternative certifications, haven’t worked.”

Teachers need to develop knowledge and skills in the classroom early in their teacher education, Knight says. They also need higher pay and to be treated like professionals, which includes the opportunity to be collaborative and creative, Knight says.

Simmons Noyce Scholar Student Mary Cabanas Cardenas
SMU Noyce Scholar Mary Cabanas Cardenas poses for portraits in and around Harold Clark Simmons Hall Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022 in Dallas. The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship is funded by the National Science Foundation and supports new math teachers who commit to working in underserved communities after graduation.
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Cabanas’ trajectory as an education student may be a model for other students. She has taken collaboration with other future teachers into her own hands, forming SMU’s first student organization for education majors. But instead of taking field trips and hosting guest speakers, each week the Hilltop Educators meet to discuss controversial subjects in education, like book bans and school shootings.

The senior mathematics and education major has been planning to become a teacher since 8th grade. She worked in a classroom early, observing and even teaching a pre-K class as a future teacher intern in high school. At SMU, she is a recipient of the Noyce Teacher Scholarship, which commits her to teach math at a high-need school after graduation in exchange for a scholarship funded by the National Science Foundation.

Mentorship by Noyce Scholar faculty sponsors has opened other doors for Cabanas. On Saturday mornings, she can be found on campus assisting in an education research project comparing the effectiveness of using iPads vs. virtual reality to teach geometry. She also spent a summer researching best practices in math education by watching videos of math teachers and coding their teaching practices. In addition, Cabanas helped analyze the effectiveness of demonstrating to students how workers use math in their careers.

“I’ll take what I’ve learned from research into my classroom,” Cabanas says.

Participating in education research gives Noyce Scholars the opportunity to be part of a larger academic community dedicated to bringing evidence-based practice to education, says Annie Wilhelm, one of Cabanas’ Noyce Scholar mentors and an associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School.

“Research gives students the opportunity to connect what they are learning in class with the K-12 classroom,” Wilhelm says.

Cabanas’ motivation is personal – she wants to teach because teachers made a difference in her life. She moved with her family from Mexico to Texas and, as a 12-year-old middle schooler, faced the challenges of 7th-grade along with the task of learning English and settling in to Garland, Texas.

“My teachers saw my potential,” she says. “As a newcomer, I was scared. It helped to know there were adults who were there for me.”

Cabanas should find plenty of teaching openings when she graduates. Almost two in five teachers plan to quit in the next two years, according to a June survey of members of the American Federation of Teachers.

After graduating in May of 2023, Cabanas plans to begin work at SMU on her Master’s degree in math education while completing her student teaching in fall of 2023. Her dream is to teach math at North Garland High School, where her teachers were so influential to her.

“I have to do this for the next generation,” she said. “If not me, who will?”

Photo cutline: Mary Cabanas, photo courtesy of SMU