Doctoral Student Defends Dissertation to Eighth Graders

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Monday was a day Ashley Boles had waited years for — the day she would defend her dissertation and potentially receive her doctorate from the University of Memphis College of Education (COE).

She planned to present her research before a dissertation committee, of course, but there was an added twist to this defense. Listening in alongside the committee were about two dozen eighth graders, unique to the traditional presentation.

Dr. Ashely Boles

Boles, a doctoral student within COE’s Counselor Education and Supervision PhD program, has also been a school counselor at University Middle School for the last five years. Her dissertation titled, “An Evaluation of Marginalized Student-Athlete Mental Health, Access to a Utilization of Support Services,” focused on student athlete mental health, which is what these eighth graders had just finished studying as part of a year-long capstone project. It was Boles’ idea to involve the students, as she felt it would help them build on what they had just studied.

“This is something they likely may experience as they go forward in life,” Boles said. “I felt it would be good for the students to see someone that they know go through this personally.”

Boles attended Catawba University, which is just north of Charlotte, N.C., from 2004-08, playing Division II women’s soccer and later graduating with a BA in Psychology. Her experiences as the only Black woman on the team all four years inspired her research over a decade later, and it was her intent to pass that research, in some way, onto the students she’s been counseling.Dr. Ashely Boles Defends Dissertation

“Student-athlete mental health was not necessarily a focus back then,” Boles said. “I do know that’s something that would have benefitted me… My passion is wanting to help people in general but especially student athletes who may be experiencing some kind of marginalization or mental health concerns.”

“Immediately, we were like, ‘This is awesome,’” said Dr. Melanie Burgess, Boles’ co-chair and member of her dissertation committee. “(The students) love their counselor, so to see her kind of in this new light, not only as their school counselor but as this researcher, is a really cool opportunity.”

Monday afternoon, Boles learned she’d successfully defended her dissertation after receiving the good news from Burgess and other members of her committee. The news was announced over the school intercom, with the students cheering for their school counselor.

Campus Middle School Students listen to dissertation defense from Dr. Ashely Boles“(The students) played a large role in this journey, for sure,” the now-Dr. Boles said. “I’m definitely grateful.”

“I hope this may get (students) interested in research, that they may have a future career in research, future doctorates in the room,” said Dr. Frances Ellmo, another one of Boles’ co-chairs.

The Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision program traditionally takes three years to complete for full-time students. Boles, working full-time at UMS, completed the program in just over four years.