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SAU announces 2023 Rural and Diverse Educational Leadership doctoral program cohort

MAGNOLIA, AR (09/28/2023) Southern Arkansas University welcomes the 2023 Cohort into the Doctor of Education in Rural and Diverse Educational Leadership. The 15 new students span three states, all regions of Arkansas, and include teacher leaders, school administrators, higher education professionals, and community leaders. Each student has a unique story and contribution to education.

Capri Salaam, Arkansas’s 2023 Teacher of the Year, is among the new students. Hailing from North Little Rock, Ms. Salaam desires to “enhance my community leadership skills, research pressing issues in higher education, and conceptualize educational solutions for future generations of students.” She selected SAU’s program to join “the cohort of educational professionals with rich experience and diverse perspectives from all over the United States, and supportive faculty members who create a safe space within our academic community.”

Indeed, the cohort benefits from students with diverse experiences and perspectives. Zack Huffman, Director of Development for Teach for America’s Greater Delta region, came to SAU to expand his view and skills. As a younger adult, Huffman served on the local school board in Mississippi, where he learned more about issues facing rural schools and communities. Through his service with Teach for America, he continues to see the struggles and strengths of rural communities.

Huffman reflects, “When I was selecting the Ed.D. program that was best for me, I chose the Ed.D at SAU because I wanted to grow my academic career at an institution committed to advancing the quality of life of rural populations. SAU makes pursuing a long-term dream an affordable reality, and the best part is that they make you feel like family!”

Beyond the Delta, rural California students motivate college counselor Ms. Emaly Brann to action. As she considered attending SAU, she grew “excited a program like this exists because it brings awareness to the distinctive challenges we face in rural and isolated areas. I want to continue growing and learning to support and advocate for my students.” Brann serves in a small, rural community college.

Advocating for students is all in a day’s work for Hope, Arkansas-based assistant principal Mr. Jeffery Burton. He comes to the program with plans to “expand my understanding of how economic and social infrastructures work in rural areas.” Burton believes that “when communities work effectively, all systems function in a way that can properly sustain themselves by providing career and educational opportunities for generations to come.” This is his third degree program at the university, having completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at SAU.

Like Burton, Brian Walker returns to SAU for another degree. He gives SAU a lot of credit, saying, “SAU has been one of the big reasons I have been able to pursue my educational career. Through the different programs offered at SAU, I have been able to become an educator, and SAU has progressed me as an educator.” For this final educational step, Walker is “humbled to finish my educational journey right where it started.”

SAU began offering courses toward the Doctoral of Education in Rural and Diverse Educational Leadership in the fall of 2021. The first doctoral degrees are expected to be awarded in late 2024 or early 2025. To learn more about the Ed.D. at SAU visit


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