ASU makes history with first Ph.D. degrees


ALAMOSA —”First things happen only once,” said Dr. Ira Richardson upon awarding Adams State’s first degree in August of 1926.

Adams State University celebrated another first on May 12, 2018 — awarding of the institution’s first doctorate degrees. As the eight doctoral candidates entered Plachy Hall gym Saturday afternoon, Dr. Ed Crowther announced, “Adams State’s first EVER Ph.D. graduates!” The crowd responded with enthusiastic applause.

Eight students received their Ph.D.s in counselor education and supervision. Also at the afternoon ceremony, Adams State awarded 418 Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Business Administration degrees. Earlier in the day, the university awarded 179 associate’s degrees and 236 Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees.

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Adams State awarded its first PhDs on Saturday, May 12, in Plachy Hall. Pictured, from left, standing, Lisa Runck, Vasti Holstun, Mark Vander Ley, Rebecca Caple, Richard Audsley and Gregg Elliott; sitting Elizabeth Wiggins and Ashley Pechek.

Cleave Simpson, chair of the Board of Trustees for Adams State University, welcomed guests at both ceremonies and assured graduates, “The board continues to work hard to honor our mission, and is committed that great stories like yours will continue to start here.” He noted that of the undergraduate degree recipients, 37 percent hailed from the San Luis Valley, 40 percent were the first in their families to earn a college degree, and 43 percent had a low-income background. Of the master’s and doctoral degree recipients, 31 percent were the first in their families to earn a degree.

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The excitement builds as graduates enter Plachy Hall during the Adams State commencement ceremony.

Dr. Penny Sanders, assistant vice president for Graduate Studies, briefly introduced each doctoral candidate and said, “These diplomas may be handed out individually, but I assure you, this was a team effort.” She noted that Ashley Ascherl Pechek is Adams State’s “first triple crown winner,” having also earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Adams State. “I believe in Adams State and its quality of education,” Pechek said.

The graduate ceremony commencement address was given by Mark Vander Ley, pictured above, who was first of the doctoral candidates to successfully defend his dissertation. Speaking on behalf of his fellow doctoral candidates, he said, “We have often discussed how thankful we are to have been members of this first cohort. First, we are thankful because we have grown close and could not have done it without one another. Second, we are thankful because of the level of commitment, support, and excellence demonstrated by the Counselor Education department and Adams State University. The awarding of these first Ph.D. degrees is truly a huge accomplishment.”

He went on to reflect, “Yet, I believe that today is made even greater when we consider it a commissioning for service. If this accomplishment is to be meaningful, then it has to be more than the paper, the hat, and the robe. I think the best way to make these things more than just an accomplishment is to take what we have learned, return home, and serve those we love and our communities. The ascent to great accomplishment is meaningless without a descent into a life of service. It will not be easy; it may come at incredible cost, but it will be meaningful.”

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Entering Plachy Hall soon-to-be bachelor degree graduates enthusiastically acknowledge family and friends.

Vander Ley, who lives in Quincy, Illinois, started his private practice in 2017, specializing in working with adolescent males who have experienced trauma and couples in distress. In addition to Vander Ley and Pecheck, who is from Colorado Springs, the following received their Ph.D.s: Richard William Audsley, Evergreen; Rebecca Capel, Mint Hill, NC; Gregory Elliott, Aurora; Vasti Pica Holstun, Colorado Springs; Lisa Ann Runck-Wieczorek; and Elizabeth Wiggins, Colorado Springs.

Initiated in 2014, Adams State’s doctoral program prepares counselor educators and supervisors to serve as faculty members, researchers, and practitioners in academic and clinical settings. The degree also qualifies them to assume leadership positions in the counseling profession and/or their area(s) of specialization. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs recently granted accreditation to the program. Adams State is one of only seven institutions in the nation to offer an online, CACREP-accredited doctoral program.

At the undergraduate commencement ceremony, Clay Roesle gave the address on behalf of the Class of 2018. From Tulsa, Oklahoma, he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in instrumental music education. He will begin his new job as K-12 director of bands in Del Norte. Roesle combined his educational responsibilities with community service, including conducting a choir of K-5 students at the San Luis Valley Boys and Girls Clubs and working on K-12 literacy interventions.

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Adams State undergraduate student speaker Clay Roesle shares his insight with fellow graduates.

Describing the musical concept of sympathetic vibrations, in which individual notes build on each other, he said, “Think of our individual actions as notes. Imagine what beauty could be created if we all acted from our best selves.” He encouraged his fellow graduates, “Remember the passion that originally set you down the road of education. Remember what good you thought you could do in world. Never go to work only for the paycheck. Act with passion daily to create joy for yourself and others.”

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Biology majors Megan and Tyler Cerny switch their tassels from right to left signifying their completion of undergraduate degrees.

The undergraduate commencement address, “You Didn’t Learn Everything in College,” was given by Adams State Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Curtis Garcia, a San Luis Valley native. Reflecting on the lessons learned early in his career, he said he realized, “It really wasn’t me that was going to change the world, it was also the world that was going to change me. I had to let go of some of what I thought I knew, and remain open to learning new lessons that no one had ever taught me in college.”

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The Adams State undergraduate commencement speaker Curtis Garcia encourages graduates to make a positive difference.

He also talked about the value of learning from failure. “I have also learned much deeper lessons, like how to fail, how to listen and learn from others, how the most important things in life have little to do with careers or money and much more to do with family and friends, and I have learned how to show gratitude to those that have both challenged and supported me throughout my life.”

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Kendra Riehl shows the excitement of the day after crossing the stage to receive her undergraduate degree in accounting.

Courtesy photos by Linda Relyea/ASU.