Sylvia White, lifelong learner, receives doctorate in 2019

Dr. White teaches the Exploring the Fine Arts class in Presser Hall in August. The class provides students with an overview of the arts, including visual art, music and theater.    Photo by Sterling Dube/TheBells

Dr. Sylvia White is no ordinary UMHB graduate. At 76 years old, she is the oldest member of the Spring 2019 graduating class. On May 11, White, who teaches Exploring the Fine Arts class at UMHB, earned her Ed.D. in Educational Administration. She was one of 17 students who received a doctoral degree in the ceremony, which drew the largest audience for any commencement in the school’s history.

White is no stranger to the world of education. In 1967, she earned a master’s degree from Baylor University. She worked as an elementary music teacher in her hometown of League City for 24 years. In 2009, she moved to Belton in order to be closer to her children. She began teaching piano lessons at the UMHB Conservatory, and soon afterward started teaching the Exploring the Fine Arts class.

White describes herself as “a lifelong learner” which made the decision to go back to school a natural one.

“I’ve always loved learning new things,” she said.

One of her favorite parts of earning her doctorate was completing her dissertation. At UMHB, doctoral students complete an imbedded dissertation, meaning that they work on it during the entirety of their studies instead of just completing it in their final year.

“All the classes in the Ed.D. program are geared to writing a piece of the dissertation in each class,” she said. “By the end of the three years, I had it completed.”

When she chose a topic for her dissertation, White knew that she wanted to focus on veterans, who she says have a special place in her heart.

“In teaching Exploring the Fine Arts, I had several student veterans, and they just touched my heart,” she said. “My first veteran asked if he could sit at the back of the room and keep the windows open. I thought, ‘there must be a way to help student veterans.’”

Her desire to help these students was a major motivation for her to earn her doctoral degree. She knew that by having an Ed.D. in education, she would be better equipped to help these students in the future.

Dr. Randy Hendricks, who is the director of UMHB’s Doctor of Education Program, is proud of White’s accomplishments.

“Dr. White was an exceptional student in the UMHB doctoral program and provides an inspiring example of what a Christian educator should be,” Hendricks said.

Senior social work major Nathan Gammage, who is White’s grandson, is incredibly proud of her accomplishments.

“She works so hard and does a lot to give back to the community,” he said. “I am so proud of her.”

White is not sure what God has in store for her next, but she definitely plans to continue teaching fine arts classes at UMHB and helping student veterans find support during their higher education journeys.

Exploring the Fine Arts is a course that studies music, art and theater as they relate to human experience. Junior elementary education major Emma Mathis greatly enjoyed participating in White’s class.

“Exploring the Fine Arts was a great class,” said Mathis. “I learned a lot that I didn’t know about art, music and musicals. [Dr. White] really knows what she is talking about, and she is very passionate about what she teaches.”

White encourages anyone who is thinking about going back to school to pray about their decision, knowing that God will guide them down the right path.

For more information about UMHB’s Doctor of Education program, call 254-295-4835 or visit their page on UMHB’s website.

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