James Madison University

JMU Keeps Calling Nick Curtis’ Name

By: Brett Seekford '16
Posted: March 23, 2016

Nick Curtis (’10, ’11, ’13) can’t get away from JMU. After earning his B.S. in Psychology and M.A./Ed.S. in School Psychology, he has now returned as a doctoral student in the Assessment and Measurement program (’18). His previous experiences at JMU, as well as his subsequent time as a school psychologist, affected his decision to pursue his Ph.D.

PHOTO: Nick Curtis
Nick Curtis, winner of Virginia’s School Psychologist of the Year Award, at James Madison University in Harrisonburg where he is now pursuing a doctorate. (Photo by Paula Love, permission granted for publication).

His interest in research, teaching and assessment developed from a combination of the material he learned in his classes and close student-professor relationships. “I have always loved learning. As an undergraduate, I interacted with many professors at JMU that encouraged me to pursue graduate school,” Curtis explained. “Dr. Michael Stoloff and Dr. Ashton Trice played a particularly significant role in guiding my education and research. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

Curtis’ time as a graduate assistant while earning his master’s degree would prove pivotal in developing his passion for teaching. During this time, he taught statistics and research methods labs and developed skills as a teacher. “These experiences helped me to realize that I love teaching others as much as learning new things myself,” Curtis said. After graduating with his master’s degree, he accepted an adjunct position at JMU and taught classes in life span development, psychological statistics and research methods.

During his time as an adjunct instructor, Curtis was also working for Madison County Public Schools as a school psychologist. As the only school psychologist in the county, his responsibilities were broad. He administered and interpreted assessments gauging students’ need for special or gifted education services; he consulted with and provided training for teachers to help meet specific student needs; and worked directly with students and parents to help meet educational, developmental and emotional goals.

His first year working in the school system was eye opening; four students and a faculty member passed away and other incidents resulted in serious injury to students and faculty. During these times, school administration relied on his knowledge and skills to issue an effective response. “Some of the worst possible things that could have happened ultimately allowed me to better meet the needs of students and staff,” Curtis said. As a result of these tragedies, he used the skills he gained during his time at JMU to conduct extensive research that would lead to the implementation of a new crisis response program in the Madison County school system. “I had to develop expertise in crisis response very quickly,” he said.

He presented his findings at the National Association of School Psychologists Conference (NASP). The procedures he developed led to his being nominated by a colleague for the Virginia School Psychologist of the Year. He found out last fall that he was chosen as the award recipient. “I didn’t know what to say,” Curtis said. “I think the work I did on crisis response likely led to me winning the award, but I was just doing what I was trained to do at JMU. It was certainly nice to be recognized.”

Long determined to pursue a Ph.D. in Assessment and Measurement, he applied and entered the program in fall 2015. “I always knew I wanted to pursue an advanced degree, but I first wanted to serve in a position for which my degree had prepared me. I think the best teachers are those who work in their field and can come back and draw on their experiences in the classroom to teach students,” Curtis said. He hopes to one day work as a professor, combining his research and passion for education to teach students how to assess learning effectively.

While Curtis has no set plans of returning to JMU as an educator, it is not impossible that he will hear his alma mater calling his name after he receives his Ph.D.