Ph.D. Concentration

Alumni Profiles

We are so proud of our graduates from the Literacy Studies Program. Our alumni work in various positions within the state of Florida, across the country, and around the world. Below, we have featured many of our prominent alumni. We invite you to read about their work and visit their websites to find out how our alumni are making a difference in the literate lives of children, adolescents, and adults.

If you are a Ph.D. alumni of the Literacy Studies program, let us know how you are doing.

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Kathleen Alley, Ph.D. (2013)
Assistant Professor, Mississippi State

Dr. Alley is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Mississippi State. Her research interests focus on furthering our understanding of, and improving on the opportunities youth have for language and literacy learning. She is interested in exploring youths’ literate and social practices situated in school and popular culture, and the environments that sustain literacy and motivation growth. Dr. Alley won the J. Michael Parker Award for her dissertation research and she has identified two broad research goals to further her agenda: (1) investigating pre-service and in-service teachers beliefs, knowledge, and dispositions toward literacy pedagogy and the Common Core State Standards; and, (2) writing development and instruction across disciplines, including multimodality and multiliteracies.

Dissertation: Playing in Trelis Weyr: Investigating Collaborative Practices in a Dragons of Pern Role-Play-Game Forum

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Susan Bennett, Ph.D. (2010)
Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, USF St. Petersburg

Dr. Susan V. Bennett received a B.A. from The Ohio State University and Northern Kentucky University. She received her Ph.D. in Literacy Education from the University of South Florida. She taught elementary school on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and in urban schools in Ohio and Florida. She is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. Her research interests include culturally responsive teaching, writing instruction, and teacher education.

Dissertation: Preservice Teachers’ Developing Understandings About Culturally Responsive Teaching in a Field-Based Writing Methods Course

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Margaret Branscombe, Ph.D. (2015)
Freelance Drama in Education practitioner and consultant

Dr. Branscombe taught at the elementary level for 20 years - 10 years in the UK and 10 years in Florida. Her field of interest lies in the role that Process Drama can play in the elementary curriculum and literacy development in particular. Currently, she is based in Birmingham, UK, and runs her own business Learn Through Drama where she visits schools around the West Midlands region and teaches across the curriculum using drama-based strategies. Dr. Branscombe also facilitates professional development workshops for teachers who want to know more integrating drama into the curriculum. Last Autumn she was commissioned by a national drama magazine to write a series of lesson plans that teach about the digestive system through drama and a scheme of work based on a fiction book called 'Oliver'. 

Dissertation: "I want to be the Sun": Tableau as an Embodied Representation of Main Ideas in Science Information Texts

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Mildred Falcón-Huertas, Ph.D. (2006)
Assistant Professor, University of Puerto Rico in Bayamón
Dr. Falcón-Huertas received her Ph.D. in Literacy Studies and Early Childhood. She teaches courses in language development, early literacy and curriculum in early childhood education at the Unversidad de Puerto Rico. Her publications and research interests are in the area of early literacy and teachers’ beliefs.

Dissertation: Teachers' literacy beliefs and their students' conceptions about reading and writing

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Cher Gauweiler, Ph.D. (2005)
Instructor, St. Petersburg College

Dr. Cher Gauweiler is an instructor of Elementary Education at St. Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs, Florida. In addition to teaching, she presents her research at state and national conferences and publishes in various journals. Dr. Gauweiler has worked with the National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped in Belfast, Maine, for three weeks on a dramatic production. She has also traveled to Jamaica to work with rural children in Ocho Rios. Dr. Gauweiler learned the value of teaching, scholarship, and service during her doctoral program at USF. She appreciates the preparation that she received from the committed professors in the doctoral program.

Dissertation: Imagination in action: A phenomenological case study of simulations in two fifth-grade teachers classrooms

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Andrea Gelfuso, Ph.D. (2013)
Assistant Professor of K-12 Reading, University of Central Florida

Dr. Gelfuso approaches her work in literacy through social justice and democracy lenses. Her focus is preparing prospective teachers to be able to develop the literacy abilities of all students so that they can be thoughtful, productive citizens of a democracy and interact with others responsibly and creatively to frame and solve problems within the global community. Her research explores supported, video-mediated reflection on literacy field experiences using qualitative methods to create research-based pedagogies for developing prospective literacy teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. Also, to create research-based pedagogies that develop the agentive identities of prospective teachers. 

Dissertation: Insights Into Reflection and Pre-service Teacher Education: An Hermeneutic Phenomenology

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Annmarie Alberton Gunn, Ph.D. (2010)
Associate Professor, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

Dr. Gunn is an Associate Professor, Reading and Literacy Studies, College of Education, USFSP. She won the 2013 Dr. Carlos J. Vallejo Memorial Award for Emerging Scholarship, given annually by the American Educational Research Association to one scholar nationally who demonstrates a commitment to underserved communities and to producing scholarship that advances multicultural and multiethnic education. She also has collaborated with other researchers to investigate cultural autobiographies as a tool to promote cultural awareness. She has published her findings through numerous publications and conference presentations. In 2016, she was awarded USFSP College of Education Teaching Award. Dr. Gunn has redesigned literacy education graduate coursework at USF St. Petersburg to incorporate readings, activities and assignments within a multicultural framework.

Dissertation: Developing a Culturally Responsive Literacy Pedagogy: Preservice Teachers, Teaching Cases, and Postcard Narratives

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Julia Hagge, Ph.D. (2016)
Assistant Professor of Reading Education at The Ohio State University Marion

Dr. Hagge is an Assistant Professor of Reading Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. She teaches foundational and licensure courses in literacy at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr. Hagge has more than 20 years experience in education and held a variety of positions including primary and intermediate classroom teacher, literacy specialist, literacy coach, and educational consultant. Dr. Hagge’s research is focused on inclusive literacy experiences for diverse learners. She is interested in the ways potentially marginalized students are afforded increased access to meaning-making via new media literacies. Dr. Hagge is published in PDS Partners and has presented research at national conferences including the American Educational Research Association and the Literacy Research Association. 

Dissertation: Subtext of Decisions: Literacy Practices in the Context of Coding

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Steve Hart, Ph.D. (2005)
Associate Professor, California State University, Fresno

Dr. Hart is an Associate Professor in the Literacy & Early Education Department at California State University-Fresno. Dr. Hart teaches adolescent literacy methods courses to preservice teachers, assessment and instruction courses for Reading Specialist Master’s Degree students, and supervises Reading Specialist Master’s Degree students in field-based experiences. Dr. Hart’s dissertation was published as a book, Service-Learning Literacies: Lessons Learned from Middle School Youth, and he has had several articles and book chapters published detailing his research on critical literacy, adolescent literacy, and service-learning pedagogy. Dr. Hart's research continues in these areas through his involvement in the Fresno community, helping to establish a charter high school focused on service-learning for disengaged youth, consulting for and studying the Reading & Beyond after-school literacy program, and designing service-learning experiences for his students.

Dissertation: Service-learning literacies: Lessons learned from middle school youth

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Deborah Kozdras, Ph.D. (2010)
Chief Creative Officer, Gus A. Stavros Center at the University of South Florida

Deborah Kozdras joined the Stavros Center in 2010 as an Instructor and Chief Creative Officer. From 2005-2010 she completed her Ph.D. at the University of South Florida, after teaching elementary school for 11 years in Canada. She has presented at a variety of national and international conferences and has published a variety of articles, book chapters, and lesson plans. Her research interests include digital literacy, filmmaking, academic vocabulary, and using virtual worlds/games to teach financial literacy. She has created a workshop and associated website, Yumonomics ( Yumonomics uses children’s literature and digital responses — including ReadWriteThink Interactives — to teach economics concepts and vocabulary.

Dissertation: From real to reel: Performances of influential literacies in the creative collaborative processes and products of digital video composition

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Margaret Billings Krause, Ph.D. (2015)
Instructor in Elementary Education, University of South Florida

Prior to becoming an instructor at USF, Dr. Krause was an instructor at the first school in the state of Florida designed to teach talented students struggling with dyslexia. Currently, she is an Instructor and Program Coordinator for the Elementary Cohort Program at USF. Margaret’s research interests include evaluating strategies that influence the literacy identity development of struggling readers, while integrating research from the cognitive neurosciences. She also studies pre-service teacher literacy education and teacher preparation.

Dissertation: Facilitating a Transdisciplinary Approach in Teacher Education Through Multimodal Literacy and Cognitive Neuroscience

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Diane Kroeger, Ph.D. (2010)
Curriculum Specialist, Florida State University's Public Media station (WFSU) Education and Outreach

Diane earned her Ph.D. in Reading/Language Arts in 2010. Her research interests are literacy policy, adolescent literacy and orthographic development. Currently, Diane designs curriculum, workshops and assessments for WFSU's Ready To Learn grant programs. Her primary work focuses on using PBS Kids media content as a springboard for Literacy and STEM learning in Title I schools. Through her small business, Diane also provides private literacy services and consulting for children and families. 

Dissertation: Florida's Adolescent Literacy Policy: An Alternative Reading and Response

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Stephanie Lemley, Ph.D. (2013)
Assistant Professor of Content-Area Literacy and Disciplinary Literacy, Mississippi State

Dr. Lemley is an Assistant Professor of Content-Area Literacy and Disciplinary Literacy Education in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education in the College of Education at Mississippi State University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate level content-area and disciplinary literacy courses in the Elementary Education program. Dr. Lemley’s research agenda focuses on furthering our understanding of pre-service teacher and in-service teacher beliefs, knowledge, and implementation of disciplinary literacy pedagogy (e.g., scientific literacy, mathematical literacy, and historical literacy) in the elementary and secondary classroom. Within this agenda, she has identified two broad research goals: (1) investigating pre-service and in-service teacher beliefs, knowledge, and understanding of disciplinary literacy pedagogy and the Common Core State Standards and (2) investigating discipline-specific writing practices in the elementary and secondary classroom. Dr. Lemley is also interested in exploring the implementation of place-based pedagogy in rural elementary and secondary classrooms. 

Dissertation: Teachers' Beliefs, Knowledge, and Implementation of Disciplinary Literacy Pedagogy in Three Advanced Placement United States History Classrooms

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Melinda Lundy, Ph.D. (2008)
Language Arts Curriculum Specialist, Manatee County Schools

Dr. Melinda Lundy is a Language Arts Curriculum Specialist in the School District of Manatee County. This outlet affords her the opportunity to pursue her research interests in the role of teacher talk as it pertains to facilitating children’s developing literary understanding, effective reading instruction, and the perspectives adopted by teachers in their day-to-day practice. Melinda also teaches literacy courses for USF as an adjunct professor, which allows her to share her knowledge and experience while inspiring enthusiasm in the field that she loves. 

Dissertation: The nature of questioning moves used by exemplary teachers during reading instruction


Erin E. Margarella, Ph.D. (2016)
Assistant Professor of Secondary Education and Language Arts, Western Kentucky University

Dr. Margarella is an Assistant Professor of Secondary English Education at Western Kentucky University. Her dissertation titled, “It’s Not Pixie Dust”: An Exploratory Qualitative Case Study of a School-Based Multimodal Tablet Initiative” explored the effects of a school-wide iPad initiative at a large suburban high school in Florida. Dr. Margarella currently teaches in the CEPT (Clinical Experiences and Practices in Teaching) program at WKU. Her prior education includes a Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of English Education from The University of Florida and a Master of Arts in Reading from The University of South Florida. Her research interests include Technology Integration, Policy, Issues of Power, Struggling Readers, Adolescent Literacy Development, and Literacy Leadership. 

Dissertation: “It’s Not Pixie Dust”: An Exploratory Qualitative Case Study of a School-Based Multimodal Tablet Initiative

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Heidi Anne E. Mesmer, Ph.D. (1999)
Associate Professor, Virginia Tech

Heidi Anne E. Mesmer, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in Literacy at Virginia Tech.  A former third-grade teacher, she has held tenure-earning positions for over 17 years and has been with Virginia Tech since 2007. Dr. Mesmer has studied beginning reading materials and text difficulty for her entire career. Her research has appeared Reading Research Quarterly, The Educational Researcher, Reading Teacher, Elementary School Journal, Journal of Literacy Research, and Early Childhood Research Quarterly. She has written and directed 8 grants aimed at improving reading instruction in K-5 classrooms. Her upcoming book, Teaching skills for complex text: Deepening close reading in the Classroom, will be published by Teacher’s College Press (2017).  In 2014 she delivered The George Graham Lecture in Reading for Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. 

Dissertation: Interfacing texts and Instruction: The effects of decodable text and matching instruction on the word recognition skills of first grade readers

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Vanessa Minick, Ph.D. (2010)
Instructor, University of South Florida

Dr. Vanessa Minick is an Instructor for the University of South Florida in the Literacy Studies program and a middle school English teacher at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, FL. Her main research interests are writing and writing development.

Dissertation: Educators’ Beliefs About and Approaches to the Evaluation of Student Writing

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Christine Joseph Picot, Ph.D. (2012)
Assistant Professor of Elementary and Middle Grades Education, East Carolina University

Currently, my teaching and research interests encompass a disciplinary literacy focus. Investigating how reading and writing are treated within the elementary mathematics block has led to professional development, instruction, and research to include cross-disciplinary planning such as Project Based Learning, differentiating word problems based on an academic vocabulary framework, and planning for writing instruction within the content area from a developed planning resource guide.  An area of further investigation includes the integration of technology as a teaching and assessment tool with a disciplinary focus.  My research, teaching, and professional development includes instructors in higher education, in-service and pre-service teachers, and elementary school-age students.

Dissertation: Communication and Academic Vocabulary in Mathematics: A Content Analysis of Prompts Eliciting Written Responses in Two Elementary Mathematics Textbooks

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Jan Richardson, Ph.D. (2003)
Literacy Consultant

Jan Richardson, Ph.D. is a leading expert in guided reading, is a former K-12 teacher, reading specialist, Reading Recovery teacher leader, and staff developer. She currently is an educational consultant, providing presentations and classroom demonstrations across the U.S. and Canada. Dr. Richardson’s best-selling Next Step collection includes The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading; Literacy Footprints: A Complete System for Supporting Guided Reading; The Guided Reading Teacher’s Companion: Prompts, Discussion Starters, and Teaching Points; Next Step Guided Reading in Action video suite; and Next Step Guided Reading Assessment.

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Tammy Weiss Schimmel, Ph.D. (2007)
Associate Professor, University of Tampa

Dr. Schimmel taught elementary school in Hillsborough County, FL, for ten years prior to completing her doctorate. She has supervised interns in local public elementary schools for several years and worked as an adjunct professor. Dr. Schimmel is dedicated to working with students pursuing degrees in elementary education and instructing them in best practices so that they will be successful teachers. In addition to her work at The University of Tampa, she is a member of the International Reading Association, the Florida Reading Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English. She co-chairs UT’s chapter of Kappa Delta Pi and serves on the curriculum committee. She also volunteers at her children’s school in the media center and chairs the literacy committee.

Dissertation: How do proficient intermediate grade writers perceive writing in school?

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Patriann Smith, Ph.D. (2013)
Assistant Professor of Language, Diversity, and Literacy Studies, Texas Tech University

Dr. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies at the USF College of Education. She previously served as an Assistant Professor of Language, Diversity, and Literacy Studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas Tech University. Dr. Smith’s work emerges at the intersection of language, culture, literacy and multicultural teacher education and draws primarily on sociocultural, sociolinguistic and acculturation theories to examine the ways in which cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences intersect, clash and collide to impact literacy teaching and learning for culturally and linguistically diverse learners across local, national and international contexts.

Dr. Smith is a recipient of the International Reading Association’s (IRA) Hall of Fame Young Scholar Award (2013-2017), the Literacy Research Association’s (LRA) Scholars of color Transitioning into Academic Research Institutions (STAR) Award (2017-2019) and the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Language and Social Processes SIG Emerging Scholar Award (2015). Dr. Smith serves as a Literacy Champion with stakeholders in the Lubbock Independent School District (LISD) as part of the East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood (ELPN) project to enhance literacy performance for non-standardized English-speaking students.

Dissertation: Crossing Cultural Boundaries: Explorations in Multilingual Teaching and Learning

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Kimberly A. Schwartz, Ph.D. (2010)
Grades 3-8 Literacy Coach Turner/Bartels

Dr. Schwartz began her Hillsborough County teaching career in 1998 at Sligh Middle School.  She taught four more years before resigning from the District to pursue a higher degree.  Dr. Schwartz taught undergraduate and graduate level reading courses for the University of South Florida for four years.  She returned to Hillsborough County as a Reading Coach as part of Bartels Middle School's inaugural faculty.  Dr. Schwartz has been working with the students, teachers, and staff of Bartels ever since.  In addition to her Hillsborough County Reading Coach position, she also is an adjunct for St. Leo University and the Educator Preparation Institute at the Hillsborough Community College Brandon Campus teaching reading courses to teachers and teachers in training. Her research interests are effective research-based literacy practices and instructional strategies, as well as teacher efficacy.

Dissertation: Dynamics of Teacher Self-Efficacy: Middle School Reading and Language Arts Teacher Responses on a Teacher Sense of Efficacy Scale

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James Welsh, Ph.D.
Director of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida

Dr. James Welsh is the director of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology (FCIT) where he provides professional learning, digital content, and technology integration evaluation services to schools and districts worldwide. Dr. Welsh teaches classroom technology integration to students at the University of South Florida and professional development courses to educators through USF’s iTeach Professional Learning. Dr. Welsh is the project leader for the Technology Integration Matrix Evaluation tools and has worked with many districts and states on educational technology initiatives. He directs the Tampa Theatre Film Camp, a digital filmmaking summer camp. Dr. Welsh’s research focuses on media literacies, evaluation of technology integration in K-20 settings, student engagement in the creation and critical evaluation of multimedia texts, and the evaluation of multimodal texts in online settings.

Dissertation: Genres of Children's Websites: A Comprehensive Methodology for Analyzing Digital Texts