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Graduate to hold first ETSU doctoral degree in early childhood education

Rex Barber • Dec 14, 2012 at 9:53 PM

Helen Morris Lane patiently waited 14 years for East Tennessee State University to offer a doctorate in early childhood education, and today she will become the first graduate of that program, though she jokingly admits such an endeavor is not “for the faint of heart.”

“I am honored,” Lane said to be the program’s first graduate and hold a doctoral degree. “I have had huge support. I am first but I am certainly not alone in this. It has been a journey of collaboration.”

Lane said ETSU professors Rebecca Isbell, who is now retired, and Pam Evanshen began advocating for the doctoral program in 1994, the same year Lane got her master’s degree from ETSU. Both women were on Lane’s dissertation committee. Professor Karin Bartoszuk, of the office of graduate studies, and professor Ginni Blackhart, of psychology, were also on her committee.

Don Good, of the department of educational leadership and policy analysis, provided input for the dissertation.

Lane’s dissertation was titled “The Influences of Caregiver Child Interactions and Temperament on Cortisol Concentrations of Toddlers in Full-Day Childcare.”

For this study she went to childcare facilities and got permission from families to take saliva samples from children ages 1 to 2 to measure cortisol.

“We’re certainly grateful to the folks who were willing to do that,” Lane said.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. The more cortisol present in the body, the more stress a person is experiencing.

Cortisol production affects the architecture of the brain as it develops at that young an age, Lane said.

“What we in the field of early childhood learn is that early childhood is the time when relationships are built that we model for children, how to negotiate and build relationships, and how to develop strategies to deal with stress,” she said. “That’s the focus of my dissertation.”

Lane found that children in the study had high cortisol levels in the morning, which is typical. But those levels should go down throughout the day. Instead the levels of cortisol went up when measured in the afternoon, she found.

This indicates that “little ones in childcare are stressed,” Lane said.

She hopes this research will highlight the importance of children being matched appropriately to caregivers because that affects development and has implications for health later in life.

“This was a small study,” Lane said. “I’d love to see this as a huge study. It’s highly, highly important research for early childhood education.”

Lane is a seventh generation East Tennessean. Her grandmother actually enrolled at what was then East Tennessee State Normal School in 1912. Her husband, Terry, is also a native East Tennessean.

She attended the University of Houston and then finished at ETSU for her bachelor’s degree in English in 1970. After that she worked as an elementary school teacher. In 1994 she got her master’s degree in early childhood education with an endorsement in special education from ETSU.

“My passion lifelong has been early childhood,” Lane said.

Master’s degree in hand, she began working for Tennessee’s Early Intervention System, a voluntary educational program for families with children with disabilities from birth through age 2. She discovered this service while searching for options to help one of her children who has special needs.

She has six children: Amy, Ellen, Hardy, Franklin, Nathan and Lacy, who range in age from 28 to the middle 40s.

Lane wanted to thank her family, including husband Terry, for helping her obtain her doctorate.

“I could not have done this without my family taking up the slack when I needed to devote all my attention to this,” Lane said.

Lane knew ETSU was pursuing a doctorate program in early childhood education when she got her master’s degree. She always said she would be the first to apply for admittance to the program if it was established at the university. Indeed, the program began in 2008 and she began the program that same year.

Lane said ETSU began as a place to train educators, and now with the doctorate in early childhood education the College of Education is at its pinnacle.

“In the course of (studying in this program) I am living the dream,” she said. “This is what I wanted, even in the most challenging moments. This is where I wanted to be.”

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