Welcome to the School of
Strategic Leadership Studies


Who We Are

The School of Strategic Leadership Studies is a doctoral program of James Madison University that develops education and nonprofit leaders through rigorous theoretical study, coupled with practical application through experiential learning. Leadership Studies faculty conduct original research and professional activities that promote and model innovative, evidence-based decision making.

What's happening at SSLS?

Upcoming SSLS Social Events: Family Potluck, Brown Bag Lunch Series, and Happy Hour Social!

Coming soon!

Join us Saturday, April 26th for an SSLS community potluck from 12-2:30pm! Picnic tables, outdoor games, and indoor facilities will be available. Students, faculty, staff, and families including children are very welcome to attend. In addition, our students are invited to a monthly brown bag lunch, and you are welcome to join our monthly happy hour gathering.  See our Facebook page or contact graduate assistant Daisha Merritt at 540-568-5618 for details.

Postsecondary Concentration Meets with SCHEV Representatives

March 24, 2014

Students in the Postsecondary concentration, along with Dr. Dary Erwin and SSLS director Dr. Karen Ford are in Richmond today, meeting with representatives of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, learning about postsecondary education policy from an insider's perspective.

Natasha DuMerville Presents on Study Abroad and Attitudes toward Diversity

March 18, 2014

Natasha DuMerville of our Postsecondary concentration traveled to Baltimore to present a poster at the NASPA annual conference on March 18th. Her poster explored the influence of study abroad experiences on attitudes toward racial/ethnic and cultural diversity.

2014 SSLS Leadership Forum

Feb. 21, 2014

Our first annual research symposium on Feb. 21st, the 2014 Leadership Forum, featured current research by 6 students in our nonprofit concentration, remarks by our College of Business Dean Mary Gowan, and a special announcement that Dr. Karen Ford has formally  accepted the position of Director at the School of Strategic Leadership Studies!

Nick Langridge Hosts Dinner for JMU Alumni Living in England

Nick Langridge (SSLS Ph.D. candidate and VP for Advancement) and JMU's President Alger recently traveled to London to host a dinner for the newly formed alumni chapter in London (JMU's first chapter outside the U.S.!) and JMU's study abroad program faculty. Cheers to forming connections and innovative partnerships!

Nonprofit Concentration Travels to Washington for Panel: "What's Next for America's Nonprofit Sector?"

Oct. 17, 2013

Members of the Nonprofit concentration traveled to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 17th to attend a panel titled, "What's Next for America's Nonprofit Sector?" Among those presenting were Lester Salamon (Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies), Charlotte Haberaicker (CEO of Lutheran Services in America), and Michael Curtain (CEO of DC Central Kitchen). The our students and faculty look forward to continuing the connections made at the event.

President of AACU Speaks in Dr. Erwin's Class

Oct. 17, 2013

Dr. Erwin's Assessment and Public Policy class had a very special guest speaker yesterday: Dr. Carol Geary Schneider, President of the American Association of Colleges and Universities.  Dr. Schneider was visiting JMU as speaker for the Madison Vision Series, and Dr. Erwin's class had a chance to meet with her beforehand to discuss her work at AACU and the importance of liberal arts education.

Daisha Merritt Receives Scholarship for ARNOVA Conference

Oct. 10, 2013

Daisha Merritt was selected to receive funding to attend the ARNOVA conference (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action), thanks to her strong application to the conference's scholarship program, in which she described her past, current, and future investment in the nonprofit sector.

Jody Fagan Final Project Accepted for Publication in Peer-Reviewed Journal

Oct. 9, 2013

Jody Fagan of our Postsecondary concentration just received word that her final project for her Structural Equation Modeling class has been accepted for publication in a double-blind peer-reviewed journal.  Her article, titeld, "The Dimensions of Library Service Quality: A Confirmatory Factor Analysis of the LibQUAL+ Instrument," will appear in Library & Information Science Research in early 2014.

Sam Nickels Presenting at ARNOVA Conference

Oct. 8, 2013

Sam Nickels of our nonprofit concentration will be presenting a paper and a poster at this year's ARNOVA conference (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action).  One explores the differences between NGO funding strategies in the U.S. and abroad, and the other focuses on community mental health advocacy in Latin America.  The ARNOVA conference will take place in Hartford, CT, Nov. 21-23.

Author Paul Loeb Meets with Strategic Leadership Students

Sept. 18, 2013

Author Paul Loeb met with students from SSLS and two other JMU graduate programs to talk about overcoming barriers to civic participation, and historical figures who doubted their leadership abilities but were essential agents of social change.

Roxy Kioko Faciliatates Leadership Workshop

Sept. 9, 2013

On Friday, Roxy Kioko from our nonprofit concentration conducted a leadership development training for Atlast Service, Corps, titled, "The Servant-Leader: Strengthening your Strategic Leadership Influence from the Inside Out."

Geary Cox Hired by U.S. State Department

Aug. 26, 2013

Geary Cox has been offered a job at the U.S. Department of State as Program Manager in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA).  Geary, who is a Ph.D. candidate in our Nonprofit concentration, will be leaving his position at JMU's Center for International Stabilization and Recovery (CISR), but he will complete his dissertation from a distance.

2013 SSLS Orientation and New Students

Aug. 23, 2013

Check out our Facebook page for photos from this year's student orientation! We would liek to extend a warm welcome to our 8 new students this semester!  In the Nonprofit concentration: Roxy Kioko, Michael Maurice, and Lisa Akers.  In K-12 Educational Leadership: Greg Harris, Sue Wright, India Harris, and Shaun Madsen.  In the Postsecondary concentration: Lindsay Miller.  We're glad to have you with us! 

Lori Pyle Hired as Associate Chair of Madison Collaborative

Aug. 14, 2013

Recent graduate Lori Pyle, Ph.D., has accepted the position of associate chair for The Madison Collaborative: Ethical Reasoning in Action, a new effort at JMU to teach ethical reasoning skills to students through curricular and co-curricular opportunities that employ a new eight-question ethical reasoning framework.

Roxy Kioko Selected for Entrepreneurship Position

Aug. 13, 2013

First year Ph.D. student Roxy Kioko has been selected for a graduate assistantship in the Office of Technology Transfer. This office works with the Center for Entrepreneurship to incubate JMU research-based technologies ...and bring them to market within James Madison Innovations, Inc. (JMI), a non-profit corporation established in 2009 to transfer intellectual property produced at JMU into the commercial sector.

Dr. Denise Perritt Retires

Dr. Denise Perritt dedicated eight years to JMU, the last four to the School of Strategic Leadership Studies (SSLS), before retiring this summer with over thirty years of educational service in VA. During her time at JMU, Denise served in the College of Education as Assistant Professor and Program Director of the M.Ed. in K-12 Educational Leadership while  working as part of the steering committee appointed by the provost to develop the Ph.D. in K-12 Leadership concentration. In 2009, she served as Interim Director during the launch year for the SSLS and Strategic Leadership Ph.D. and then as Associate Professor and Coordinator for the K-12 Ph.D. concentration until her retirement.  Denise’s generous, kind spirit and wealth of experience in public school administration and research were a tremendous asset to the program. She will be missed.  

Natasha DuMerville Invited as Guest Lecturer at George Washington University

Natasha DuMerville (one of our doctoral graduate assistants in the postsecondary track) gave a guest lecture at GWU on June 18th, hosting a two-hour discussion on diversity in higher education with students in a masters-level course titled Intercultural Campus Leadership. Natasha encouraged the students to approach the discussion from three perspectives: as a future leader in higher education, with their anticipated area of focus in higher education in mind, and as a current student.

Dr. Sloan and Dr. Murphy Present to Area Nonprofits on Collaboration

On Tuesday, Dr. Sloan and Dr. Murphy helped to facilitate a meeting of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Healthy Community Council (HCC) focusing on nonprofit collaboration.  The HCC is a group of individuals and organizations invested in enhancing quality of life in Harrisonburg/Rockingham County.  Ideas and resources from the meeting will be posted on our Community page as they become available.

Dr. Murphy Presents to BOLD Program Participants on Generational Differences

Dr. Susan Murphy was invited to give a presentation on generational differences at the Chamber of Commerce BOLD leadership development program's year-end event, which took place June 6th, 2013. The two-year BOLD program develops community leaders by matching adult participants with mentors for one-on-one meetings, networking events, and presentations.

Dr. Ford and Dr. Sloan to Present Nonprofit Research at ARNOVA Conference

Dr. Ford and Dr. Sloan have independently been invited to share papers at this year's ARNOVA conference in Hartford, CT.  Dr. Ford will be presenting on her work with government infrastructure for nonprofits in the country of Dominica, and Dr. Sloan will be presenting her paper titled, "The Impact of Employee Compensation and Financial Efficiency on Donor Contributions."

Daisha Merritt Gives Motivational Speech on Leadership to High School Girls

Nonprofit and Community Leadership student Daisha Merritt has been invited to speak on the theme of leadership at the teen summit sponsored by "Women of Standard," a student group at Thomasville High School which aims to increase self-awareness, self-concept and self-esteem among teen girls.

Lori Pyle Celebrates Completion of Ph.D. Program at SSLS

Having completed her coursework and dissertation, postsecondary concentration student Lori Pyle participated in JMU's Graduate School commencement ceremonies on May 4th.  She is pictured (right) receiving her doctoral hood.  Congratulations, Lori!

Dr. Erwin Invited to Saudi Arabia for Lecture Series

Dr. T. Dary Erwin is back from Saudi Arabia, where he was asked to give a series of lectures at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran. This was his latest of several trips to Saudi Arabia in recent years. Dr. Erwin is the coordinator of our Postsecondary Leadership concentration, and professor of Strategic Leadership and Psychology at JMU.

Susan Murphy Presents on Leadership at Noftsinger Memorial Event

In partnership with the Center for Faculty Innovation, the Office of Research and Public Service is hosting a reception to honor the accomplishments of the JMU faculty in memory of John Noftsinger, and SSLS Director Dr. Susan Murphy was asked to present her scholarly work on leadership. 

Student Team Chosen as Finalist for Leadership Development Program Design

Dr. Susan Murphy’s LEAD 777 Leadership Development class was selected as a finalist in a request for proposals put on by the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF). Representatives from the team flew to Atlanta, GA, to present their leadership development program design on April 25th. Congratulations, team members Kofi Adimado, Geary Cox, Kim Hartzler-Weakley, Stephen Lambert, Kevin Meaney, Paul Morgan, Ken Newbold, Jen Rau, Nick Rau, and supporting/auditing member Lori Pyle!

JMU President Alger Meets with Postsecondary Concentration Students

On April 10th, JMU's President Alger met with students from our postsecondary concentration for an afternoon discussion. Three of our students presented their current research projects, and President Alger shared about issues facing higher ed today, as well as characteristics of an effective leader in higher education.

SSLS Faculty Present at Non-Profit Institute Graduation

SSLS Faculty joined graduates of JMU's Nonprofit Institute (NPI) Certificate Program for their graduation ceremony on April 9th, which included a leadership presentation by our Program Director, Dr. Susan Murphy. Faculty members Dr. Ford and Dr. Sloan, and doctoral graduate assistant Daisha Merritt have also been working with the NPI this semester, and joined the event to congratulate nonprofit leaders of the Shenandoah Valley on their accomplishment.

Natasha DuMerville Recognized for Academics and Community Service

Natasha DuMerville (one of our doctoral graduate assistants in the postsecondary track) was awarded the Barbara W. Davis Award "for superior academic achievement and demonstrated community service" at the April 4-7 Alpha Kappa Alpha 60th regional conference in Winston-Salem, NC.

Kevin Meaney Promoted to Interim Director of Residence Life at JMU

Kevin Meaney (student in our Postsecondary concentration), has been promoted to Interim Director of Residence Life at JMU! Kevin is now responsible for the leadership, administration and supervision of all functions of the Residence Life department, which includes more than 25 full-time professionals and 225+ graduate and undergraduate staff, and assists in the personal and academic development of over 6500 students on campus. Congratulations, Kevin!

Kimberlee Hartzler-Weakley Receives 3 Grants

Kimberlee Hartzler-Weakley (student in our Nonprofit concentration and Administrator at Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services) was recently awarded 3 grants: $66,570 from VCU to promote health careers and access to primary care for medically underserved populations through Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center, $3,120 from RMH to address substance abuse in culturally appropriate ways through Drug Free Communities, and $17,837 from the VA DOE for Migrant Education, which provides supplemental educational services to the children of migrant farm workers in collaboration with local school districts.

Dr. Sloan Awarded Grant to Present Impact of Employee Compensation and Financial Efficiency on Donations


This February, Dr. Margaret Sloan and her colleague Wenli Yan of Virginia Commonwealth University were awarded a $2,441 grant from the ASAE Foundation to present the findings of their research study, "The Impact of Employee Compensation and Financial Efficiency on Membership Organization Donations" at the Western Social Sciences Association Annual Conference in Denver, CO, in April.  The study will use financial information from the Form 990 to examine the hypothesis that if financial efficiency is low, employee compensation deemed above average or excessive becomes a greater barrier to donating than if executive compensation is considered appropriate for the organization.    

National Teacher Education Journal Publishes Article by Dr. Perritt

SSLS faculty member Dr. Denise Perritt has written an article, “Using faculty survey data to make school improvement decisions: One school’s story," which will appear in the National Teacher Education Journal in late February or early March (Volume 6, Number 1).  The article describes how Dr. Perritt led school faculty members to generate self-evaluation data to improve decision-making and governance at their school. 

Dr. Ford and Dr. Sloan Awarded Geospatial Techology Grant

JMU's Geospacial Technology Steering Committee just awarded SSLS faculty members Dr. Margaret Sloan and Dr. Karen Ford a mini grant to implement a mapping project for the study of rural homelessness. Congratulations to Karen and Margaret!

Nick Langridge Named VP for Advancement

On Friday, January 18th, SSLS student Nick Langridge was named JMU's Vice President for Advancement. A two-time JMU graduate, currently pursuing his Ph.D. in the postsecondary leadership concentration, Nick had been serving as Acting VP for Advancement since March 2012.

Dr. Murphy Speaks on Leadership Panel

Dr. Susan Murphy sat on a panel with JMU’s President Alger and other university presidents at the Education and Life Long Learning session of the Chamber Leadership program held at EMU December 20th. The session focused on the impacts of diversity in educational institutions, and Dr. Murphy shared from her experience in business consulting and education, reflecting on how diversity in school equips students with the soft skills needed for a diverse business environment.

Postsecondary Leadership Students Visit U.S. Department of Education

The postsecondary concentration students recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for an all-day meeting with prominent leaders of the U.S. Department of Education, some of whom hold the highest positions not politically appointed in the organization. The Dec. 17th trip was organized by Dr. Dary Erwin, faculty advisor and coordinator for the postsecondary concentration.

2012 Holiday Party!

Check out our Facebook page for photos from the Dec. 13th SSLS Holiday Party!

Geary Cox Travels to Switzerland for U.N. Meetings on Landmine Ban

SSLS student Geary Cox just returned from the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, attending high-level meetings on landmine clearance, victim assistance, and other topics at the "12th Meeting of the States Parties (12MSP) to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty," Dec. 3-7, 2012. We are proud to have Geary representing JMU and the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery (CISR) at the U.N. 

Standing Room Only at Dr. Perritt's Panel Session

Turnout was so high that participants were turned away at the Nov. 29th session where Dr. Denise Perritt served as a panelist.  The session was titled “How Remarkable Women Lead: What Works”, and was part of the annual conference of the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (VASCD) in Williamsburg, VA, where Dr. Perritt also gave a presentation on using survey data to make school improvement decisions.  See SSLS on the Road for details.

Dr. Ford and Dr. Sloan Present Research on Rural Homelessness

SSLS professors Karen Ford and Margaret Sloan presented a poster at this year’s ARNOVA conference (November 15-17) in Indiana, which dealt with the difficulty of getting funding and services for the homess in rural America. The study predominately focused on the Shenandoah planning district #6 in Virginia, and benefited from the research and poster design of graduate assistant Daisha Merritt.

Dr. Murphy Takes Prominent Role at International Leadership Association Conference

Dr. Susan Murphy recently attended the International Leadership Association (ILA) national conference in Denver, Colorado, where she facilitated the annual meeting of the Leadership Scholarship MIG and served as discussant on two other sessions. She also presented as part of a panel discussing the design of the 2012 National Leadership Symposium for student leadership development delivered this past July in Richmond VA. Audience members asked many questions about thinking about design and assessment issues for student leadership development programs. Dr. Murphy is helping to organize next year’s conference, which will be held Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2013  in Montreal Quebec, Canada.

Dara Hall Analyzes the Effects of Virginia's New Teacher Evaluation Standards on Aspiring Teachers

Dara Hall, first year student in the K-12 concentration at SSLS, is currently looking at how pre-service teachers will be affected as the Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers (VDOE, 2011) are implemented throughout Virginia, including what impact it will have on pre-service teacher preparation and student teacher experiences.  She has attended multiple conferences, meetings, and discussions around this topic including WELV, VERA, and AACTE-VA/ATE-VA. She presented on this topic this fall at VERA (Virginia Educational Research Association).  Dara is a steering committee member and administrator for the MidValley Consortium for Teacher Education.  In October, the consortium presented two in a series of four workshops for clinical faculty on the topic of performance & evaluation as it relates to student teachers.  Additionally, Dr. Denise Perritt (her advisor) and she are in the very initial stages of planning to pursue a research project in this area.

Dr. Sloan Leads Workshop on Nonprofit Board Service

On October 25, Dr. Margaret Sloan, along with co-presenter Tom Domonoske,  led a workshop titled "Embarking on Board Service."  Designed for individuals who are considering joining a nonprofit board, the session highlighted what to ask about an organization before becoming a board member, the roles and responsibilities associated with board service, and how to locate organizations in need of board members.  Participants also completed a self-assessment to determine their readiness for board service.  Attendees included those interested in board service, some just starting out on a nonprofit board, and a couple of seasoned board volunteers seeking ways to recruit new leadership into their organizations.   

Grant Rosen Teaches Undergraduate Course in Nonprofit Management

Third year SSLS student Grant Rosen is keeping busy this semester.  While wrapping up his own program of study at SSLS and gearing up for his dissertation (which he hopes to defend by Fall 2013), Grant is teaching an undergraduate course in Nonprofit Management, required in JMU's Nonprofit minor. In the photo above, Grant and several students listen to a presentation by Emily Riehl from Virginia Organizing on advocacy and lobbying in the nonprofit sector. The course will also examine the role of volunteerism, boards, and public relations in the nonprofit environment.

Dr. Sloan Presents on Nonprofit Financial Management

After conducting a series of interviews with nonprofit CEOs, EDs, and finance managers in human services to find out how they create, maintain, and utilize operating reserves in their organizations, SSLS Faculty member Dr. Margaret Sloan presented her findings at the annual conference of the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management, held October 11-13 in New York City.  Dr. Sloan co-authored her paper, titled, Do Governance Decisions Impact Organizational Financial Preparedness?, with Cleopatra Grizzle of Rutgers University. The paper was part of a session titled, Nonprofit Financial Management: Challenges, Concerns, and Strategies. 

Dr. Ford Presents at Non-Profit Institute Dinner

On Tuesday, Sept. 25th, Dr. Karen Ford gave a presentation on the impact of area nonprofits at the Non-Profit Institute (NPI) Dinner, which included community members and new NPI students. The dinner began with a speech by JMU’s President Alger on the importance of collaborative community involvement and JMU’s dedication to being a positive contributing community partner. Dr. Ford's presentation, prepared with the assistance of doctoral graduate assistant Daisha Merritt, discussed the number of nonprofit organizations in our region, and the economic impact they have on our community, and stated that in Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County in 2011, over 400 million dollars were contributed to the economy through the nonprofit sector. Several SSLS faculty and doctoral students were able to sit down with leaders and members of nonprofits, donors, and community representatives to share food and ideas.

Dr. Perritt and Dara Hall Present at Educational Research Conference  

Two members of the Educational (K-12) Leadership concentration presented independently this month at the VA Educational Research Association annual conference in Charlottesville, VA. Faculty member Denise Perritt, Ph.D. shared one school's journey in gathering, analyzing and using data in her presentation entitled "Making data-driven school improvement decisions". Dara Hall co-presented "The Impact of the Gathering Storm on Student Teachers" with a colleague, Mark Keeler, in which they consider the impact of the Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers (VDOE, 2011) on pre-service teacher preparation and student teacher experiences. The conference took place Sept. 20-21, 2012.

Fall 2012 Orientation

Check out our Facebook page for photos from the Aug. 24th SSLS orientation!

Lori Pyle Named Recipient of 1st Year, 2nd Mile Award

Each year the Orientation Office recognizes a member of the JMU community that has made an extraordinary contribution to the success of orientation. Lori's contribution involved mapping orientation business processes over the last two years in an effort to help deliver a more efficient and user-friendly orientation reservation management system.  During this process, the orientation office noted her ability to challenge assumptions, tease apart needs versus wants, and help the orientation office to identify a dynamic system that will be able to adjust and scale to any changes in the program over the next few years, proving her caliber as a business analyst. Thanks, Lori, for all the work you did to map and help us understand how our business processes could be more efficient.

Lori Pyle is a 4th year student at the School of Strategic Leadership Studies.  She received the 1st Year, 2nd Mile Award at University Welcome on Aug. 22, 2012.

Ken Newbold Receives Entrepreneur Award

On July 19, 2012, Ken Newbold, 3rd year doctoral student in the postsecondary concentration at SSLS, was awarded the CIT GAP 50 Entrepreneur Award, "designed to identify and celebrate Virginia’s next generation entrepreneurs in the areas of life sciences, technology and energy." Ken is the Director of Research and Innovation at James Madison University.

Towards Nonprofit Excellence Conference

Thank you to all that made the April 19th Towards Nonprofit Excellence conference a success. Speakers included Ms. Bunkie Righter, Director Business Development, GuideStar, USA who lead a lively discussion on 'The Ratings Game'. Conference presentations can be accessed here.

Geary Cox Honored for Contributions to JMU Community:

SSLS doctoral student Geary Cox has been honored with the  2012 All Together One award, which recognizes the unique contributions of leaders in the JMU community. Geary and the four other honorees were recognized on April 10, 2012.

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Events and Deadlines  

  Quick Facts 

Who: Applicants to our program come with a master's degree and 3-5 years of experience. Full-time and part-time study is possible.
What: SSLS is a doctoral (Ph.D.) program with 3 tracks: nonprofit, postsecondary, and K-12 educational leadership.
When: Classes are held year-round, mostly late afternoons and evenings.
Where: On campus
Why: JMU offers a rigorous Ph.D. program that combines research-based leadership theory with business practice.
How: Apply online.


SSLS is a doctoral (Ph.D.) program. See the University Unions page for leadership opportunities at JMU for undergraduates.