Program Overview 

The School of Strategic Leadership Studies utilizes a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to equip adult learners with theoretical knowledge and applied skills and concepts necessary for effective and visionary leadership. 

Curriculum Overview

Program participants enroll in courses across a variety of disciplines including statistics and methodology, business management, and core leadership theory and ethics in organizations. Elective credits allow students the flexibility to explore topics specific to their concentration of study and relevant to their future career goals and research interests. The Ph.D. in Strategic Leadership Requires students to complete a total of 57-66 credit hours.

Curriculum Resources

Externship - LEAD 891

Program participants are required to complete a 100-hour externship for an applied learning
experience. The experience represents the culmination of the student’s formal course of study
where the student will have an opportunity to witness and evaluate some of the leadership and
management issues facing their externship organization. The externship/LEAD 891 and LEAD 890 are typically taken concurrently during the summer semester. 

Examples of past externship sites include:

Blue Ridge Community College

Compassion International

Shenandoah Community Foundation

State Council for Higher Education of Virginia

Innovative Leadership Institute

Plaid Consulting

College Promise Campaign

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators  

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

United Way Harrisonburg Rockingham

Center for Creative Leadership


Comprehensive Exam

Upon completion of all coursework, students are required to sit for a comprehensive exam. The comprehensive exam is a written exam covering program topics for breadth and depth based on the following four major areas of study:

  1. Leadership theories and research as well as the role of leadership in strategic change;
  2. Statistical analysis literacy with respect to study design, analysis, and assessment/evaluation strategies;
  3. General knowledge of business practices as applied to case analysis
  4. Concentration area themes as designated by your advisor

The SSLS Comprehensive Exam is typically offered three times a year (September, January, and May). Students are allowed 5 hours to complete the exam. Grades of Fail, Pass, and Pass with Distinction are awarded by consensus of the examiners utilizing the comprehensive exam rubric.



Program participants are required to propose, defend, and submit a dissertation under the direction of their dissertation committee. The purpose of a dissertation is to create a theoretically-grounded, scientifically rigorous, and tangible contribution to scholarship within a particular field of research. For a dissertation by a SSLS student to be successfully proposed and defended, dissertation committee members must unanimously deem that the student’s work has sufficiently met this purpose. In addition, dissertations successfully completed through SSLS must incorporate a leadership perspective. That is, the student must establish the relevance of leadership to the problem, constructs, and variables under study, or vice versa, as well as clearly describe the theoretical and/or practical implications to leadership that the dissertation findings pose.

The Dissertation excerpt from the SSLS Student Handbook explains the dissertation process in complete detail. 

Links to completed SSLS dissertations are featured on alumni profiles. SSLS dissertations are also listed in chronological order on the JMU Scholarly Commons.

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