2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards Spotlight, Part 2

Josh Duke

The Florida State University College of Education's Distinguished Alumni Awards honor the best of our graduates. Part two of our series spotlights Patricia Clements, who won the Government and Community Service Award, Cay Holbrook, who won the Postsecondary Systems Award, and Janet Pilcher, who won the Business & Industry Award. You can also read part one of our Distinguished Alumni Awards spotlight.

How did the College of Education prepare you for your career?

Cay Holbrook (Postsecondary Systems): I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to study the education of students who are blind or visually impaired at Florida State! I decided to go to FSU in high school, in part because a good friend convinced me. I had little idea about what my long-term goals were in relation to a career or profession. I obtained three degrees (undergraduate, masters and doctoral) from FSU, all from the College of Education. Prior to starting to take classes in Education, I spent six months in the FSU London program which, along with my Education degrees, prepared me for appreciating diversity and having confidence to travel and explore new opportunities.

Patricia Clements (Government & Community Service): My time as a student at FSU’s College of Education helped me understand the inextricable connection between preparation and outcome. A goal without a plan is just a dream. COE helped me develop an appreciation of the process that is required for making dreams and goals into tangible results.

There are very few programs in visual impairment at the undergraduate level, and it was my great fortune to have chosen to attend Florida State where I found this calling early in my life. I have always felt that I was very well prepared as a teacher of students who are blind or visually impaired, and then moved step-by-step into graduate degrees which opened opportunities to add strong research and service to my teaching expertise.

Janet Pilcher (Business & Industry): I graduated with an undergraduate degree in business from FSU in 1985 and a Ph.D. in Measurement and Evaluation in 1992 from the College of Education. My doctoral degree prepared me to invest 20 years of my professional life in higher education where I

  • Led the University of West Florida to offer its first doctoral program
  • Served as a college dean and led an effort to merge multiple departments on campus to create the College of Professional Studies (education; health, leisure and exercise science; social work; criminal justice; legal studies; engineering technology; and human performance technology)
  • Served as the founding director of an educational entrepreneurial center that was established as a profitable venture for the university
  • Achieved $18 million dollars of external funding to support education innovation and research
  • Served as the founder of the TeacherReady program, a State of Florida-approved Educator Preparation Institute that certifies teachers in most all states and over 90 countries
  • Achieved excellence in teaching, research and service as a professor.

In 2011, I transitioned from the university to work with Quint Studer, the founder of Studer Group (a healthcare leadership coaching company) to become the founder of Studer Education. My FSU educational experience prepared me to

  • Grow the business from $800 annual revenue to $7 million in 7 years
  • Initiate a business/university partnership to continue to offer TeacherReady
  • Lead an organization that serves 74 partner organizations focusing on leadership alignment and consistency of leadership practices to achieve high-performing results
  • Personally coach presidents and executive teams on becoming high performing organizations that are current models of practice
  • Publish three books aligned to our work and several software services
  • Support the growth of our company to become a Managing Director of Huron Consulting


What was your favorite class at the College of Education?

Pilcher: Dr. Jack Beard’s measurement courses were my favorite. His courses provided me with skills that few people have gained. The courses offered highly marketable skills that are timeless in nature. He also hired me as a graduate student to work on real world jobs, such as analyzing and reporting the State of Florida student test data and using the newest measurement models in this work. My education in the Measurement and Evaluation program is a treasured gift the FSU College of Education provided to me. I am grateful to the college, the institution and to all the professors who were part of this program. Every professor was excellent.

Holbrook: I’m not very good at answering questions about “favorites” because I tend to have many different favorites for different reasons. I loved my undergraduate braille class, which was taught by Vera McClain, a life-long braille reader herself. The code fascinated me, and braille literacy has remained a focus of my scholarship and research all these years later! I also remember enjoying the course that focused on medical issues of blindness, and even though I was very nervous about it, I enjoyed dissecting the cow eyes and was fascinated by the structures of the eye. I enjoyed courses that challenged me and contained information that was new to me.


Do you have a favorite professor? If so, who?

Clements: While I appreciated each of my professors for different reasons, Dr. Maurice Litton and Dr. Lou Bender were my favorites because they taught me the value of creative problem solving. As my major professor, Dr. Litton emphasized the importance of brevity and precision. We were a strong writing team and I could not have produced a quality dissertation without his guidance. Dr. Bender was highly institutive. He taught me the value of self-reflection and critical thinking. Through his mentorship, I learned how to formulate complicated arguments in ways that translate across disciplines.

Holbrook: Again, I can’t think in terms of “favorites” because I remember professors for different reasons. Mrs. McInvale was my initial contact with the vision program and taught me so much about teaching strategies. I’ve mentioned my braille teacher, Mrs. McClain. Dr. Jim McMillan was a professor on the London Program and I think was my first contact in the College of Education. During my undergraduate and master’s programs I enjoyed classes with Purvis Ponder. Dr. Gid Jones was my major advisor for my doctoral program and Dr. Perl Tait and Dr. McMillan were committee members. I appreciated the support I received from Dr. Paul Sindelar, who helped me through some challenges with my dissertation. It has been over 30 years since I sat in an FSU classroom and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some significant professors, but their influence on me carries on!

Pilcher: My major professor, Dr. Al Oosterhof, was one of my most treasured teachers. He taught me precision and discipline and to always expect more of myself. His relevance in classroom assessment introduced me to the best in the field. My dissertation research was an extension of the relevant research by Dr. Rick Stiggins. Dr. Oosterhof introduced me to Dr. Rick Stiggins which gave me an opportunity to have two of the best researchers connected to my dissertation research. When I graduated, my connection to him and FSU gave me instant credibility. I extend my deepest appreciation to Dr. Oosterhof. Dr. Oosterhof also guided me to select Statistics as my cognate. My experience with professors in the Statistics department was outstanding, so much so that I selected Dr. Doug Zahn to be on my committee. Dr. Zahn taught a class on statistical consulting, which gave me foundational skills for my current consulting work. Dr. Richard Tate in the College of Education taught me statistics courses as well. His book/materials were so valuable that I used them when I taught these same courses at the University of West Florida. I still have his books as well as all of the books that my professors used; they are in a special place on my book shelf. My doctoral committee was composed of faculty members who had a tremendous influence on my educational experience - Dr. Oosterhof, Dr. Beard, Dr. Zahn, and Dr. Tate.


Can you offer any advice for current students?

Pilcher: Be grateful for your experiences at Florida State University. I am proud to be an FSU graduate. The educational experiences as an undergraduate and very specifically as a doctoral graduate afforded me tremendous opportunities. Being grateful translates to being a reflective learner. Take time to process why you are learning, what it means to you, and how to apply your learnings to be a better person and to serve others. Regardless of our professional path, FSU creates the foundation for graduates to have purpose, do worthwhile work, and make a difference in our world. I feel lucky to have been selected to be part of the FSU learning community and am honored to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from the FSU College of Education. Thank you, my FSU colleagues, and go Noles!

Holbrook: I enjoy working with students who are just finding their comfort and connection to the profession of educating students with visual impairment. My advice for students in education would be:

  • Find mentors where you can! Look for someone who is skilled in a specific area and ask to shadow them. Watch how they do things and try to apply what you admire to your own practice.
  • Spend time talking with your classmates in deep and meaningful conversations. It is likely that the people you meet in your classes will become lifelong friends and colleagues.
  • Listen carefully to your professors but don’t be afraid to ask questions and to state your own opinion (with supporting evidence).
  • Embrace feedback and grades without letting them drive you or discourage you. Do the best you can and then appreciate having someone else help you reflect on your work.
  • Join professional organizations and get involved in the wider professional community.

Clements: Never limit yourself when planning a career or setting goals. The research skills and self-confidence you will develop during your time at COE can and will take you to the private sector as well as the academic world. Never hesitate!