In January 2016, former First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed Todd Roatsey and dozens of others to the White House, telling them they were “rock stars” for the work they do with children.

Previously selected as the West Virginia Elementary School Counselor of the Year, Roatsey went on to be named as the state’s national counselor representative. That night in Washington, he and other outstanding counselors from across the U.S. were being celebrated for their impact on the nation’s youth. “Basically, they treated us like royalty,” he says of the White House visit.

Roatsey is currently working toward his PhD in Leadership in Educational Administration at Capella University. He decided to pursue the degree after talking with his mentor, Barbara Brady, PhD, school counseling coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education, who herself attended and earned a degree from Capella. Brady nominated Roatsey for the state and national counseling awards because of his success at some of the poorest schools in West Virginia.

Up for a Challenge

Eight years ago, Roatsey took a job at the elementary school in Harts, West Virginia. The school suffered from low attendance rates and student test scores were low. What’s more, prescription drug abuse was rampant in the region, which affected behaviors among students in the school. “I chose the school because I knew I could make the biggest difference there,” he says.

The son of two elementary school counselors and brother of two developmental guidance counselors, Roatsey absorbed lots of information about educating and helping people during his childhood. He also went on to obtain numerous educational credentials: a bachelor’s in political science, a master’s of education in instructional technology, and a specialist’s degree in guidance and counseling. From the start of his career, he felt committed to applying his skills in schools that needed them most.

At Harts, Roatsey implemented initiatives that engaged parents and taught leadership skills to students. He created a recognition program for good attendance and a backpack program that sent students home with canned goods on weekends in an effort to boost nutrition. His overall goal was to foster a sense of ownership, responsibility, and purpose among students. The result? Attendance improved by 50% and tardiness dropped. Bullying also decreased by 33%. Simply by increasing attendance, Roatsey estimates he has saved the school more than $300,000.

A PhD to Progress Further

Pursuing a PhD while working as a counselor has been challenging, Roatsey admits. But he says his instructors have been very responsive when he needs help. What’s more, he is able to apply much of what he learns at Capella. “Almost everything about my PhD research is tied to my day to day work,” he says.

Roatsey believes a PhD will open doors for many new opportunities. “It will enable me to apply for jobs that I wouldn’t be able to apply for otherwise,” he says. Ideally, he’d like to replicate his success at Harts across the state—and it seems like he’s likely to do just that.


Learn more about Capella’s doctoral degrees in education..