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Concentration: Social Studies Education

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
Program: Teacher Education and Learning Sciences

Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences (TELS)
Delivery Method: On Campus

Apply by Dec.

The Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences: Social Studies Education concentration continues a proud tradition at North Carolina State University of preparing social studies teacher educators and educational researchers who are ready to lead. Our candidates develop a deep understanding of foundational as well as contemporary social studies scholarship.

Graduates are prepared to conduct educational research, support the preparation of preservice social studies teachers, provide professional development to experienced teachers, and contribute to the knowledge base of the field of the social studies.

Please note: If you are interested in applying for this concentration, please use the Apply Now button. If you have any questions, please contact either Dr. Paula McAvoy, or the Director of Graduate Programs for the Ph.D., Dr. Christy Byrd.

Concentration Description

As one of four key curriculum areas in education, social studies leverages knowledge of the academic disciplines (history, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics and geography) to contribute to the development of reflective, competent, concerned and civically engaged citizens. Never have the aims and goals of the social studies been more imperative and far-reaching than they are today. In our increasingly globalized and digitized society, it is important for students to understand the historical context of our traditional notions of democracy, as well as how to envision a new future. Within this context, we teach social studies researchers to guide our study of society and to provide educative experiences that enable all students to participate more fully and more authentically in a democracy. This includes preparation for post-secondary education in history and the related disciplines, as well as in the skills necessary for civic life – including critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration.

In addition to a rigorous course of study, our doctoral students in this concentration have opportunities to:

  • Collaborate on research initiatives with program faculty
  • Attend and present at national conferences
  • Teach social studies education courses
  • Work with teacher candidates
  • Take advanced graduate courses in history

Our graduates will be prepared to engage successfully in research, teaching and service, and to contribute to the field of social studies. Individuals seeking admission to this program should have a strong background in social studies education and a desire to be prepared to conduct original research in the field.

Students in our concentration benefit from our long tradition of expert faculty – including the late Peter Martorella who was one of the leaders in social studies education within our field. We continue to honor Peter with the Martorella Student Award, providing a scholarship to one graduate student majoring in social studies teacher education each year. Marsha Alibrandi and Candy Beal also guided the development of the current concentration in social studies education in the C&I PhD. Since 2006, John Lee and Meghan Manfra (2008) have continued to build on this tradition, successfully recruiting and supporting new doctoral students. We have a strong faculty with national reputations in our field. Two faculty members have published notable textbooks – Beal, Bolick and Martorella’s Teaching Social Studies in Middle and Secondary Schools (5th Edition) and Lee’s Visualizing Elementary Social Studies Methods.

Our vision of the future for social studies education represents a challenging task. We are fortunate to have committed faculty, enthusiastic students and accomplished graduates who work for transformative change in our field. We invite you to join us in this work.

Likely Career Opportunities for Graduates

  • Tenure track positions in social studies education
  • Research positions
  • Directors of educational institutes (e.g., Center for Economics Education)
  • Curriculum specialists for LEAs or state departments of instruction

Course of Study

All doctoral degrees in the College of Education require a minimum of 72 graduate credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. Most doctoral programs in the College of Education require a minimum of 60 graduate credit hours beyond an approved master’s degree.

Course descriptions can be found in the university course catalog.

Social Studies Specialty Courses

  • ECI 525: Contemporary Approaches in the Teaching Of Social Studies
  • ECI 526: Theory and Research in Social Studies Education
  • ECI 530: Social Studies in the Elementary School
  • ECI 524: Theory and Research in Global Learning
  • ECI 729: Digital History and Pedagogy
  • ECI 820: Doctoral Seminar: Research on Social Studies Teaching and Learning

Advanced Graduate Courses in History or the Social Sciences


  • HI 548 American Women in the 20th Century
  • HI 534 Theory and Practice of Digital History
  • HI 508 Emerging Technologies and Society
  • HI 555 History of the Civil Rights Movement
  • HI 557 Twentieth-Century US Intellectual History
  • HI 563 Topics in History and Memory

Social Foundations of Education and Contemporary Contexts

  • ECI 501 Foundations of Curriculum
  • ECI 700 Curriculum Theory and Development
  • ECI 500 Theory and Practice In Teaching Diverse Populations
  • ECI 547 Knowledge Construction: Implications for Multicultural Education
  • ECI 517 Theoretical Foundations of Advanced Learning Environs
  • ECI 551 Teaching/Learning Approaches for Emerging Adolescents


Writing the dissertation requires a major commitment of time and effort on both the part of the doctoral student and the faculty advisor. There should be consultation between the student and the dissertation chair about what is expected to be accomplished, and how much time is to be invested before the student registers. The College of Education strongly recommends that students who are registering for dissertation research (895) or preparation (899) register for at least 3 semester hours per semester, when appropriate.


Current Faculty and Research Interests (listed alphabetically):

  • Candy Beal social studies curriculum development, middle grades education, social studies and global education
  • John Lee digital historical resources, new literacies, College, Career and Civic Life Framework for Standards in Social Studies
  • Meghan Manfra digital history, technology integration, action research for the professional development of teachers
  • Paula McAvoy democratic education, classroom discussion of controversial issues, professional ethics and teaching, political polarization and schools

Affiliated faculty

  • Patricia Marshall

We are proud of our recent graduates. We include a list of them here to illustrate the range of research conducted by our students and the career opportunities available (listed alphabetically):

  • Seth Brown (2018) “The Role of the Professional Learning Team (PLT) in the Planning, Teaching, and Assessment of Inquiry-based Learning in Social Studies” – Pitt County Schools
  • Daniel Kelvin Bullock, Ph.D. (2013) Real World Engagement: A Case Study of a Teacher’s Implementation of Project Based Learning in Social Studies – K-12 Social Studies Specialist, Durham Public Schools.
  • Robert Coven (2018) “An Action Research Study of Conceptual Modeling Pedagogy in High School History” – Cary Academy
  • Chris Dague (2015) “An Action Research Study Exploring the Implementation of Discussion Pedagogy in Support of Student Autonomy in Advanced Placement Courses”, Assistant Professor, The Citadel
  • Jennifer Davis-Doyle, Ph.D. (2013) North Carolina Textbooks in the 19th Century: “To Interest and Instruct the Boys and Girls of North Carolina.”  – Adjunct Assistant Professor of History, Campbell University.
  • Stephen Day (2015) How Elementary Teachers Use Classroom Mini-Economies When Guided by the C3 Framework – Director at the Center for Economic Education at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Casey Holmes (2021) “Your Generation is Going to Do This Right”: A Qualitative Case Study of Critical Citizenship Education in an Eighth Grade Social Studies Classroom. –Asst Professor Drake University
  • Megan List, Ph.D. (2012) Historical Thinking in Information Rich Environments: An Exploration of Eighth Grade Students’ Actions Locating and Analyzing Digital Historical Sources – Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education, Youngstown State University.
  • Jeff Probert, Ph.D. (2013) Impact of Computer Gameplay on Student Learning and Standardized Test Scores: An Action Research Case Study Utilizing Civilization IV: Colonization with High School Students in a United States History Course  – Teacher, Beaufort County Early College.
  • Elizabeth Saylor, Ph.D. (2015). Preservice Elementary Teachers’ Perspectives of Feminism — Clinical Assistant Professor,  College of Education, University of Georgia.
  • Crystal Simmons, Ph.D. (2015). A Critical Race Theory Content Analysis of a High School African American Social Studies Curriculum — Assistant Professor, SUNY Geneseo.
  • Kelvin Spragley, PhD. (2009) Exploring congruity of curriculum and instruction policy positions between the North Carolina Association of Educators and its teacher members – Assistant Professor of History, Louisburg College.

Admission Requirements

  • GRE Scores
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • Personal Statement
  • Academic writing sample (e.g., class paper, publication, research report, or white paper)

We strongly encourage, but do not require, that applicants have at least three years of K-12 teaching experience. We also highly recommend that potential applicants contact concentration faculty to set-up phone or face-to-face interviews.

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