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Institute of Education Sciences

Lessons Learned as the Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Program Creates Pathways for Diverse Students into Education Science

Since 2004, the Institute of Education Sciences has funded predoctoral training programs to increase the number of well-trained PhD students who are prepared to conduct rigorous and relevant education research. In addition to providing training to doctoral students, all IES-funded predoctoral programs are encouraged to help broaden participation in the education sciences as part of their leadership activities. In this guest blog post, the leadership team of the University of Virginia predoctoral training program discusses their continuing efforts to create diverse pathways for students interested in education research.

In 2008, the IES-funded Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) Program began the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) with the goal of recruiting more students from traditionally marginalized groups into education science research. Each year, 8–10 students from around the United States traveled to receive faculty mentorship in independent research at the University of Virginia. In doing so, they experienced facilitated opportunities to develop new research skills and reflect about their own identities as scholars and students of color, first generation college students and/or students from families with low income. They became active members of research groups, visited IES program officers in Washington, DC, and presented their own research at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium.

Quite fortuitously, at an IES principal investigator meeting, we connected with the leadership of the IES-funded Research Institute for Scholars of Equity (RISE) program taking place at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). As a result, for four years, we collaborated with RISE leadership to host two-day RISE fellow visits to UVA. During these visits RISE fellows shared their projects and ideas with VEST fellows and faculty. The RISE and SURP fellows also mingled and attended workshops on graduate school admissions.

We had three goals for these efforts:

  • Provide IES pre-doctoral fellows with the opportunity to apply leadership skills to working with undergraduates
  • Increase the diversity of education scientists
  • Increase the diversity of our IES-sponsored PhD program

Enter COVID. In 2020, bringing students to UVA for the summer wasn’t feasible or wise. Instead, we reflected on our past successful experiences with NCCU and realized we could improve the quality of student experiences if we also worked closely with faculty at other universities. To start, we engaged with Virginia State University (VSU) and Norfolk State University (NSU), two Virginia HBCUs, to create the Open Doors Program.

Initially, eight faculty and administrators from NSU and VSU met with the UVA team, which included a post-doctoral fellow and a PhD student who coordinated discussions, helped design the curriculum, and built an Open Doors handbook. The design team built a program in which 12 rising juniors at NSU and VSU would:

  • Engage in the research and writing process that will lead to a research product and presentation that reflects their strengths, interests, and goals
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the opportunities available to them in graduate school
  • Have the opportunity to examine the complexities and multiple layers of their intersectional identities, identify assets and cultural wealth, and identify academic strengths and areas of growth
  • Build relationships with faculty and graduate student mentors

Due to the pandemic, the program was offered virtually over four weeks with a combination of seminars and mentoring sessions. The program exceeded our expectations. The students all indicated that Open Doors was a useful learning experience for them and provided them with a better understanding of the opportunities available in graduate school. The faculty valued the opportunity to work with each other. We will be offering Open Doors 2.0 next June with another cohort of 12 students from NSU and VSU. We learned a lot from our first year and have planned several modifications to the program. For example, this year, we anticipate that students and some NSU and VSU faculty will be on campus at UVA for two of the four weeks; the other two weeks will be virtual.

These efforts have been true learning experiences for UVA faculty and VEST fellows. We have several recommendations for other programs eager to create pathways programs.

  • Clarify your goals and organize the program around the key outcomes that you are trying to achieve. For SURP and Open Doors, we focused in on four outcomes: preparation to conduct education research, preparation for graduate school, expansion of networks, and providing access to new mentoring relationships.
  • Teach skills as well as knowledge. Our evaluation of SURP points to the importance of teaching skills so students can formulate research questions, recognize research designs, analyze and interpret data, and write about research. Students reported gaining skills in these areas which are critical to success in graduate school in education research.
  • Identify ways to enhance cultural capital. Students benefit from knowledge, familiarity, and comfort with university life. In Open Doors, we wanted to build an authentic collaboration that allowed faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students at the HBCUs and UVA to learn from each other, extending the cultural capital of all participants.

Our efforts have been exciting yet humbling. Above all, we enjoy listening to and learning from the SURP and Open Doors students. In Open Doors, we also enjoyed building relationships with faculty at other institutions. We have increasingly become aware of the challenges we face in efforts to increase the diversity of our programs. Recruitment is just a first step. Creating graduate school experiences that are conducive to learning and engagement for students from diverse group is an important second step. And a third critical step is to transform life at our universities so that students (and faculty) from traditionally marginalized groups can thrive and flourish. In doing so, we expect that universities will be better able to meet a full range of new challenges that lie ahead in education science.


Sara Rimm-Kaufman is the Commonwealth Professor of Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development.

Jim Wyckoff directs the Education Policy PhD program and the Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness at the University of Virginia.

Jamie Inlow is the Coordinator for the VEST Predoctoral Training Program in the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development.

This blog post is part of an ongoing series featuring IES training programs as well as our blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) within IES grant programs.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.

DE21: A Researcher-Practitioner-Policymaker Conference on Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment improves student college going and postsecondary success, but practitioners need help in understanding the impact of dual enrollment and in learning strategies associated with effective and equitable implementation. Under the auspices of the IES-funded Evaluation of Career and College Promise (CCP) project, the North Carolina Community College System suggested hosting a conference to build knowledge and capacity in the field about dual enrollment. The Evaluation of CCP is a partnership with the SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the North Carolina Community College System, and the RAND Corporation. In addition to the research goals—which involve looking at the implementation, impact, and cost of North Carolina’s dual enrollment program—the project also has a goal of capacity development for the agencies and for practitioners. As part of meeting this last goal, the project recently hosted a conference on Dual Enrollment: Accelerating Educational Attainment (DE21) with over 1,000 registrants from North Carolina and around the country.      

Julie Edmunds, the project’s principal investigator, discusses the DE21 conference.

Why host a conference on dual enrollment?

This was the brainchild of our partners at the North Carolina Community College System. They wanted to create an opportunity where researchers and practitioners could gather and share lessons learned from their respective work. The NC Community College System expected that we would be learning a lot from our project that we would want to share; they also knew that the people in the trenches had many valuable insights to help bridge the gap between research and practice. Because existing research shows that not all groups of students have the same access to dual enrollment, the project team decided collectively that the conference should have a strong focus on equity and to use the conference as a way to communicate and discuss strategies to support equity.

What happened at the conference?

We had a total of 40 sessions across two full days. There were dynamic keynote speakers, including Karen Stout from Achieving the Dream, and panels that discussed dual enrollment from the policy, research, student and parent perspectives. Although there was a strong North Carolina focus, there were sessions from other states such as Massachusetts, Texas, Indiana, and Ohio.

Conference presentations were organized into five themes: expanding access and equity, fostering college attainment, ensuring a successful transition to college and careers, preparing students for dual enrollment, and supporting success in dual enrollment courses.

The CCP study team presented findings from our evaluation of North Carolina’s dual enrollment pathways. We looked at individual and school-level factors associated with dual enrollment participation, such as student demographics, school size, locale, percentage of students from underrepresented minority groups, academic achievement, and workforce-orientation of students. Student socioeconomic level did not affect participation in dual enrollment. We also presented preliminary impacts of North Carolina’s three different dual enrollment pathways (college transfer, Career and Technical Education, and Cooperative Innovative High Schools or early colleges). Results from these three pathways showed that CCP participants had better high school outcomes such as higher school graduation rates and were more likely to enroll in postsecondary education. In addition, there were multiple sessions sharing research results from other states.

There were many presentations from practitioners that focused on topics like rigorous instruction, advising, participation of students with disabilities, creating strong secondary-postsecondary partnerships, using high school teachers as college instructors, among others. I need to give a huge shoutout to Katie Bao from the NC Community College System, who shepherded us all through the conference planning and implementation process.

What was the impact of the pandemic?

When we originally planned for the conference, we thought it would be in person. After the pandemic hit, we decided (as many other organizations did) to host it virtually. This made the conference much more accessible to a national audience, and we had participants and presenters from around the country.

What if someone missed the conference?

Another benefit of a virtual conference is that we are able to share all the sessions from the meeting. Please visit our site on YouTube to listen to the conference. 

What comes next?

Our study work continues, and we will share the results in a variety of ways, including through briefs and journal articles. We are also planning to host a second conference in 2023 and expect that it will have a virtual component so that it can continue to be available to a national audience.


Dr. Julie Edmunds is a Program Director at the SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In addition to being the PI on the Evaluation of Career and College Promise, she is one of the leading researchers on early college, a model that combines high school and college.

Student-Led Action Research as a School Climate Intervention and Core Content Pedagogy

Improving the social and emotional climate of schools has become a growing priority for educators and policymakers in the past decade. The prevailing strategies for improving school climate include social and emotional learning, positive behavioral supports, and trauma-informed approaches. Many of these strategies foreground the importance of students having a voice in intervention, as students are special experts in their own social and emotional milieus.

Parallel to this trend has been a push toward student-centered pedagogical approaches in high schools that are responsive to cultural backgrounds and that promote skills aligned with the demands of the modern workplace, like critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. Culturally responsive and restorative teaching and problem- and project-based learning are prominent movements. In this guest blog, Dr. Adam Voight at Cleveland State University discusses an ongoing IES-funded Development and Innovation project taking place in Cleveland, Ohio that aims to develop and document the feasibility of a school-based youth participatory action research intervention.

 

Our project is exploring how youth participatory action research (YPAR) may help to realize two objectives—school climate improvement and culturally-restorative, engaged learning. YPAR involves young people leading a cycle of problem identification, data collection and analysis, and evidence-informed action. It has long been used in out-of-school and extracurricular spaces to promote youth development and effect social change. We are field testing its potential to fit within more formal school spaces.

Project HighKEY

The engine for our project, which we call Project HighKEY (High-school Knowledge and Education through YPAR), is a design team composed of high school teachers and students, district officials, and university researchers. It is built from the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research, a research-practice partnership between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland State University, and the American Institutes for Research. The design team meets monthly to discuss YPAR theory and fit with high school curriculum and standards and make plans for YPAR field tests in schools. We have created a crosswalk of the documented competencies that students derive from YPAR and high school standards in English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies in Ohio. For example, one state ELA standard is “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence,” and through YPAR students collect and analyze survey and interview data and use their findings to advocate for change related to their chosen topic. A state math standard is “Interpret the slope and the intercept of a linear model in the context of data,” and this process may be applied to survey data students collect through YPAR, making an otherwise abstract activity more meaningful to students.  

Assessing the Effectiveness of YPAR

Remaining open-minded about the various ways in which YPAR may or may not fit in different high school courses, we are currently testing its implementation in a pre-calculus course, a government course, an English course, and a life-skills course. For example, a math teacher on our design team has built her statistics unit around YPAR. Students in three separate sections of the course have worked in groups of two or three to identify an issue and create a survey that is being administered to the broader student body. These issues include the lack of extracurricular activities, poor school culture, and unhealthy breakfast and lunch options. Their survey data will be used as the basis for learning about representing data with plots, distributions, measures of center, frequencies, and correlation after the winter holiday. Our theory is that students will be more engaged when using their own data on topics of their choosing and toward the goal of making real change. Across all of our project schools, we are monitoring administrative data, student and teacher survey data, and interview data to assess the feasibility, usability, and student and school outcomes of YPAR.

Impact of COVID-19 and How We Adapted

We received notification of our grant award in March 2020, the same week that COVID-19 shut down K-12 schools across the nation. When our project formally began in July 2020, our partner schools were planning for a wholly remote school year, and we pivoted to hold design team meetings virtually and loosen expectations for teacher implementation. Despite these challenges, several successful YPAR projects during that first year—all of which were conducted entirely remotely—taught all of us much about how YPAR can happen in online spaces. This school year, students and staff are back to in-person learning, but, in addition to the ongoing pandemic, the crushing teacher shortage has forced us to continue to adapt. Whereas we once planned our design team meeting during the school day, we now meet after school due to a lack of substitute teachers, and we use creative technology to allow for mixed virtual and in-person attendance. Our leadership team is also spending a great deal of time in classrooms with teachers to assist those implementing for the first time. Our goal is to create a resource that teachers anywhere can use to incorporate YPAR into their courses. The product will be strengthened by the lessons we have learned from doing this work during these extraordinary times and the resulting considerations for how to deal with obstacles to implementation.


Adam Voight is the Director of the Center for Urban Education at Cleveland State University.

For questions about this grant, please contact Corinne Alfeld, NCER Program Officer, at Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov.

IES Interns Supporting NCER/NCSER

IES is proud to introduce the 2021-2022 cohort of interns. These interns come to us through the U.S. State Department’s Virtual Student Federal Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Volunteer Trainee Program. Two students are data science interns and one is an open science intern. All three interns are helping the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research communicate what we fund and the results of our funded research.

We asked this year’s interns to tell us about themselves, why they are interested in an internship, and a “fun fact” to share. Here’s what they said.

Joleen Chiu is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Photo of Joleen ChiuI am interested in applying data science to researching income inequality and expanding opportunities for low-income families. Prior to this internship, I conducted an independent research project on assisting low-income students with applying for financial aid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits using return-free filing. I have also taken courses on coding in R and Python. I want to stay involved in economic policy research that supports low-income and underrepresented communities and potentially pursue graduate studies.

I hope that my internship experience with IES will strengthen my data analysis skills, allow me to contribute to projects that will improve the education experiences of students around the country, and provide me with a better understanding of graduate programs and research in the federal government.

One fun fact about me is that I like to collect pressed penny souvenirs! I currently have 23 in my collection, including one from Taiwan and many from amusement parks throughout California.

Hain Minn is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information science at the University of Maryland, College Park

Photo of Hain Minn

I’m an undergraduate student pursuing a data science specialization within information science. Previously, I took coursework on data science techniques and concepts such as machine learning that allowed me to better analyze and perform modeling of various datasets. I have experience with Python (including packages like pandas), MySQL, RStudio, and Excel, as well as past coursework in object-oriented programming (Java).

My goals for the future are to further develop my skills in data analysis and data science and to one day be able to work with data that can help better our world. Working with the IES is a valuable opportunity to see real-world applications of data. As a teacher and mentor to younger students, I know I would enjoy seeing my own work have a positive impact on the field. I hope that this experience teaches me practical skills in not only data science but also real workplace teamwork that I wouldn’t learn from just a classroom.

One fun fact about me is that I enjoy reading. I have acquired and am currently reading a full annotated collection of HP Lovecraft’s works, starting with Call of Cthulhu.

Julianne Kasper is pursuing a master’s degree in education policy and leadership at American University in Washington, D.C.

Before starting my master’s program, I was a high school educator for 6 years in Houston, Texas. I am most interested in bridging the gaps between practitioners, researchers, and policymakers in education. My expertise is in instruction and leadership. While teaching, I was exposed to the complex issues that affect teachers, students, and families as they pursue educational equity. Through my master’s program, I became interested in how educators with practical school experience could help solve those problems in the broader realm of education, particularly in research and policymaking. I’m currently assisting with research on teacher collaboration as a mechanism for increasing inclusivity in the school workplace. In addition to pursuing my studies, I support local teachers through my work for the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in Philadelphia.

As an IES intern, I am writing blog pieces featuring impactful IES-funded research and helping to create a compendium of IES-funded STEM research. My internship experience gives me the opportunity to interact with a federal agency virtually from outside of D.C., exposes me to a wealth of current educational research projects, and strengthens my ability to write to specific audiences, including policymakers.

One fun fact about me is that I am a voracious reader of many genres, and I love to talk about books! This year some favorites have been Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Madeline Miller’s Circe, and Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law.

Introducing the IES Listening and Learning Series

Over the last few months, staff from the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Special Education Research, and the Standards and Review Office have partnered to increase our awareness of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility issues (DEIA) in the IES-grant making process. The goal is to broaden participation of institutions and researchers who apply for and receive IES grants, increase the diversity of IES panel reviewers, and encourage culturally responsive research across our grant competitions.

Based on feedback from our December 2020 technical working group Increasing Diversity and Representation of IES-funded Education Researchers, we are hosting a series of Listening and Learning sessions with researchers and other stakeholder groups. The first session, How Can the Institute of Education Sciences Support HBCU Applicants, was held during HBCU Week in partnership with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We discussed lessons learned in our DEIA blog update and used this feedback to develop an HBCU-specific presentation of IES funding opportunities for HBCU Research and Innovation Week.

Over the next few months, IES will hold additional virtual Listening and Learning sessions, including Leveraging the Voices of Persons with Disabilities in Education Research. Unless specified, these sessions will be open to the public and will require registration. More information about the sessions and registration links will be available on the IES website. If you have questions about the events or would like to schedule one specific to your community, please contact IESVirtualTA@ed.gov.

Listening and Learning Sessions:‚Äč

  • Leveraging Hispanic Voices in Education Research – December 6, 2021 at 1 pm ET. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.
  • Leveraging Black Voices in Education Research – December 9, 2021 at 2 pm ET. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.
  • Leveraging Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Voices in Education Research – January 18, 2022 at 2:30pm ET. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
  • Leveraging Native American and Alaska Native Voices in Education Research – Date to be determined. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Native Americans and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.
  • Leveraging the Voices of Persons with Disabilities in Education Research – Date to be determined.