IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

El Camino…The Path of a Young Latina in the Making

Formally, I am known as Dr. Lorena Aceves, but you can just call me Lorena. I am a first generation (first in my family to graduate high school and college) Latina scholar. I recently completed my PhD in human development and family studies (HDFS) at the Pennsylvania State University. Currently, I am working as a Society for Research Child Development Federal Postdoctoral Policy Fellow at the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Head Start. In my current role, I work on all things related to Head Start from issues facing the Head Start workforce to considering the impact that COVID-19 has had on the daily lives of Head Start children. Given that September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, I wanted to share my camino (path) with the hopes of inspiring other Latinx students and to demonstrate the beauty of Hispanic excellence in education!

How It Started

My journey into higher education began before I could even remember. My amazing parents are two immigrants from Michoacán, Mexico. Their journey of migration was fueled by the desire to open more doors of opportunity for themselves and their future family. They settled in southern California, where they would start building the foundation of values and motivation that would lead me to my PhD.

In California, my parents had their first interaction with opportunity and education for their daughter with Head Start. As a four-year-old, Head Start gave me a step up in my educational career and connected my parents to resources and services that could increase our familial wellbeing. The journey here was just getting started when my parents decided that it was time to leave southern California for Arizona. In Arizona, my parents were able to earn better wages and purchase a home in a good school district. This opportunity was not as accessible to them in California. This move, as my mom always says, “(as difficult as it was) was the best thing we could have done educationally for you and your younger brother.”

I started my elementary education in the Gilbert Public Schools school district. It was when I got to high school that a major educational opportunity opened for me—the founding of Gilbert Classical Academy (GCA), a public college prep school. GCA was a saving grace for this little Latina who had every aspiration to go to college but had no clue where to even begin! It gave me all the tools and preparation I needed to make it to college, and I did. I was admitted to 80% of the colleges I applied to and continued my higher education at the University of Arizona (UA). 

Moving Away and Embracing My Latina Identity

After high school graduation, I moved two hours south of home to attend the UA. This move was a BIG deal for this eldest Mexican daughter. My parents were not happy about me living in a dorm, but they knew it was necessary to achieve that “American Dream” that we always talked about where I would never have to scrub toilets as my mother had done most of her life.

Life at UA was amazing. I got to embrace my Latina identity because, for once in my life, I was finally surrounded by people who looked like me and had the same familial experiences. I also got to explore all my potential career options. I started college wanting to be a pediatrician but ended up finding my passion in the HDFS major. I loved the idea of studying human beings, especially in the context of their families. I finally was going to be able to understand my family and culture from a scholarly lens.

In my third year of college, I was unsure about what I wanted to do post-graduation. I knew I wanted to pursue graduate education; I just didn’t know for what. And that’s when I stumbled upon research, which ultimately led me to my PhD. Before this moment, I had no idea what a PhD was, but I was sold on pursuing one because being able to use research to support Latinx youth and families seemed like a dream come true.

In my last year of college, I participated in a program to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies. The program set me up for success in graduate school. With the program’s help, I was able to gain social capital and academic skills I did not have as a first-generation student, which are critical for successfully pursuing a graduate degree. With the help of the program’s staff and training, I was admitted to 8 out of the 10 doctoral programs that I applied to! I ultimately decided to pursue my PhD at Penn State. This little Arizona girl had no idea what she had signed up for by leaving sunny warm weather for cold, gloomy central Pennsylvania. At Penn State, my research focused on examining the cultural, familial, and individual level factors that contribute to Latinx youth’s academic outcomes.

I started graduate school with the goal of becoming a professor to continue this kind of research and helping other Latinx students like me attain their PhDs. That dream quickly evolved after a few internships at the U.S. Department of Education, including with IES, as well as the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics (formerly known as the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative). It was thanks to IES that I was even able to pursue these internships. As a graduate student, I was an IES predoctoral fellow, which afforded me opportunities to do the research I was interested in, as well as pursue these non-traditional graduate experiences. Through these internships, I quickly learned that I could do more. I learned that there is great need for Latinx scholars like myself in federal spaces, where decisions about funding and policies are happening. I became passionate about federal service, which led me to my current postdoctoral position.

Moving Forward

My main goal with my newly blossoming career as a doctora is to be able to work for a federal agency where I can use my skills and training to serve diverse communities, particularly communities of color. Federal leadership is still not reflective of the communities that make up the United States. I hope to serve in a federal leadership position in the future to represent the communities of color and make our leadership more reflective of its citizens. I plan to give voice to Latinx children, youth, and families of this country that need to be heard. Juntos podemos (Together, we can)!


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Lorena Aceves (Lorena.Aceves@acf.hhs.gov) is a Society for Research Child Development Federal Postdoctoral Policy Fellow at the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Head Start.

This guest blog was produced by Caroline Ebanks (Caroline.Ebanks@ed.gov), Program Officer, National Center for Education Research.

 

Peer to Peer: Career Advice for Aspiring Education Researchers from Pathways to the Education Sciences Alumni

This blog 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. For more information, see this DEIA update from Commissioners Elizabeth Albro (National Center for Education Research) and Joan McLaughlin (National Center for Special Education Research).

 

In 2015, IES launched the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program to broaden participation in education research. Pathways grants are awarded to minority serving institutions and their partners to provide up to year-long training fellowships to undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and masters students. Each Pathways program has a specific education theme such as literacy, equity/social justice in education, student success, and education pipelines. Pathways fellows receive an introduction to scientific research methods and their program’s education theme, as well as meaningful opportunities to participate in education research, professional development, and mentoring. Currently, there are seven funded Pathways programs; IES recently launched the newest program focused on learning analytics and data science to the University of California, Irvine. Over 250 students have participated in Pathways, and many (39 at last count) have already started doctoral programs. In honor of HBCU week (September 7-10), Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week (September 13-19), and Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15- October 15), we reached out to six Pathways alumni who are in graduate school to ask them for advice for other students who wish to pursue graduate study related to education research. Here is what they shared with us.

 

Comfort Abode

RISE Training Program, University of Maryland, College Park/Bowie State University (HBCU)

Doctoral Student, Indiana University

My number one piece of advice for students who want to become education researchers would be to keep in mind the purpose of your research. If nobody understands it, it is not helpful. And in order for people to understand it, you yourself need to understand it. You cannot teach what you do not know. Especially considering that the research is in education, the goal should be to educate teachers, students, faculty, or whomever, about what is being studied and (hopefully) steps that can be taken towards improving that area. You have to keep your audience in mind and while it should not be “dumbed down,” you have to make sure that your point is getting across clearly. In order for that to happen, you have to know what you are talking about. Project RISE was especially helpful in the fact that there were a lot of mentors and people willing to help you understand the scope of the research as well as provide comments and feedback on areas to improve upon.

 

Jeremy Flood

RISE Training Program, North Carolina Central University (HBCU)/University of North Carolina Wilmington/Pennsylvania State University

Doctoral Student, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

My only advice would be to remember the mission of solving challenges in education. Within the body of education research, there are several ways one can accomplish this—whether it is by policy research, grounded theory, ethnography, or experiments, there are quite a diversity of tools available at a researcher’s disposal, so much so that it may seem overwhelming at first.  Do not stress if you find this true; you are not the first or the last to feel overwhelmed! Instead, use this as an opportunity to rededicate yourself to the mission and allow your dedication to choose a research path that is best for you. Whichever one, two, or three (or more) that you choose, make sure that the end goal seeks to improve the practice of education.

 

Jessala Grijalva

AWARDSS Training Program, University of Arizona (HSI)/College of Applied Science and Technology at the University of Arizona

Doctoral Student, University of Notre Dame

I advise Pathways fellows to take the time to reflect and internalize the cultural competency components of the program. The Pathways program will not only prepare you with the hard and soft skills that you need to be a successful researcher, but also help you become an all-around culturally competent researcher. Sometimes, we assume that as students of color or students from diverse backgrounds that we are inherently culturally competent; yet, there is so much more to learn and to be aware of. From my experience as a participant in the Pathways program, I’ve learned of ways to extend cultural competency beyond research and into my interactions with other researchers, colleagues, mentors/mentees, and the broader community. To be an effective researcher, it’s not only important to conduct culturally component research, but to also work with people of all walks of life, and to be able to disseminate our research and findings to the public. Training in cultural competency is very rare and very valuable–and something we may not fully appreciate—so take advantage of this opportunity and make cultural competency an important priority in your conduct as a researcher.

 

Camille Lewis

PURPOSE Program, Florida State University/Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (HBCU)

Doctoral Student, Florida State University

There is an African proverb that states: “Knowledge is like a garden. If it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.” On the quest to become an education researcher, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of being “the expert.”  My #1 piece of advice to anyone who is interested in education research is to remain a student of life. Your journey to becoming an education researcher will be filled with many opportunities to learn, adapt, and understand the process of learning. Embrace these experiences; allow your researcher identity to be shaped and influenced by new discoveries and new interests. Continue to seek new information and allow your knowledge base to be cultivated. My experience as a public-school teacher, PURPOSE fellow, and doctoral student has shown me the importance and necessity of continually seeking advice, experiences, knowledge, and professional development related to learning and education. This pursuit of knowledge has informed and shaped not just my research, but my life outside academia as well. I never allow myself to become a “know it all.” This keeps me humble and allows me to continue to make improvements in every facet of my life.  

 

Christopher Terrazas, MA

Pathways Program, University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA; HSI)

Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Austin

UTSA Pathways was instrumental in developing my identity as a researcher and graduate student. The other day, I described my experiences as being in a rocket, and Pathways provided the fuel to take off and get one step closer to my goals as a researcher. During my time, I made it a priority to be curious, always. I did this by attending all seminars offered and asking questions—even questions that I thought were not the right ones to ask at the time. You never know who may share a similar experience or perhaps a differing one to support you in your endeavors. Be bold and use your voice as an instrument to understand the world of research and graduate school during this exciting journey. It is crucial to get into this mindset because this will be your experience, perhaps your first. You will want to make sure that you are well prepared for this process as an aspiring researcher and scholar because this is your future. With that said, my number one piece of advice is to look inward to reflect on your own life experiences. Use these thoughts to feed your inner sense of self because you know more than anyone what you want for your future to be. 

 

Erica Zamora

Pathways Program, California State University, Sacramento (HSI)

Doctoral Student, University of Arizona

The Pathway Fellows Program had a tremendous impact on my growth as a scholar and education researcher. My advice to students is to engage in research that not only reflect their scholarly interests but also reflect their values as community members and educators. My experience in the program gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of social justice and equity work in research. Education has the potential to transform communities and encourage growth and development while perpetuating various forms of oppression. Engaging in education research that centers the voices of and the issues that historically marginalized groups experience could lead to transformative outcomes at postsecondary institutions.

 


Written by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program and the new Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority Serving Institutions, the two IES training programs for minority serving institutions, including Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, American Indian Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Predominantly Black Institutions, Native American-Serving, Nontribal Institutions, and any other minority-serving institution as specified in request for applications.

The Enduring Friendship of the MOCCA Team: How Camaraderie Benefits Research

This blog is a part of our Spotlight on IES Training Programs series and was written by Shirley Liu, a virtual intern for NCER.

One of the important—though sometimes overlooked—benefits of the IES training programs is friendship. When you think of what makes a good research team, friendship is probably not your first answer. However, the researchers behind the Multiple-Choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment (MOCCA) demonstrate just how crucial strong bonds are. This blog shares how three long-time friends and members of the MOCCA team–Drs. Gina Biancarosa, Sarah Carlson, and Ben Seipel–have benefited from friendship.

 

(From top left: Sarah, Gina; Ben, Sarah; Gina, Ben)

 

How they met

Sarah and Ben first met during their IES predoctoral program at the University of Minnesota. During a grant-writing course, they developed a proposal for what would eventually become MOCCA. When Sarah attended the University of Oregon for her IES postdoctoral program, she met Gina, who ultimately joined in the MOCCA research.

The three scholars shared a passion for reading comprehension and assessment and a love for trading jokes. The team’s love of cute animal stories, especially otters, as another reason they get along well. “Every otter story that was in the news got shared multiple times,” Ben said as others laughed in agreement. Over the years, they have continued to invest in their shared interests and in one another.

How their friendship benefits their work

The three credit their friendship as contributing to their personal and professional growth in three key ways.

Combatting loneliness. According to Gina, “[Socialization] just gets you out of your head. That is not only good for your emotional health and mental health, but also for stimulating new ideas and improving the rigor of old ideas.” Whether it is visiting cool restaurants, taking pictures of each other with funny filters after long conferences, or going on retreats, the MOCCA team makes sure to create time for non-research related activities. Even during the pandemic, MOCCA still prioritizes the socialization aspect of their research by meeting online instead.

Creating a supportive atmosphere that encourages taking risks. The MOCCA team has found that their friendship creates an open-minded and supportive atmosphere for their research. This environment encourages risk taking and helps researchers voice their opinions. In turn, this stimulates innovation and intellectual diversity. “It makes it easier to float ideas that you think might not be all there and not have to risk rejection. They’ll tell you if it’s not all there, but you’re not going to feel crushed,” explained Gina. “It makes you take more risks.”

Fostering growth and personal development. The MOCCA team has also found that friendship leads them to see one another as more than just experts. Instead, they acknowledge their individual strengths while encouraging one another to grow intellectually as complex and constantly learning individuals. As a result, each member of the MOCCA team contributes to the research in unique and equally appreciated ways. “We all have that creative energy, but we have different types of creative energy,” said Ben. “Sarah is really the dreamer: What can this look like? What can it do for teachers? And I really am an innovator: I take things that are different, make them new, and get at things that we have not been able to get at in the past. But Gina really brings that maker aspect: How can we actually make this work? What are the things that function in our toolbox to make it happen?”

The value of friendship

Although the MOCCA team’s bond seems like a uniquely serendipitous union of like-minded people, all of us can reap the benefits of friendship in research and in everyday life. This past year has taught us the value of community and personal relationships in times of isolation. Researchers like the MOCCA team have known this for years.


Dr. Carlson and Dr. Seipel were predoctoral fellows in the Minnesota Interdisciplinary Training in Education Research program, Dr. Biancarosa was a postdoctoral fellow in Stanford University’s Postdoctoral Research Training in the Education Sciences program, and Dr. Carlson was a postdoctoral fellow in the Preparing Education Scientist training program. For more information about MOCCA, please visit the MOCCA webpages (here and here). 

The MOCCA team has been awarded three IES grants to support their measurement work: Multiple-choice Online Cloze Comprehension Assessment (MOCCA) (R305A140185); Multiple-choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment for Postsecondary Students (MOCCA-College) (R305A180417); Multiple-choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment Refinement (R305A190393).

By Shirley Liu, virtual intern for NCER and an English/Anthropology & Sociology double major at Lafayette College.

National Mentoring Month: Celebrating Mentors in Special Education Research

Photo of a man and woman looking at a laptop computer together

January marks the 20th annual National Mentoring Month, a campaign that was formally established by former President George W. Bush in 2002. National Mentoring Month recognizes mentorship opportunities for young individuals across the United States, with the goal of improving academic, social, and economic opportunities to strengthen communities. In honor of National Mentoring Month, we are showcasing two programs from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) that promote mentorship in special education research – the Early Career Development and Mentoring program and the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Network from the Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education program.

Early Career Development and Mentoring

The Early Career Development and Mentoring (Early Career) program, part of NCSER’s Research Training in Special Education, supports projects that prepare early career researchers to conduct independent, rigorous, and relevant early intervention and special education research. NCSER established this training program to support investigators in the early stages of their faculty or research scientist positions at academic institutions. This program prepares early career researchers to develop and evaluate instructional approaches, design and validate assessments, and address applied research problems using advanced methods and statistical analyses. As part of an integrated research and career development plan, investigators with Early Career grants identify one or more mentors with relevant expertise with whom they meet regularly in order to accomplish their grant goals. They receive feedback and guidance on research methods, data analysis and interpretation, dissemination, and grant writing. The ultimate goal of this program is to help launch the independent research careers for scientists interested in focusing on children with or at risk for disabilities, leading to an increased capacity of the field to conduct rigorous research.

Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education: MTSS Network

The Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education program establishes a structure for researchers working on high-priority issues in special education to share ideas, build new knowledge, and strengthen research and dissemination capacity. An important part of this network structure is the cross-team training of early career researchers. The MTSS Network was established as the first network under this program, conducting research examining integrated academic and behavioral MTSS in elementary schools. The MTSS Network, which consists of four research teams and one network lead, has established an Early Career Scholars program. Brandi Simonsen (Co-Principal Investigator on both the network lead and a research team) recently shared some information about this program. “The IES Research Network on Integrated Multi-Tiered Systems of Support engages two cohorts of Early Career Scholars in a range of mentoring activities to develop competency in conducting rigorous and relevant research on MTSS.” For example, mentorship activities for Early Career Scholars have included large group meetings to discuss Integrated Multi-Tiered Systems of Support: Blending RTI and PBIS by McIntosh and Goodman (Goodman is a member of the MTSS Network), which have provided opportunities for scholars to review and learn about integrated MTSS while engaging in discussion of ideas with network members. Scholars also meet in small groups with MTSS Network investigators to discuss specific research projects. For example, the early career scholars on the University of Connecticut research team meet with the investigators weekly to discuss on-going supports for participating schools, refine plans for research studies, and continue other grant-related activities.

For more information about NCSER’s programs of research, please see here.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service. For more information about the Early Career Development and Mentoring program, contact Dr. Katie Taylor. For more information on the Research Networks program, contact Dr. Amy Sussman.

Catching Up with Former NCSER Fellows: Experiences and Advice for Early Career Researchers

Since 2008, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) has supported postdoctoral training programs to prepare fellows in conducting early intervention and special education research that addresses issues that are important to infants, toddlers, children, and youth with or at risk for disabilities, their families, practitioners, and policymakers. As part of our Spotlight on IES Training Programs series, we reached out to a few former NCSER fellows who are now principal investigators (PIs) on IES grants to ask about their current research projects, how the NCSER fellowship prepared them for those projects, roadblocks they faced in applying for research funding, and advice for early career researchers interested in applying for IES funding. Below is what they had to say.

Photo of Angel FettigAngel Fettig, University of Washington

My NCSER postdoctoral position at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill provided the opportunities and resources to prepare me to be the researcher I am today. Through my postdoctoral position, I had the opportunity to work on multiple NCSER-funded projects and got a solid understanding of the day-to-day activities of large research grants. I also received resources and supports to attend trainings and hone my research skills. Most importantly, I was surrounded by a community of researchers and mentors who are committed to promoting the use of rigorous research methodologies to build on evidence-based practices. Since the completion of my postdoctoral position, I have engaged in continuous learning around innovative research methodologies and apply them in my research grant applications. My current research, including the NCSER project I lead, focuses on equipping educators and parents with evidence-based practices to support young children’s social and emotional development and reduce challenging behaviors. I strongly believe that social emotional development is critical in ensuring the success of young children with and at risk for disabilities as they enter schools, and adults who interact with them play a crucial role in fostering this development. My advice for early career researchers is to find good mentors and colleagues who are interested in similar topics, craft an idea that addresses the current needs, design a study with rigorous and innovative research methodologies, and then just apply for funding! You can’t score a goal if you don’t take a shot!

Photo of Paulo GrazianoPaulo Graziano, Florida International University

My NCSER postdoctoral position at Florida International University provided me with specialized training in evidence-based assessments and interventions for children with disruptive behavior disorders. In combination with my background in developmental psychopathology, this training allowed me to find gaps in the research on how to best prepare preschoolers with disruptive behavior disorders for school entry, which led me to apply for additional IES grants. The NCSER project that I was awarded in 2012 entailed iteratively developing and testing a summer treatment program targeting pre-kindergarteners with disruptive behavior. As part of the project, we learned which curriculum, length, and level of parental involvement was needed to optimize children's academic, behavioral, and social-emotional growth during kindergarten. I was fortunate enough to get this award while still finishing up my postdoctoral fellowship, which was tremendously helpful in obtaining a faculty position and continuing my work at the same institution. One roadblock I faced applying for funding was obtaining permission from my university to apply for a grant as the PI while still a postdoc and responding to reviewers who thought that a postdoc should not be a PI. However, I overcame both roadblocks with the support of my postdoc mentor. This initial IES grant and my NCSER postdoc training were essential for launching my career and establishing a translational line of research that integrates developmental and neuroscience research to inform the treatment of disruptive behavior disorders. This integrated line of research has also allowed me to successfully receive funding from other agencies including the National Institutes of Health. I would highly encourage early career researchers to develop solid relationships with their community's school system. Forming a partnership is critical towards submitting a project for funding that will not only be implemented with high fidelity but that will be well received and maintained/adopted by stakeholders once the grant ends.

Photo of Dwight IrvinDwight Irvin, University of Kansas

My NCSER postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas focused on response to intervention in early childhood. With support and guidance from my mentors, Charles Greenwood and Judith Carta, I was afforded an opportunity to assist on multiple IES projects that allowed me to engage in planning, problem-solving, technology design/development, and statistical analysis. Importantly, I learned how an idea becomes a proposal, a funded grant, and is implemented to meet the proposed deliverables. During my postdoc, I formulated my own line of research and collected pilot data for future proposal development. It’s these experiences that I feel were most beneficial in preparing me for my current work and research. In our current NCSER project, we aim to validate a tool, the Classroom Code for Interactive Recording of Children's Learning Environments (CIRCLE) (Version 2.0), to assist preschool teachers in adjusting their instruction for young children at risk of not being ready for kindergarten. CIRCLE is a digital, live classroom observation system that assesses teacher and child behavior within multiple learning contexts. Our goal is to learn under what conditions and for whom intentional instruction is effectively promoting children’s literacy engagement and school readiness outcomes. Applying for research funding is always a formidable task. A big challenge is just being an early career investigator and lacking a reputation that convinces reviewers the work is feasible and worth funding. Another is learning how to write a proposal that is absent of fatal flaws and not viewed as too “ambitious.” My advice for early career researchers is to surround yourself with colleagues who value mentoring and have a history of funding. Find a way to involve yourself in developing a proposal even if it is not your own work and find a role on it even if it is not as an investigator. It is best not to expect success on an initial proposal submission, rather look at getting a panel review as a win. And lastly, find ways to collect and include meaningful pilot data to incorporate into a proposal as evidence that it is worth the investment.

This blog was written by Alice Bravo, virtual intern for IES and doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Washington, and Katie Taylor, program officer for NCSER’s postdoctoral training program.