Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Spotlight on IES Training Programs: Introduction to a Blog Series

Since 2004, IES has been preparing researchers to conduct high-quality, rigorous education and special education research through training grant programs. This roughly $281 million investment has helped change universities and departments across the nation and supported the training of over 200 students interested in beginning doctoral programs, nearly 1000 doctoral students, over 280 postdoctoral fellows, and hundreds of practicing researchers at universities, research firms, state and local agencies, and other organizations.

Over the months to come, we will be spotlighting these IES training programs and those who have participated in them. This blog series will include interviews, updates, and program descriptions as we learn more about the research, innovations, and careers of IES training program participants.

 

Join us as we celebrate the possibilities created by the following IES training programs:


For more information about the NCER training programs, contact Dr. Katina Stapleton, and for information about NCSER training programs, contact Dr. Katie Taylor.

This blog was written by Dr. Meredith Larson, program officer for NCER Postdoctoral Research Training grants, and is the first in an ongoing series: Spotlight on IES Training Programs.

 

Why I Want to Become an Education Researcher

In 2015, IES launched the Pathways to the Education Sciences research training program in order to help diversify the pipeline of education researchers. Pathways programs provide year-long training to diverse undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and masters students. Pathways fellows receive an introduction to education research and scientific methods, meaningful opportunities to participate in education research studies, and professional development and mentoring. Currently, almost 200 students have participated in Pathways and 91 have completed training. Sixty-three percent of completed fellows are currently enrolled in graduate school (26% doctoral, 35% masters). We reached out to 6 Pathways graduates to ask them what inspired them to become education researchers. Here is what they shared with us.

Photograph of Sydnee Garcia

Sydnee Garcia

Pathways Program, University of Texas, San Antonio

Student Affairs masters student, University of Maryland, College Park

I never thought that I would end up in education. Initially, I saw myself helping others through occupational therapy. It was when I reached the University of Texas at San Antonio, my undergraduate institution, that I gained an understanding of the doors that open when someone receives a formal education. My experiences as a UTSA IES Educational Pathways Fellow also strengthened my belief that co-curricular learning is imperative for modern-day students and that all students should have access to this learning. As a current graduate student at the University of Maryland, my hope for the future is to research inequities in higher education and find effective practices to provide opportunities for students from marginalized backgrounds to find space and growth in a system that wasn't built for them. 

Photograph of James A. Hernández

James A. Hernández

PURPOSE Program, Florida State University/Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Education Psychology doctoral student, Florida State University

As a 5th grade teacher, I was inspired to learn more about educational research. I was constantly analyzing my students’ learning, and I knew there was a way that I could leverage their data to more effectively educate them. However, I was also aware that I did not have the proper research training to do so nor the confidence to apply to graduate school. So I did the next best thing and became a college advisor. Little did I know my passion for educational research would be further ignited as I employed theories like developmental advising models to support my students. During this experience, I eventually garnered enough courage to apply to an educational research graduate program. Through the support of the IES PURPOSE research training program, I received a research conference poster presentation award and 2nd place in presenting my research in under four minutes. Furthermore, with the IES PURPOSE resources, especially the proseminars and mentorship, I was admitted into a PhD program fully funded by the FEF McKnight fellowship. Upon graduating with my PhD, I intend to bring the educational research skills I have gained from PURPOSE and my doctoral program to the classroom by building a community laboratory school.

Photograph of Troy Kearse

Troy Kearse

RISE Program, University of Maryland, College Park/Bowie State University

Psychology doctoral student, Howard University

In my career, I am determined to become a psychologist and professor, focused on cognitive-behavioral studies, particularly for underrepresented minorities. My interest began after taking an introductory course in psychology at Prince George’s Community College. After transferring to Bowie State University my interest in the diverse field of Psychology was enhanced. My ongoing study on cognitive functioning in student success allows me to appreciate the importance of education as it relates to research. With a minor in tutoring and mentoring, I had the opportunity to work directly with students in introductory psychology courses in order to expand my experience in teaching. As the vice-president of the psychological society at BSU, I began to develop tutoring sessions for students in the form of interactive “jeopardy” games like Kahoot!, or more recently, an on-campus version of Escape Room Live to tackle this problem. Students participating in these programs have enjoyed the extra help. I believe that Project RISE was beneficial to my career goals as it continued to enhance my interest in research, as well as make a difference in academia.

Photograph of Natalie Larez

Natalie Larez

AWARDSS Program, University of Arizona

School Psychology doctoral student, University of California, Santa Barbara

Children spend most of their time within schools, allowing for much of their development to be shaped by this environment. Working with students is something that has always intrigued me. When I started my undergraduate career at the University of Arizona, I searched for opportunities that allowed me to work with students, from kindergarten to college age, especially from underrepresented backgrounds. Through these varied experiences, I quickly realized that many of these students were brilliant but were constrained by the systemic barriers that affect minority communities. Additionally, many had experienced significant trauma that was inhibiting them from moving forward. When I was presented with the opportunity to join a Pathways program, it seemed like the perfect stepping stone to a future that I could only dream of. With the support of my mentor, I was able to investigate the associations between traumatic stress symptoms, resiliency, and school outcomes and identify possible solutions to addressing the educational impact. As a result, I was admitted into a top program that will allow me to build skills to better support students in their academics, mental health, and future aspirations. The AWARDSS program was monumental for my career in research education. The AWARDSS program supported my growth in confidence, research skills, access to knowledge on how to pursue graduate school, and mentors that I will continue to work with throughout my career.

Photograph of India Simone Lenear

India Simone Lenear

RISE Training Program, North Carolina Central University/University of North Carolina Wilmington

Political Science doctoral student, Purdue University

As a child, I always thought I wanted to be a lawyer and then ultimately become the first Black woman U.S. Supreme Court Justice. I shadowed lawyers and judges, and I participated in mentoring training for future lawyers. I even took debate classes because I thought that was my passion. It was not until I took my first political science class that I realized that I really wanted to be a researcher and professor and that my passion lies in higher education. I wanted to be a professor because I loved the relationship and bond that I developed with some of my professors. I wanted to be a researcher because I wanted to be able to conduct research that would broaden and deepen the scope of research within political science. As I began to understand what my passion really was, I was offered an opportunity to participate in the RISE training program, by way of my extracurricular activities on campus. I immediately knew that I needed to take this opportunity. Over the next year, the RISE program helped to train and mold the way I think critically about issues and topics I want to address, while also being able to navigate the requirements and expectations of being a researcher. The skills that RISE taught me have allowed me to become a great student researcher. I am now happy to say that I am enrolled full-time in a political science doctoral program at Purdue University, where I plan to study American politics in education with a focus on race and ethnic politics, identity politics, and Black feminist theory as it impacts students in college.

Tseng Meng Vang

Pathways Program, California State University, Sacramento

Human Development doctoral student, University of California, Davis

My experience as a Hmong American in the United States inspired me to become an education researcher. I still recall the moment my high school teacher telling our class about the college attainment rate of different ethnic groups and being told that Hmong American’s college attainment rate was one of the lowest of all the ethnic groups. This finding made me question why Hmong Americans were performing poorly compared to the general Asian American classification. Since this issue is so close to home for me, I was inspired to understand protective and risk factors of college attainment.

Compiled by Katina Rae Stapleton, National Center for Education Research. This post is the second in an ongoing series of blog posts on issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity within education research.

Diversify Education Sciences? Yes, We Can!

In this blog post, Stephen Raudenbush discusses the University of Chicago’s successful efforts to diversify its IES-funded predoctoral training program. This post is the first in a series exploring issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity in the education sciences.

In 2015, the Committee on Education at the University of Chicago launched a national campaign to recruit a talented and diverse group of pre-doctoral fellows. With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, we sought to train a new generation of social scientists from across the disciplines to bring rigorous methods of social science to bear on questions related to the improvement of education.

We’d had previous success in pre-doctoral training with IES support. Our fellows had a great track record conducting research and getting good jobs, but we were deeply unsatisfied that only 3 of 35 of those fellows were members of under-represented minority groups. This didn’t make sense, particularly in Chicago—a city where 90% of the public-school students are African American and Hispanic—and where our aim was to build a strong research-practice partnership.

Our campaign was quite successful. We now have a terrific team of 23 PhD fellows, including 9 who are African American or Hispanic. All are making excellent progress toward degrees in disciplines as varied as Comparative Human Development, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Public Policy, Social Services Administration, and Sociology. We’re writing to share our five key strategies that underscored our approach to improving student diversity in the education sciences.

Create a compelling intellectual argument for choosing education sciences. We invited prospective students to join us in an interdisciplinary research project focused on overcoming educational inequality. We organized the training around one question: “How can we improve the contribution of schooling to skills required for the labor market success of urban youth?” We reasoned that many of the most talented minority and non-minority scholars are deeply committed to answering this broad question, and we reasoned that many would be motivated to come to Chicago to study these questions. A plus for us is the University’s longstanding engagement with public schools in Chicago.

Hire a coordinator dedicated to recruitment. Faculty were totally committed to the recruitment goal, but they were too busy teaching, mentoring, doing research, and serving on departmental committees to oversee a major student recruitment campaign. So we hired a dedicated recruitment director to coordinate with prospective students and faculty and carry out many of the administrative tasks associated with recruitment. The recruitment director assigned every prospective student to a faculty member with kindred interests and followed up to see that faculty colleagues made connected with these students.

Reach out to social networks that include diverse students. Within the university, we worked closely with officers at the University of Chicago who are focused on recruiting diverse students. Our faculty made use of personal connections, and we pooled information about people we know at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority-Serving Institutions, and liberal arts colleges. We made it easy for interested students to express interest and connect with faculty and staff through our website. We also found that organizations such as the American Educational Research Association and the National Equity Project were happy to spread the word about our campaign.

Maximize faculty contact with prospective fellows – well before applications are due. Our faculty were heroes in following up with every promising prospective fellow. We think it’s key to make a phone call before admissions decisions are made and to encourage potentially interested and promising persons to apply. In this way, every person who is admitted will already have a history of communication with a faculty member. Continued communication builds trust and the sense of belonging that encourages young people to join the project. Having a diverse faculty helps; however every faculty member, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, pitched in, and this united effort clearly paid off.

Build a welcoming culture. We encouraged all admitted students to visit before deciding what university to attend. We mobilized University funds to support travel and lodging. We encouraged the prospective fellows to meet each other and to meet our current doctoral students during these visits. The key is to convey to each student a true sense of belonging. We created lots of opportunity for small group discussions and social engagement to foster colleagueship and promote respect for the diversity of perspective. Our fellows run our weekly Education Workshop, which often showcases the work of minority scholars. Making this happen for our first cohort helped recruit our second cohort.

IES Honors Dominic Gibson as Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow

Each year, IES recognizes an outstanding fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. The 2018 winner, Dr. Dominic Gibson completed his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chicago. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Washington where he specializes in understanding how children learn words and mathematical concepts. In this blog, Dominic discusses his research and his experience as an IES fellow.  

What inspired you to focus your research on early mathematics?

So many everyday activities as well as many of humanity’s greatest achievements rely on math. Simple math becomes so second nature to us that it is often difficult for older students to conceptualize what it would be like to not have a basic understanding of numbers. But children take months and often years to learn the meanings of just the first few number words (one, two, three) and to learn how the counting procedure really works. Children’s acquisition of other math terms (angle, proportion, unit of measurement) is similarly marked by misconceptions and slow, difficult learning.  

Overcoming these learning challenges relies on an interesting mixture of uniquely human abilities (like language) and skills we share with other animals. Moreover, children’s ability to master early math concepts predicts their future academic success. Therefore, by studying how children learn about math, we can better understand the sources of humanity’s unique achievements and apply this knowledge to reducing early achievement gaps and maximizing our potential.

Based on your research, what advice would you give parents of pre-kindergartners on how to help their children develop math skills?

My biggest piece of advice is to talk to children about numbers and other basic math concepts. Children benefit from abundant language input in general, and “math talk” is no different. Even simply talking about different numbers of things seems to be particularly important for acquiring early math concepts. Numbers can be easily incorporated into a variety of activities, like taking a walk (“let’s count the birds we see”) or going to the grocery store (“how many oranges should we buy?”). Likewise, good jumping off points for using other types of early math talk such as relational language are activities like puzzles (“this one is too curvy to fit here—we need to find a piece with a flat edge”) and block building (“can you put this small block on top of the bigger one?”).

It also may be useful to note that even when a child can say a word, they may not fully understand what it means. For instance, two- to four-year-old children can often recite a portion of the count list (for example, the numbers one through ten) but if you ask them to find a certain number of items (“can you give me three blocks?”) they may struggle when asked for sets greater than two or three. Therefore, in addition to counting, it is important to connect number words to specific quantities (“look there are three ducks”). It may be especially helpful to connect counting to the value of a set (“let’s count the ducks—one, two, three—there are three!”).

My last piece of advice is to be careful about the types of messages we send our children about math. Many people experience “math anxiety,” and if we are not careful, children can pick up on these signals and become anxious about math themselves or internalize negative stereotypes about the types of people who are and are not good at math. Ensuring that children feel empowered to excel in math is an important ingredient for their success.

How has being an IES predoctoral fellow helped your development as a researcher?

The diverse group of people and perspectives I encountered as an IES predoctoral fellow made a huge impact on my development as a researcher. As an IES predoctoral fellow pursuing a degree in psychology, I met many students and faculty members who were interested in the same questions that interest me but who approached these questions from a variety of other disciplines, such as economics, public policy, and sociology. I also connected with networks of educators and policymakers outside of academia who alerted me to important issues that I may have missed if I had only worked within my own discipline. Through these experiences, I gained new tools for conducting my research and learned to avoid the types of blind spots that often develop when approaching a problem from a single perspective. In particular, I gained an appreciation for the challenges of translating basic science to educational practice and the number of interesting research questions that emerge when attempting to do this work.

Compiled by Katina Rae Stapleton, Education Research Analyst and Program Officer for the Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences, National Center for Education Research

Recognizing Our Outstanding IES Predoctoral Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recognizes an outstanding fellow from our Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. This year, IES has selected joint recipients for the 2017 award: Rachel Abenavoli and Callie Little. They will receive their awards and present their research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2019.

Dr. Abenavoli received her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). She is currently a postdoctoral research scientist at New York University’s Steinhardt’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change, and is working in the area of early learning and social-emotional development.  Dr. Little received her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Florida State University (FSU). She is currently a research fellow in the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences at the University of New England in Australia, where she specializes in understanding the development of cognitive and academic skills for individuals from early childhood through college.

We asked our Outstanding Fellows how participating in an IES-funded predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.

Rachel Abenavoli

The IES-funded predoctoral training program at Penn State provided me with the resources, opportunities, and skills needed to begin building my own program of education research. I began my graduate program with broad interests in young childrenRachel Abenavoli’s social-emotional functioning. The fellowship helped me shape and narrow the focus of my research. By participating in regular seminars, attending talks, and meeting with external invited speakers, I began applying my developmental lens and focus on early social-emotional skills to the study of educational contexts and educationally-relevant outcomes. With generous fellowship funding that gave me the freedom and flexibility to pursue my own research questions, I was able to focus my work in graduate school on the interplay between children’s social-emotional and academic skills as they make the transition to school.

The IES fellowship also provided me with opportunities to learn, practice, and hone my methodological skills. Courses and seminars in program evaluation, causal inference, and multilevel modeling were particularly critical in building my capacity for conducting rigorous school-based research. Invited speakers complemented these core learning experiences by highlighting best practices and innovative approaches in education science. I came away from this training equipped with a range of analytic and methodological tools that are necessary to address the diversity and complexity of education research questions, settings, and designs.

Being an IES fellow has also connected me to a network of established and early career education researchers. Regular meetings with faculty mentors and other IES fellows from different home departments provided a space to discuss new ideas, experiences in the field, and possible collaborations. Conference funding enabled me to attend education research conferences and expand my professional network beyond Penn State. Engaging with this community solidified for me the value of a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding children’s learning and development in context.

My work is more rigorous and more relevant to education practice and policy because of the IES predoctoral fellowship, and I’m so grateful for the experiences, mentors, and other fellows who are critical to the success of the program at Penn State.

Callie Little

First and foremost, the support and training I received through the IES pre-doctoral fellowship at FSU provided me with an intense and philosophical appreciation of construct validity: whether an investigation can accurately measure what it was designeCallie Littled to measure. This appreciation will continue to guide how I develop and implement research studies.

The rigorous statistical courses included in FSU’s core curriculum provided a solid foundation for building my quantitative skills. Additionally, the combined focus on study-design and methodological training supplied me with a comprehensive knowledge base and the skills to investigate the complex associations among reading skills, and between reading skills and behavioral outcomes. The exposure to multiple advanced statistical methods coupled with the opportunity to directly apply these methods to relevant data so early in my career prepared me for my current projects which use large-scale twin data to conduct high-quality research on individual differences in the development of cognitive and academic skills.

The multidisciplinary environment at FSU, with its rich and diverse range of research programs and faculty, exposed me to a series of analytic techniques and content-area expertise that helped to shape an open-minded and creative approach to formulating research questions. This unique environment was one of the greatest advantages to the IES fellowship, providing the opportunity for strong mentorship, collaboration, and feedback. Most importantly, I used this opportunity to develop ongoing projects with colleagues where we innovatively combine evidence-based methods from several fields.

Fellowship funding enabled me to attend conferences and workshops with other IES fellowship teams, and provided me with access to research resources. I gained new insights into science communication, learned new techniques, and broadened my network of collaborators. I was able to recruit participants and purchase standardized assessment materials, and design and implement several of my own studies during my Ph.D. The resulting rich and unique data sets form the foundation of my current independent research.  From my experiences through the IES fellowship at FSU, I stand well-prepared to continue to conduct innovative and high-quality research into the complex mechanisms underlying achievement.

Katina Stapleton is the program officer for the Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences.