Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Development Grant Awardees: Supporting Latine Transborder Caregivers and Their Young Children with or at Risk for Autism

NCSER continues its series spotlighting the recently funded Early Career Development and Mentoring Grants Program principal investigators with an interview with Ana Dueñas, assistant professor in special education at San Diego State University. Dr. Dueñas is conducting research aimed at improving outcomes for Latine transborder caregivers and their young children with or at risk for autism. We are pleased that this blog also honors Hispanic Heritage Month

How did you become interested in studying early intervention for Latine children on the autism spectrum?

Headshot of Ana DueƱas

As a first-generation Mexican cis-gender woman who was raised in a bicultural transborder community alongside the San Diego/Tijuana border, I learned to navigate a shifting identity—speaking English and Spanish fluently to feel accepted by both communities and managing schooling and housing across borders. Like many other children of Mexican immigrants, I served as a translator, social worker, and advocate for my parents. These experiences, along with my sensitivity to the unique needs of this population, inform how I approach community-engaged research. I am also very aware of how the biases that my education and training in special education and applied behavior analysis influence my approach to intervention research, particularly in light of the history of deficit-driven rhetoric and a medical model of disability in these fields. I aim to be mindful of the power differential that is often associated with higher education, social class, and researcher institutions in my interactions with the families I support.

My interest in building partnerships with Latine caregivers of children with autism began 10 years ago. Earlier in my career, I was a social worker for the California Regional Centers, a non-profit organization that provides services, advocacy, and support to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. There I gained firsthand awareness of the behavioral health disparities faced by historically minoritized families (delayed diagnosis and access to culturally relevant services). Now, as a junior faculty member and researcher, I bring these experiences to my work and hope to form genuine relationships with the Latine community to better inform autism intervention research.

What are some of the unique challenges and needs of your study population?

I hope to understand these issues in depth more throughout this project. What we know from the literature about the Latine community more broadly is that they face significant disparities in access to timely diagnosis and treatment for their autistic children. This racial disparity is exacerbated in rural communities, or “service deserts” like the Imperial Valley of California, where this project is situated. The transborder community as a subgroup of the larger Latine community has very specific needs that may create a mismatch in evidence-based practices. Some points of mismatch are logistical and environmental—living and working across borders—which may lead to limited compliance, attendance, or engagement in intervention. Other points of mismatch may occur because Latine families may have a history of working with staff that lack cultural competence and therefore have few positive experiences receiving early intervention services. Further, though my project doesn’t focus on families who are undocumented, transborder families may be dealing with unique issues related to immigration status—threats of deportation, housing insecurity, and limited access to physical and mental healthcare. 

What broader impact are you hoping to achieve with your research?

Through my research, I hope to address the behavioral education disparities among marginalized populations, as they undermine the quality of life and opportunities for autistic children and their families, particularly among families exposed to vulnerable circumstances. My study addresses one small component of the many disparities that occur across a continuum from identification to treatment to improve the match between evidence-based interventions and the specific needs of marginalized individuals. Many interventions were developed with minimal input from ethnic and/or racially marginalized communities. Though there continues to be an implementation fidelity versus cultural adaptation debate, without sensitivity and responsiveness to the unique needs of communities, interventions may fail to be adopted. In my work, I begin with an assessment to ensure that the intervention is relevant to community needs and desires.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

Don’t give up. Understand and harness your value. Follow your instinct. Seek mentorship.

Ana Dueñas demonstrates passion and meaningful personal connection to her research. We are excited to follow her work and see what lies ahead in her academic career trajectory in special education.

This blog was produced by Emilia Wenzel, NCSER intern and graduate student at University of Chicago. Katherine Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) is the program officer for NCSER’s Early Career Development and Mentoring program.

Communicating with Migrant Communities: An Interview with Pathways Alum Gabriel Lorenzo Aguilar

The Pathways to the Education Sciences Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. Gabriel Lorenzo Aguilar, who participated in the IES-funded University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) Pathways program focused on P-20 pipeline issues, is the first Pathways fellow to be offered a tenure track position at a university. Gabriel, who is currently finishing his doctoral program in English at the Pennsylvania State University, recently accepted a tenure-track position in the Technical Writing and Professional Design program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Growing up in the barrios of South Texas, Gabriel brings a working-class, migrant-community, and undocumented-community perspective to academia. His research and teaching center the problems of communities who are in dire need of aid and assistance and who rely on technical communication in life-critical situations, especially migrants, refugees, and asylees. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Gabriel to reflect on his career journey and the experiences of Hispanics scholars.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career in using technical communication to improve the lives of vulnerable populations, such as migrants and refugees?

My grandmother was an undocumented migrant. Growing up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of South Texas, I saw how much community came to help not only my grandmother but other undocumented people. I saw firsthand the generosity, commitment, and sacrifice all of us in our neighborhoods made to make sure we had everything we needed.

That level of sacrifice required communication between the community, nonprofits, and others. I saw younger generations provide translation services to their grandparents, making sure that the older generation understood how to get resources such as Medicaid or subsidized utilities. It was only after I went to college that I learned that this communication had a name: technical communication. Broadly speaking, the field of technical communication focuses on making technical information understandable to a wide variety of audiences. It can include things like instructions on how to submit applications for aid or forms for service but has recently expanded to include the communication of marginalized peoples. The types of technical communication we did in the barrios were not included in broader discussions. So, I made it a mission of mine in graduate school to bring the kind of technical communication from marginalized populations into the mainstreams of research and practice.

My past projects looked into helping humanitarian organizations better translate for Mexican migrant populations. Future projects are tackling similar issues with the general population in the RGV and how citizens communicate with one another to form coalitions for change. In any case, my background and experiences help me see technical communication as a field that can improve the lives of my community.

How did participation in the UTSA P20 Pathways program shape your career journey?

Quite frankly, the UTSA Pathways program made my career journey. I struggled a lot in undergrad. I noticed that my peers that excelled were usually white and from more affluent school districts. They seemed to know everything while the rest of us, especially those from the RGV, were behind.

The UTSA Pathways program helped me understand there is a place for scholars like me: those from disenfranchised backgrounds with the passion to help communities in need. While in the program, I learned to recognize disparities in education outcomes—that inequity stems from lack of resources and structural issues such as racism. The program empowered me to see education as a means to tackle such issues.

The program also shaped my understanding of what it means to be an educator: patient, accessible, and demonstrative. I was the undergraduate who didn’t understand the material, who felt too small to ask for help. I’ve learned to recognize the tells of that kind of student—students who often experience the world like I do as a student of color from a working-class background. I try to approach these students first, establishing clear channels of communication and accessibility.

What advice would you give education researchers who wish to work with migrant and refugee communities?

These communities need resources, not predatory researchers. My advice would be to be reflexive on what you give and take when working with a migrant community. There is a long history of researchers extracting data from a marginalized population only to leave that community once their findings are peer reviewed and published. I encourage researchers to practice humanitarian values in their research and practice; that is, to work on the immediate needs of the community, write about those interventions, and then collect data on that immediate work. This way, the community can get the resources they need from a researcher that is actively engaged in improving their quality of life.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of Hispanic students and researchers?

The broader education research community must understand the conditions that many Hispanic students and researchers face in academia, especially Hispanics of color from working class backgrounds. My advice would be to practice patience and grace with Hispanic students. I’ll give an example. I worked with a nontraditional Hispanic student at Penn State who was brilliant but lacked confidence in his writing. He grew up in the Dominican Republic and was in the United States pursuing a degree as a middle-aged adult. His professors that semester heavily criticized his writing: some of the criticism was constructive, some was racist. The constructive criticism demonstrated the flaws of his writing and offered solutions to consider. The racist criticism questioned this student’s belonging in academia, often referring to his misunderstanding of U.S. and English language writing conventions.

Of course, Hispanic students and researchers are not a monolith. We come from all walks of life, some of us more privileged than others. Nonetheless, those with power in the education research community must understand the obstacles that Hispanic students face when navigating higher education.

What advice would you give Hispanic students and scholars who wish to pursue a career in education research?

Understand that the halls of academe weren’t built for us, especially Hispanics of color from working-class backgrounds. I’ve experienced my fair share of microaggressions and blatant racism. Most of the time, these aggressions come from a place of misunderstanding on how our experiences, communities, and culture shape our perspectives of the world. The fight to get our problems recognized, our perspectives respected, and our voices heard can seem never ending. But when I look back at the previous generations of Hispanics in academia, I can really appreciate the positive changes that have come.

My advice would be to accept that you alone cannot change education research. Our generation of scholarship might do little to change education research. It might do a lot. But the momentum is here. The community is here, and with that community, real change can come.


This guest blog is part of a series in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. It was produced 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.

Lasting Lessons from my IES Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Fellowship

The Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Education Sciences was established by IES to increase the number of well-trained PhD students who are prepared to conduct rigorous and relevant education research. In honor of the IES 20th Anniversary, we asked Dr. Shayne Piasta, our first IES Outstanding Predoctoral Award Winner, to discuss the impact of her IES fellowship on her career as a reading researcher.

 

The IES predoctoral fellowship supported me and my research career in so many ways. One profound influence stemmed from its interdisciplinary nature. My training program focused on reading and operated at the intersection of psychology and education, with mentors and research experiences spanning these and other disciplines. I am still realizing how fortunate I was to benefit from this program and how it has influenced my scholarly career.

In taking education, policy, and psychology courses, I witnessed different approaches and research methods—sometimes overlapping or complementary and sometimes contradictory. As an undergraduate psychology major, I initially took issue with the non-causal methods in a program and policy evaluation course and did not fully understand the contribution of assorted qualitative approaches featured in many education courses. Yet being exposed to these different ways of thinking and researching made me a better scholar. It forced me to wrestle with foundational issues in education research, identify my own position as a researcher, and—with help from training program mentors—realize the benefits and limitations of various research methods.

The ability to communicate with an array of education scholars and stakeholders has proved invaluable. My fellow trainees included former teachers and principals seeking reading education and educational leadership doctorates as well as those pursuing clinical, development, and cognitive psychology degrees. Many of the psychology trainees had worked with children in schools, summer camps, or clinical settings. Talking with these peers, along with program faculty, broadened my perspectives on educational topics and enhanced my understanding of the complexity of education systems. Sharing perspectives and experiences also helped me understand the different communication styles—and vocabulary—various stakeholders use. As a result, I learned to connect with all those invested in improving reading outcomes for children and to write for multiple audiences. This also led to my first partnership with a local Tallahassee school and my very first (very small) grant.

I attribute my faculty position at The Ohio State University (OSU) to the interdisciplinary mindset that my training instilled. Back when I was initially applying to graduate school, I had noted the multiple disciplines contributing to reading scholarship. Some of the researchers I admired and hoped to work with were clinical, cognitive, educational, or school psychologists. Others were in educational leadership, communication/speech-language pathology, elementary/reading education, or special education.

Both the IES training program and subsequent position at OSU supported network building and ensuing collaborative research projects. Travel funding as a graduate student allowed me to attend various conferences, where program faculty generously introduced me and my cohort to the multidisciplinary “who’s who” of reading scholarship. I was awestruck being in the same room as prominent senior scholars, never mind interacting with them. As a faculty member in a Department of Teaching and Learning, I continue to interact with colleagues and students from a variety of education-related backgrounds and perspectives. It is through contributing to this department and guiding preservice teachers and budding education scholars that I believe I am achieving my impact.

In addition to interacting with senior scholars, these opportunities also allowed me to network with graduate and postgraduate students, who are now my colleagues, peers, collaborators, and friends. Together, we have implemented interdisciplinary grants and written manuscripts. We have put together conference symposia and established a multidisciplinary organization for supporting women- and non-binary-identifying education scholars across disciplines (POWER; Providing Opportunities for Women in Education Research). We have formed writing and accountability groups and helped each other navigate our careers. These relationships—along with others built during my time at OSU—continue to support and sustain me, and my scholarly trajectory would likely have been very different without them.

Through these varied experiences, I learned how to administer assessments to children and follow them over time, develop family and teacher surveys, conduct and reliably code classroom observations, manage and analyze longitudinal and multilevel data, and conduct and write grants to fund research projects that answered different questions using different designs. I am proud that to date I have collaborated on exploration, development, efficacy, replication, effectiveness, and measurement research projects. In working across projects, I also witnessed the different ways that faculty engage in leadership, mentoring, and lab/project management. This provided the foundation for the culture, structure, and processes of my own Early Literacy and Learning Lab (EL3).

As I progress in my career, I am cognizant of these and many other affordances of my training. A continuing goal of mine is to try to recreate these opportunities for students and early career scholars. Our EL3 team is multidisciplinary—investigators, staff, students, and postdoctoral scholars have backgrounds in elementary and early childhood education, psychology, measurement and statistics, speech-hearing sciences, special education, policy, and more. We engage in interdisciplinary research projects that engage internal and external colleagues from similarly varied backgrounds, involve partnerships with local early childhood organizations and elementary schools, and employ an array of quantitative, mixed, and multiple methods approaches.

As a lab, we work to create a positive, collaborative community in which varied perspectives and disagreement are welcome and viewed as discussion opportunities. This is epitomized in one current project, in which we jokingly but proudly announced “I dissent!” when offering alternative viewpoints (and whose team members will soon be receiving t-shirts with this phrase).

Through my research, teaching, and service, I strive to continually improve in supporting students as they learn of different research methods, experience on different research projects, and write for different audiences. I lean on my OSU colleagues and professional network to assist students seeking out multiple mentors. I hope I am as generous as my own mentors were in facilitating conference networking and other opportunities. In these ways, I hope that I can pay forward all that I gained through my IES fellowship to the next generation of educational researchers.


Dr. Shayne Piasta was an IES predoctoral fellow in the Florida State University Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training program. She is currently professor of reading and literacy in early and middle childhood within the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. She is also a faculty associate for the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy. Her research focuses on early literacy development and how it is best supported during preschool and elementary years.

In addition to receiving the Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow award from IES, Dr. Piasta has received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the Dina Feitelson Research Award from the International Reading Association.

This blog was produced training program officer Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) and is part of a larger series on the IES research training programs.

A Conversation about the Learning Sciences and Human-AI Interaction with Outstanding Predoctoral Fellow Ken Holstein

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences (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 2020 awardee, Ken Holstein, completed his PhD at Carnegie Mellon University and is currently an assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where he directs a research lab focused on human-AI interaction.

Recently, we caught up with Dr. Holstein and asked him to discuss his research on human-computer interaction (HCI) and his experiences as a scholar.

 

How did you become interested in human-computer interaction and learning sciences research?

I have long been fascinated with human learning and expertise. As an undergraduate, I worked on research in computational cognitive science, with a focus on understanding how humans are often able to learn so much about the world from so little information (relative to state-of-the-art machine learning systems). Originally, I had planned on a career conducting basic research to better understand some of our most remarkable and mysterious cognitive capabilities. However, as I neared graduation, I became increasingly interested in pursuing research with more immediate potential for positive real-world impact. The fields of HCI and the learning sciences were a perfect fit to my interests. These areas provided opportunities to study how to support and enhance human learning and expertise in real-world settings, using a bricolage of research methods from a wide range of disciplines. 

Much of your lab’s research focuses on how humans and AI systems can augment each other’s abilities and learn from each other. What are the most promising applications of these ideas for education research and vice versa? 

I see a lot of potential for AI systems to augment the abilities of human teachers and tutors. In my PhD research, I worked with middle and high school teachers to understand their experiences working with AI-based tutoring software in their classrooms, and to co-design and prototype new possibilities together. Overall, teachers saw many opportunities to redesign AI tutoring software with the aim of augmenting and amplifying their own abilities as teachers, beyond simply automating instructional interactions with students. My research explored a small subset of these design directions, but there is a very rich design space that has yet to be explored.

In general, I believe that to design technologies that can effectively augment the abilities of human workers, such as teachers, it is critical to first understand what unique expertise and abilities they bring to the table as humans, which complement the capabilities of AI systems. This understanding can then inform the design of AI systems that explicitly support and draw upon the strengths of human workers (co-augmentation), and that can both learn from workers’ knowledge and support their professional learning (co-learning).

While I’ve described so far about ways the concepts of co-augmentation and co-learning can be applied to education research, I am also very excited about the opposite direction. I think that research on human-AI complementarity, AI-augmented work, and AI-assisted decision-making can benefit greatly by drawing upon ideas from education and the learning sciences. A lot of the research that we’re currently working on in my group involves bringing theories and approaches from the learning sciences to bear on open challenges in this space. To give just one example: there is a body of research that aims to design systems that support human-AI complementarity—configurations of humans and AI systems that yield better outcomes than working alone. So far, this research tends to focus on human ability as if it were static, rather than centering human learning. I believe this is a major missed opportunity, given that the human ability to learn and adapt based on incredibly scarce data is at the core of many of our most impressive capabilities relative to modern AI systems.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars that are pursuing a career in human-computer interaction? 

The field of human-computer interaction brings together a wide range of different topics, disciplines, research methods, and ways of knowing. As a junior scholar, this breadth can be both exciting and overwhelming. To navigate the overwhelm, I think it can be helpful to think about the forms of impact you would like your work to have. For example, are you interested in changing the way a research community thinks about a given topic? Are you interested in creating new technologies that can empower a particular group of people to do something that they could not have (easily) done otherwise? Are you interested in informing public policy with your research? Or are you interested in some combination of all of the above? Oftentimes, I have seen junior scholars in HCI start from a specific project idea, without having a clear sense of what impacts on the world their project might have if it is successful. Working “backwards” by considering and discussing desired impacts of research earlier on in the process can help to productively guide choices of research questions, methods, and lenses.


This blog was produced by IES training program officer Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov). It is part of an Inside IES Research blog series showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

Intersecting Identities: Advancing Research for Racialized English Learners

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, in this interview blog we asked Ben Le, an IES Predoctoral Fellow at New York University and a team member of the IES-funded R&D Center on the Success of English Learners (CSEL), to discuss his career journey and research interests.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career in studying diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

My research interests center around how race/ethnicity and language intersect to create unique privileges and discrimination. I hope my research can explore different ways we can support racially and linguistically marginalized students in schools, allowing them to bring their complete selves into the classroom and to help them thrive without having to give up their familial and communal languages.

Growing up in the United States as a Vietnamese-Mexican man has motivated me to look for new ways that we can conceptualize barriers for linguistically and racially marginalized students. While English learners (ELs) are currently the primary focus of my research, I’d like to recognize that I have never been classified as an EL.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of the IES-funded NYU Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training (IES-PIRT) program, which has provided me the opportunity to  further explore and better understand racialized ELs’ access and opportunity in the classroom. My hope is that my IES-PIRT training will prepare me to work closely with local communities and organizations to enact change in our school systems. Ideally, we can build systems that truly support linguistically and racially marginalized students while offering them both access and opportunity that prepares them for life after school.

Can you tell us about your current IES-funded project?

As part of the CSEL R&D Center work, I am using a quantitative intersectional lens to highlight the importance of race/ethnicity for the diverse group of ELs in New York City public schools. I am particularly interested in how patterns of high school and college outcomes for current and former ELs vary based on race/ethnicity and gender. Focusing on 6-year graduation rates, I disaggregated my sample by race/ethnicity, gender, and ever-EL status (whether the student has ever been classified as an EL) to compare the probabilities across these subgroups and look for differential probabilities of being an ever-EL and a specific race/ethnicity. I focused on the two largest racial/ethnic groups of ELs in New York City, Asian Pacific Islander (PI) and Latine. For example, I compared the probability to graduate within 4 years between never-EL Asian/ (PI) young women to ever-EL Latino young men.

Interestingly, results, which were presented at the 2022 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, show that student probabilities for 6-year graduation are primarily organized by race/ethnicity, with Asian/PI students outperforming Latine students. Additionally, young women tend to outperform young men of their same racial/ethnic group, and in general, ever-EL status seems to matter even more for young men than young women. But these patterns do not explain away the racial/ethnic disparities seen in this New York City data. While ever-EL status matters, on aggregate, the ever-EL and never-EL differences primarily exist within racial/ethnic and gender subgroups. For example, never-EL Asian/PI young men outperform ever-EL Asian/PI young men, but ever-EL Asian/PI young men still outperform never-EL Latina young women.

Through my research, I hope to highlight the diversity and nuance within this ever-EL population, not to argue that ever-EL status does not matter. Instead, these findings have only motivated me to continue centering race/ethnicity and gender in future analyses for ELs.

What do you see as the greatest research needs to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

From my perspective, we need to center the voices and concerns of these communities, families, and students in our data collection and analysis. I think it is essential to be involved with the families and meet them where they are to find effective solutions that benefit the communities we strive to serve. We need to make sure we are uplifting underserved families’ voices instead of talking over them. Relatedly, we need data and data collection to reflect the nuances and intricacies we are trying to discuss. Hopefully, future data collection can more accurately reflect the identities of the students we study. For example, I hope we can move away from collecting data as “male/female” and have a more expansive understanding of gender identities and not reify the gender binary.

What advice would you give to graduate students from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

My first piece of advice would be to remember your own lived experiences and try to remind yourself that you do deserve to be in your graduate program. It’s easy to feel imposter syndrome—I think a lot of us do. Historically, academia and these programs were not made for us, and sadly, there is still a lot of work to be done, so that we don’t need to change to fit into these spaces. Still, these institutions and research fields benefit from our voices and perspectives. Remembering that these programs need us and that our experiences matter may be easier said than done, but I find it helpful to surround myself with fellow critical scholars and peers both within and outside of academia.

Secondly, finding community and support from peers and mentors has been absolutely crucial for my research and mental health. Doctoral programs aren’t easy; you are constantly being challenged intellectually and then you have to put your ideas and work out to be judged and critiqued. Being able to lean on friends and mentors for emotional support and to challenge and refine your research ideas is key to having a good and productive experience. I am super fortunate at NYU, through my sociology of education program and the IES-PIRT program, to have found such a caring community and supportive mentors, while also being pushed and challenged to pursue better and more critical work.


Produced by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), program officer for the English Learners portfolio, NCER.