Program to increase diversity in education research receives $1.37M grant
September 01, 2021
Sacramento State’s Pathways Fellows program since 2016 has prepared 55 students and young alumni, nearly all of them underrepresented minorities, to pursue graduate and doctoral studies in educational research.
That work will continue behind a $1.37 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to fund the program for another five years. The grant will support an additional 40-48 fellows and help increase the number of educational researchers from traditionally underrepresented groups.
Sac State is one of just six colleges and universities nationwide to receive the grant, which is available only to campuses designated as Minority Serving Institutions.
The new funding is a testament to the program’s success in preparing underrepresented students for graduate school and beyond, said Jana Noel, a professor of Education and project director for Sac State’s Pathways Fellows program.
“A strength for our particular program is that we place fellows in apprenticeship sites all around the Sacramento area, and as the capital of California, there’s a lot of research and policy that goes on here,” she said. “I think that sets us apart.”
Noel also serves as the program’s co-principal investigator alongside Professor of Ethnic Studies Timothy Fong and Associate Professor of Sociology Jacqueline Brooks.
“You’re often trained in one discipline, and you think that’s the norm. Working with someone else opens your eyes on how to approach research.” - Tseng Vang, Pathways Fellow
The Pathways Fellows program works to increase diversity in educational research by providing fellows with research training, faculty mentorship, grad school coaching, and full-time, stipend-supported summer apprenticeships at Sacramento-area research and policy centers.
The program’s research theme is “Studying Supports and Barriers To and Through Higher Education,” and fellows examine the inequities underrepresented students face as they progress through K-12 and higher education. It is open to upper-division undergraduates and graduate students as well as recent graduates, and prepares them for doctoral programs and to conduct educational research – that is, any academic research geared toward improving education at all levels.
All but two fellows who have completed the program come from underrepresented backgrounds, as do 90% of faculty research mentors. Fellows have come from 15 departments across four colleges at Sac State, and nearly 70% have entered graduate school, with 10 currently in doctoral programs.
Increasing diversity in research is important, Noel said, because it expands the number of perspectives from which research is approached, matching the growing diversity of the student population.
“A common question might be, ‘What kind of after-school program should we offer?’” she said. “A person who has had some barriers in their lives – they were underrepresented, had some struggles – wouldn't say, ‘What kinds of programs would we offer?’ They would say, ‘How can we reduce some of the barriers that our students are facing that make it so that they can't even attend those after school-programs?’ ”
Tseng Vang was a graduate Psychology student at Sac State and a member of the Pathways Fellows program’s first cohort. Now a doctoral student at UC Davis, he said the program’s interdisciplinary nature – including the fact that his faculty mentor was outside the field of psychology – helped prepare him for doctoral studies and a career in research.
“Learning from someone else that has a different discipline really taught me a lot about being really patient and understanding different perspectives,” Vang said. “You’re often trained in one discipline, and you think that’s the norm. Working with someone else opens your eyes on how to approach research.”
Vang credits his summer apprenticeship with the Sacramento County Office of Education with further broadening his perspective, bringing him outside academia and into policy and government.
There are also crucial practical benefits to being a Pathways Fellow, Vang said. The program provides funding for what he called the “hidden costs” of graduate school and doctoral program applications, for example, which add up and can create a barrier to further studies.
“I wouldn't have been able to apply to all the doctoral programs I applied to if I didn't have the funding from the Pathways program,” he said.
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