DU PhD Student Wins Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship

meseret-hailu-office-of-graduate-studies-university-of-denverHappy week 5 everyone! You’re halfway to your well deserved winter break. This week we’re thrilled to share with you the journey of University of Denver PhD student, Meseret Hailu. Meseret was recently awarded the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship to conduct her dissertation research in Ethiopia. We had the chance to sit down with her last week and learn more about her research and application experience. Meseret is a third-year Ph.D. student enrolled in the Higher Education program in the Morgridge College of Education. Her research interests are grounded in comparative international education, with a special emphasis on gender issues in STEM programs for Black immigrant women in the U.S.

What research will you be conducting in Ethiopia for your Fulbright? In my proposed study, I question what factors lead to the persistence of women in undergraduate science and technology majors at universities in Ethiopia. To do this I will be employing the use of a sequential, exploratory mixed-methods design that requires both qualitative and quantitative methods. The qualitative portion will include recruiting 30 undergraduate women who have studied a science or technology discipline at the three specific, public universities. I will conduct semi-structured interviews with them to understand these women’s lived experiences and identify factors that have helped them succeed and graduate. The next step will be to use emerging themes from the interview transcripts to design a quantitative survey instrument. This electronic survey will be extensively distributed until responses from approximately 275 women (across all public universities) are received to ensure statistical reliability. Ultimately, this research is important because it can influence future development of education policy and highlight the resilience of women.

Who are you working with? My primary mentor and advisor is Dr. Frank Tuitt, Special Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, and Professor of Higher Education. In addition, I work with Dr. Tesfaye Semela, Professor at School of Education and Training at Hawassa University in Ethiopia. 

What steps did you take to apply for the Fulbright-Hays program? I regularly checked the International and Foreign Language Education (IFLE) listserv through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education. The application for the   Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad (DDRA) Program was open for about a month, and I worked closely with my adviser to develop a study and submit an application.

What are you looking forward to and what are some challenges you might face? I am looking forward to doing my first-large scale study, and I anticipate it will be challenging   being far away from people and resources that I can readily find on campus at DU.

What advice do you have for other students interested in applying for a Fulbright? Try to explain every stage of your research plan. Ambiguity diminishes the credibility of an application, so make sure you are clear about what you intend to do at every step of data collection and analysis. Also, subscribe to the IFLE newsletter.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Molly Sarubbi

Molly-Sarubbi-Graduate-Citings-Tales-From-the-FieldWelcome back pios! We’re so elated to have you back on campus this fall, it’s been so lonely without having your bright, shining, studious faces around here! We hope that you had wonderful and relaxing (is that possible in grad school?) summer breaks. To get you pumped up for your upcoming papers, projects, and presentations we’re excited to highlight the work of Molly Sarubbi, a PhD student in the Morgridge College of Education. She is working to break down the silos and broaden the focus surrounding the role that foster youth histories play throughout the higher education experience. Happy reading!

Researcher: Molly Sarubbi, PhD student enrolled in the Higher Education program in DU’s Morgridge College of Education. She is also a policy researcher for the Postsecondary Institute at the Education Commission of the States (ECS).

Initial Inspiration: As a foster care alumni and lifelong advocate, I am intimately aware of not only the barriers this population faces but their resounding resiliency. I am committed to sharing these narratives. In addition to experiencing prolonged abuse and maltreatment, numerous transitions, and long-term disparities in support resources, foster youth face significant obstacles to educational attainment. Of the almost 400,000 youth in the system this year, 26,000 youth will exit foster care at age 18.  Only 46% will graduate high school, and less 3% of those will go to college (AFCARS, 2015). I have seen these disparate odds play out over and over, whether it was in my own peer groups, the families I worked with as a director of an urban family YMCA, or in the advocacy role I serve through research and mentoring within the foster care system.  These youth, their voices, and their stories of persistence continue to be absent within higher education discourses, and policy agendas. The need to fill in these gaps continues inspire my own research and practice.

Current Research: My scholarship and practice focuses broadly on equity through the examination of the relationship between traditionally under-served communities, higher education, and policy. Grounded in a commitment to social justice and equity in education, I focus broadly on access for traditionally under-served students and families, with a specific emphasis on educational pathways for former foster care youth, and the resulting imperatives for higher education policy and practice.

Much of my work is grounded in asset-based collaboration with communities, and various advocacy initiatives for foster youth. I have been a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and youth mentor for 7 years, and work to help guide children through court and education systems. Similarly, I continue to build alliances across national foster youth support programs, and work to increase awareness about the educational barriers for this population.

As I continue to build my research portfolio, I work towards honing my skills as a critical, qualitative researcher, centering the resilient voices and experiences of this population.  This past summer, I collaborated on an multi-institutional, interdisciplinary project investigating the impact of mentoring programs for youth in the child welfare system. My impending dissertation work will examine the experiences of foster youth through post-secondary education. This research will begin to position foster youth narratives  within larger social, ecological, and educational systems, and highlight their resiliency and persistence in higher education.

My expertise in highlighting education attainment for foster youth has lead to my work at Education Commission of the States (ECS) as a Policy Researcher. I am currently leading a project centered on a the development of a 50 state comparative analysis of state financial aid policies that impact foster youth education attainment. A forthcoming brief, release in late October, will include a historical review of  federal and state statute,  analysis of state-based authority for policy implementation, and recommendations for best practices and policy development. Additionally, as a member of the postsecondary team, I serve as a resource for state constituents on a variety of education policy issues including free community college, organization and governance, and the college completion agenda.

Collaborators: I am currently collaborating as a research assistant with my advisor, Dr. Judy Marquez Kiyama, to understand the role of families in college transitions, the influence of funds of knowledge in family outreach programs, and  the role that low-income and families of color play in cultivating their children’s educational aspirations and ideologies. We are currently engaged in data analysis and multiple publications resulting from this work. In addition to collaborating with the higher education department faculty, and the other institute staff at ECS, I am proud to work with both local and national community-based organizations that support both families, and foster youth educational access and attainment.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenges in doing this important work are the lack of asset-based research, understanding of foster youth experiences, and opportunities for them share their counter narratives.  Research on foster youth has traditionally been siloed within fields of psychology and social work, and often only addresses the negative impact of time spent in foster care on child development and life outcomes. Beyond this focus, there is minimal literature examining the role that foster youth histories play throughout the higher education experience. This scarcity has led to narrow understandings of foster youth persistence and achievement. Furthermore, negative stigmas of individuals in foster care, their distrust in support systems, and inconsistent tracking initiatives can also make it difficult to identify these youth and subsequently share their success narratives.

Research Advice: My major piece of advice may seem obvious, but I have found it to be extremely salient in my own endeavors; do work that you are passionate about!! As an emerging scholar/researcher/practitioner, the process can be isolating. You will constantly question your abilities, feel overwhelmed, and rejection can be tough! However cliche it may sound, it really is what it takes to create real change. Be confident in the importance and potential impacts of your work. While it’s certainly difficult to not be discouraged by setbacks, you have to use the feedback as positive building blocks for moving your important work forward. Having a grounded stake in the meaning of your work helps diminish that rejection and fatigue, and of course, creating a network of people who celebrate your potential never hurts!

*Do you know of any fascinating research happening on campus? If so, send us an email at gstsm@du.edu!

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Taylor Firman

TaylorFirmanPictureWelcome to your last full month of summer vacation pios! We hope you’ve had a wonderful break and look forward to seeing your lovely faces this fall. To conclude your summer break, and get those synapses firing for Fall Quarter, we’d like to share with you the intriguing work of PhD student Taylor Firman. Taylor is exploring examining randomness in gene networks in order to shed light on previously unexplored areas of research in quantitative biology. We hope you enjoy this month’s Graduate Citings and be sure to check out Taylor’s video at the end!

Researcher: Taylor Firman, PhD student enrolled in the Molecular & Cellular Biophysics Program, active in the Physics Department

Initial Inspiration: Growing up, I was fairly obsessed with math puzzles (my mom used to catch me writing multiplication tables in the fog of our car windows), but these skills just seemed like neat parlor tricks until I took a high school physics course. To see how the fundamental nature of the world around us could be described using the basest of languages, mathematics, was fascinating and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Current Research: My current research is generally focused on the computational modeling of biology. For instance, in a previous project, we were able to recreate how a fruit fly takes its elongated shape within the embryo using computer simulations. More recently, we have been looking at the role of randomness and fluctuation within gene networks to see how they affect the overall behavior of the system. Biology is a very rich subject matter and the mathematical approach of a physicist can help to shed light on previously unexplored areas of the field.

As of this point, our research involving randomness in gene networks has been published in the Journal of Chemical Physics and we are hoping to publish more recent developments about a principle called Maximum Caliber in the next year. A manuscript about our work on simulating fruit fly morphology is working its way through the submission process and will hopefully be published within the next year as well. Ultimately, we hope that these papers and the concepts behind them will help to inform experimentalists on new directions of questioning and shed light on previously unexplored areas of research in quantitative biology.

Collaborators: My research advisor is Dr. Kingshuk Ghosh within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and in the past couple of years, we have worked very closely with Dr. Dinah Loerke (Physics) and Dr. Todd Blankenship (Biology) here at DU.

Biggest Challenge: Thus far, my biggest challenge was coming to the realization that cutting-edge science is never going to be a straight line from idea A to idea B like it’s portrayed in scientific literature. A biophysicist named Uri Alon described it perfectly as traveling through “the cloud between the known and the unknown.” Experiments are going to fail or produce data contrary to what you would expect and it will be necessary to take multiple detours to get to a new and innovative idea. This doesn’t make you a bad scientist. To get through this cloud, it requires patience, time, and lots of support from the people around you, things I’ve been lucky enough to find here at DU.

Research Advice: As I touched on earlier, my advice to future graduate students would be to realize that research truly is like “traveling through a cloud.” Equipment is going to break, ideas are going to fall apart, frustration will set in, but realize that this is all part of the process of generating innovative ideas. Enjoy the investigative nature of research, have faith in your capabilities, and stay the course.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Darren Whitfield

Darren-Whitfield-DU-Graduate-CitingsHope you had a wonderful 4th of July pios! We are excited to share with you the work of GSSW PhD candidate Darren Whitfield. Darren is exploring how internalized racism and homophobia affect risky sexual behaviors among GBQSGL Black men. Darren works with appointed faculty member Dr. Eugene Walls, who studies suicidal ideation and attempts by sexual minority youth receiving social services.

Researcher: Darren Whitfield, a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Social Work

Current Research: I am working on a community-based research project that examines the impacts of internalized racism and homophobia on the risky sexual practices of Black gay, bisexual, queer, and same-gender-loving men (GBQSGL) in several metropolitan areas. The research study aims were to understand how internalized negative attitudes about one’s marginalized identities contribute to unsafe sexual practices for Black GBQSGL men and to examine how these attitudes differ when factoring in the identity of the person’s sexual partner. The goal is to develop knowledge that may lead to the develop of HIV prevention intervention designed to address the psychosocial factors associated with HIV infections among Black GBQSGL men. I am currently finalizing a report for community partners and the results of the study will also be presented as part of my dissertation defense in May.

Collaborators: I am part of a research team that consist of Dr. Eugene Walls (Associate Professor and PhD Director), Lisa Langenderfer-Magruder, and Shanna Katz Katarri (DU PhD candidates)

Initial Inspiration: I was initialed inspired when I was conducting qualitative work on internalized stigma. In addition, being a Black gay man myself, I was motivated by the desire to give back to the community in a positive and meaningful way.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge in my research process was recruitment in the local community. I had been working with community organizations to conduct recruitment and it was difficult because there wasn’t already a connection or level of trust in the community regarding myself as a researcher. In order to build trust, I demonstrated my commitment to giving back through dissemination and working with community partners to identify other ways I could be useful to the agency and community.

Research Advice- Teamwork: My best advice is to work in a team. Teamwork provides researchers with the opportunity to collaborate, share ideas, and streamline research production.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Lacey Stein

You’ve made it to summer! Week 10 has come and gone and you now you can relax! Yeah…maybe not relax, but you know…take a cognitive break from coursework at the very least (unless you’re taking summer classes which is a different can of worms:/ ). For your reading pleasure we have brought to you our fourth issue of Graduate Citings feature PhD student Lacey Stein! Lacey is working on some groundbreaking research that utilizes Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) to explore how the normalization of Whiteness is maintained in Denver public high schools. By co-constructing knowledge with her participants, Lacey is cultivating an environment conducive for generating a dialogue and action aimed at correcting racial injustices. Be sure to check out her advice to graduate students at the end of the post!

Researcher: PhD student in the Communication Studies Department at DU

Current Research: Presently, I am conducting my dissertation research using Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) methods. CPAR practices are community-based, oriented toward social justice, and based on a design that centers research participants’ perspectives through democratic relationships between academic researchers and community members.  These non-hierarchical relationships encourage community members to become co-researchers that direct the entirety of the research process from the articulation of research questions to the dissemination of outcomes. Because CPAR allows its participants to become co-researchers, this kind of research produces not only social justice outcomes, but also creates research processes that are empowering and agentic for the individuals involved. Using this methodological approach, I am working with a collective of six high school girls in the Denver area. Together, we are examining how the normalization of Whiteness is maintained in Denver public high schools. Currently, we are in the early phases of data collection and coordinating semi-structured interviews with high school students, faculty, and administration.

This research will result in the completion of my dissertation, but beyond that, I hope to publish at least a couple co-authored articles with my research collective. We also plan to present information about our process and findings at regional and national communication studies and social justice conferences. Ultimately, one of my primary goals is to produce scholarship with my co-researchers that they can add to their resumes, college applications, and scholarship applications. In addition, we hope to take our findings out into relevant pockets of the Denver area so that we can engage community members—residents and officials alike—in dialogue and action aimed at correcting racial injustices.

Collaborators: I work with Dr. Kate G. Willink, Drs. Erin K. Willer and Roy V. Wood (who has recently retired) from the Communications Department.

Initial Inspiration: For the whole of my academic and professional career, my goal has been to use my education and skills to foster social justice in the Denver area. I gravitated toward my specific methodological approach because I firmly believe that community members themselves know how to best improve upon the conditions that surround them. My chosen approach allows me to walk the walk, so to speak, of this belief. As such, my goal has been to offer the community members with whom I am working a variety of research tools and ideas that they can use in order to correct the social injustices that affect them in their everyday lives.

Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge in my current project really comes down to the fact that there are not enough hours in the day! My project allows me to wear many hats: with my collective of co-researchers, I enact the role of facilitator, researcher, teacher, student, mentor, and friend. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be working with my co-researchers, and I am benefiting from our work together in tremendous ways that go far beyond my obvious objectives of completing my dissertation and degree requirements. A huge component of my relationship with my co-researchers is that our work together should be mutually beneficial—and that means that I support my young co-researchers in whatever ways they deem appropriate. Providing this support and living out full-fledged relationships with my co-researchers is absolutely one of my favorite pieces of my work, but relationships obviously take a lot of time in addition to carrying out the more traditional pieces of research.

Research Advice: I have a couple pieces of advice for new DU graduate students.

  1. First, I think it is so valuable to constantly be questioning your own assumptions and to have the courage to refrain from getting too comfortable in what you believe to be true. Once you become wholly attached to any one belief, it’s really hard to keep yourself open to other’s beliefs—and, in my experience, remaining open to others’ perspectives has greatly enriched my ability to engage in ethical, responsible research.
  2. Second, it may sound trite, but don’t be afraid to ask the “dumb” questions! Graduate students are often in a precarious position; because we are all trying to establish ourselves as experts in our field, we want to be taken seriously, we want to appear worthy of professional/academic job positions, etc.—but at the same time, we are here to learn, to be curious, to make mistakes, and to simply not know what to do at certain times. So, don’t be afraid to ask when you don’t know how to proceed with your work, remember all of the different, amazing resources you have available to you here, and take advantage of those resources! I think that being a student and having opportunities to learn is a phenomenal privilege, so embrace those moments during which you don’t know what to do next!

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Delma Ramos

Delma-Ramos-DUApril flowers bring…a new May installment of Graduate Citings! We are excited to highlight PhD student Delma Ramos. Delma focuses on social justice in higher education and explores systems of access and opportunity for underserved populations that stem, in part, from her experience as a first generation student. Her inspiring scholarship has led to a variety of opportunities including a summer associate position at the American Council on Education Center for Policy, Research, and Strategy!

Researcher: Delma Ramos, PhD student in the Higher Education program at DU.

Current Research: I have been involved in collaborative projects guided by both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Currently, I am participating in a study that explores the transition to college of low-income and first generation families and the systems institutions have in place to determine their involvement in their children’s college experience. Another project examines the academic trajectories of low-income, first generation women of color in racialized and sexualized academic settings.

Most recently I was invited to collaborate in two studies one which seeks to understand the role that low-income and families of color play in cultivating their children’s educational aspirations and ideologies, and one that involves the construction of a series of measures of Funds of Knowledge. I am also currently working with the Colorado Department of Higher Education on projects related to developmental education and performance metrics.  This summer, I look forward to joining the American Council on Education Center for Policy, Research, and Strategy in DC as a graduate summer associate exploring federal policies impacting higher education. Findings from at least two of the projects have been widely disseminated at forums including ASHE, NASPA, and AERA. Several publications that have emerged from this work are currently in the pipeline.

Collaborators: Most of the research inquiries I have participate(d) in are collaborations with various researchers.  In these settings, I play different roles as part of the research process from proposal development to finding dissemination and the creation of recommendations. These partnerships have taken place within the University of Denver, primarily with my academic advisor Dr. Judy Marquez Kiyama and with colleagues from outside organizations including the University of Missouri, the University of California-Los Angeles, Teachers College, the Denver Scholarship Foundation, RAND Corporation, and the Education Commission of the States.

Initial Inspiration: My research interests include access, retention, and graduation from higher education institutions, with an emphasis on underserved populations. Additionally, I focus on the assessment of programs with similar foci and on issues pertaining to educational quality and inclusive pedagogies in higher education, with a special interest in measure development. Philosophically, my research agenda is driven by my passionate commitment to social justice and my vision for a more inclusive and accessible higher education system. My research interests are further strengthened by my background as a first generation student and my exposure to scholars who study inequities in higher education as influenced by economic, social, and political contexts.

Biggest Challenge: As a woman of color, my biggest challenge has been to identify support systems that strengthen my ability to persist and succeed in my program at DU. My support network is composed of colleagues within and outside of DU as well as family and friends outside of Higher Ed.

Research Advice- Make Connections: I have found networking to be a very effective tool to access a wide array of research and other professional development opportunities.  Reach out to those people you would like to work with, you’ve got nothing to lose!


Cannabis Curriculum- DU’s Marijuana Summit


Marijuana legalization is no longer just the topic idealistic undergraduates write about in their English 101 courses. What wasn’t relevant (or legal) four years ago is now a hot topic in today’s academic institutions. Marijuana startups, entrepreneurship, journalism, technological innovations, mental and physical health, and law representation are all important subjects being discussed and addressed in classrooms across the University of Denver. Some ways DU has brought marijuana into the academic conversation is through course offerings. Sturm College of Law now offers Representing the Marijuana Client, the first course of its kind to offer training to neophyte lawyers “to work directly with the cannabis industry.” In the fall of 2015 the Media, Film, and Journalism Studies department offered Cannabis Journalism, allowing upper level undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to examine medical and recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado.

Jumping on the timely aspects of marijuana legalization, DU’s Center for Professional Development (CPD) and Sturm College have teamed up to offer DU’s first ever Marijuana Summit. I had the opportunity to chat with CPD’s Assistant Director, Shannon Gray, to learn more about this event and what you can expect to learn about during tomorrow’s sessions.

Highlight the Expertise on Campus

All the panelists that will be represented on the panel discussions are experts on cannabis and will be able to provide insights into the current state of marijuana’s effects as well as provide predictions on what to expect in the future. We’re also lucky to have one of the nation’s leading marijuana regulation experts right in our own backyard. Sam Kamin, the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Sturm College of Law, will be the summit’s keynote speaker and panelist for the law/business track workshop to discuss marijuana regulation at the federal, state, and local levels.

Address Current Issues as They Happen

Have you ever felt that higher education often moves at glacial speeds when it comes to real-time germane issues of our society? The CPD and Sturm College of Law acknowledged this complication by providing the summit; a place where the DU community can come together to discuss marijuana’s influence in Colorado at a time that makes sense. Marijuana is such a new and rich topic that effects a wide variety of research fields that there is a need to provide a place for timely discussion.

Promote Interdisciplinary Collaboration

One of the purposes for the formulation of DU’s CPD was to set an example for interdisciplinary partnerships across campus, and this summit is a great demonstration of partnerships put to good use. The Marijuana Summit was created in partnership with Sturm College of Law and in affiliation with the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, the Graduate School of Social Work, University College, and Morgridge College of Education. This year professionals from the law, business, psychology, and biology fields will be represented, allowing for attendees to view marijuana from a multifaceted/interdisciplinary lens.

This year’s summit is broken down into two tracks, both of which offer two workshops sessions comprised of three panelists. The panels will run for 1 hour and 15 minutes including time for Q & A. Both tracks will focus on marijuana’s influence on research and legislation. Here is a little bit more about each track:

  • Law/business- Sturm College of Law
    • Marijuana regulation at the federal, state and local levels (3 panelists)
    • 50 Shades of Green- This session will highlight how marijuana legalization has effected local business (3 panelists)
  • Psychology/biology- Lindsay Auditorium in Sturm Hall (across Driscoll Green)
    • Mental health and marijuana (3 panelists)
    • Biological effects of marijuana (3 panelists)

The summit is tomorrow, and while free tickets are no longer available, students can register for one of the tracks for $10 (which includes lunch from Pasquinis!). If you have any insights to share about this historic event we’d love to hear about them in the comments!