Month: December 2018

Staying in Storrs: Ed.D. Alumna, Dana Ziter

The University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) is fortunate to have well-connected alumni who continue to work with the university, post-graduation or some who have returned after years of work in diverse professional settings. The “Staying in Storrs” highlights our talented EDLR program alumni and the work they are currently doing with UConn.  This feature focuses on the Ed.D. Educational Leadership Program.

Dana Ziter is an academic advisor in the UConn School of Engineering for the Computer Science & Engineering department. She is not only an alumna who has “Stayed in Storrs” upon completing her degree, but she concurrently held a full-time position at the University during her tenure in the Ed.D. Educational Leadership Program.

Dana Ziter with student
Dana Ziter coaches Computer Science student, Sean Kaufman (Class of 2021), during freshman orientation session

Ziter began her professional career at UConn in June of 2014 as a Program Assistant with the School of Engineering. In 2015, she began her academic career with the university– entering into the Ed.D. Program. Approximately a year into the program, she moved into her current role as an advisor after she got to know the advising team through their use of the Computer Lab during orientation sessions. One of the previous advisors, who was leaving, recognized Ziter’s potential and encouraged her to apply for the position. After the successful defense of her capstone in 2018 and completion of the Ed.D. program, she was prepared for increased responsibility, and received a promotion to an Academic Advisor II status. She is confident that her doctoral degree has prepared her to take on larger leadership roles and continue an upward career trajectory.

Balancing student life with a professional career at the University was not always an easy feat, but through the support of her program cohort and the Educational Leadership faculty, she excelled in her coursework and research. She specifically credits Dr. Jennie Weiner, who was a consistent source of reassurance that she could be successful in both the program and her research. She also thanks her direct supervisors, George Assard, who supervised her during her role as a Program Assistant, as well as her current supervisor, Whitney Losapio, for supporting her career growth in every way possible. Additionally, her current advising teammates were critical supporters– allowing her to interview them for specific projects and use some of their day-to-day situations as part of her coursework and research.

“Both working in an institution and experiencing life as a student has provided me with priceless experiences as a leader, team member, student, facilitator, and most importantly as a listener. Many of our students just need to be heard and it has taken some diligent work on my part to be patient in listening– not just immediately jumping to possible solutions.”  -Dana Ziter

Ziter was able to integrate her professional career with her capstone research as part of the Ed.D. Program, focusing on revising the University Academic Probation protocol and completing a research project on student grade outcomes in correlation with the revision. For this project, she used a regression discontinuity model to analyze the data– a complex model that she never imagined she was capable of. During her time in the program, she also got multiple opportunities to present her work on advising struggling students. She presented at the Region 1 NACADA CT Drive-In conference and annual UConn faculty advisor conference.

She is extremely thankful for the opportunities that her research provided as it allowed her to build connections with advisors and faculty members throughout the university. In working with the University Director of Advising, Dr. Katrina Higgins, on her capstone research she has been able to take on additional projects for the department, bringing insight from her professional and academic career to solve a diverse array of problems.

Overall, Ziter’s experiences both as a student and a professional have been extremely valuable, and she looks forward to the growth opportunities at UConn that her Ed.D. degree has made available.  

RESEARCH Series: Engaged Scholarship

Engaged Scholarship: "It is about working in solidarity alongside the community members.  It is about co-constructing knowledge with communities.  It is about viewing scholarship as an act of resistance" -Quote by Dr. Erica Fernandez

“Engaged scholarship, as I conceptualize it, takes time and dedication. It is about building relationships and confianza (trust) with community members.  It is about working in solidarity alongside community embers. It is about co-constructing knowledge with communities. It is about viewing scholarship as an act of resistance,” describes Dr. Erica Fernández on the challenge of using scholarship as a form of engagement. A challenge, that Dr. Fernández demonstrates a strong commitment to—promoting school justice and equity through her research.

Dr. Erica Fernandez headshot
Dr. Erica Fernández

One of her current research projects, in collaboration with Dr. Michele Femc-Bagwell, employs photovoice to understand the parental engagement experiences of Parents of Color, specifically undocumented Latinx immigrant parents, in urban schools in Connecticut. Photovoice is a qualitative research method in which community participants use pictures to identify and represent issues that are important to them. Dr. Fernández and Dr. Femc-Bagwell provided  access to cameras for the parents in the study to capture visual representations of how they conceptualize acts of parental engagement in their kids’ schools. The research is currently established in two urban schools in the state with plans to expand. They are also planning on integrating teacher and administrator perceptions of parental engagement to form a comprehensive narrative analysis.

Dr. Fernández’s work goes beyond the traditional role of a researcher as she engages and works alongside Parents of Color. She does not just “study” Parents of Color, she works directly with them to make research decisions including design, analysis and the presentation of findings. Through this process, she is able to give study participants a role in the co-construction of knowledge and a voice in the issues directly affecting them.

“By centering the schooling engagement experiences of People and Communities of Color, I provide counternarratives that disrupt and refute harmful deficit ideologies that perpetuate inequities in and around schools.”

– Dr. Fernández on her goals of fighting systematic oppression and furthering educational equity through research

This work is particularly meaningful for Dr. Fernández as her parents were undocumented Mexican immigrants. This personal connection to her work has served as a source of motivation and inspiration, driving her to empower and broaden opportunities for Spanish-speaking Latinx immigrant parents through her research. However, her motivation for this area of research is not only because it is familiar, but also because the experiences of undocumented Latinx immigrant parents are historically underreported in academic literature. By amplifying their narratives, she is able to humanize their existence and advocate on their behalf – demonstrating a steadfast commitment to social justice in the face of current anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.

Over the past eight years, Dr. Fernández has added to larger conversations surrounding educational equity, presenting her work at conferences such as the University Council of Educational Administrators (UCEA), the American Education Research Association (AERA), and the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) conference. However, with her current research, she is taking engagement to the next level as she presented alongside some of the undocumented Latinx parents that she has worked with at a national conference. By engaging with Parents of Color, she is able to leverage resources to parents, giving them a channel in which to tell their story and influence policymakers. Community-engaged research is not only disrupting traditional notions of scholarship, its authenticity is inspirational. The Department of Educational Leadership is incredibly grateful to have faculty like Dr. Fernández, who show an immense passion and dedication to their work and the communities that their work serves.

Lessons from the Field: Dr. Kari Taylor

Dr. Kari Taylor, Assistant Professor-in-Residence and Program Director of the UConn HESA program, says her path in the field of higher education and student affairs started in her freshman year of college – although she didn’t know it at the time. As a high school student she had a passion for journalism, and she decided to leave her home state of Kansas to pursue an undergraduate degree in magazine journalism at the University of Missouri. As an incoming student, she took part in the university’s Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs) program, in which small groups of first-year students live in the same residence hall and take three classes together. She ended up loving the FIGs program, especially the faculty who served as facilitators within the FIGs . “When I got to college, I was looking for an experience of advanced learning, so I was struck by the number of teachers who were giving very standard lectures and then getting back to their research,” says Taylor. “The FIGs teachers were really focused on teaching and learning, and I appreciated that.”

By her junior year, Taylor had become a peer advisor in the FIGs program, and she found herself wanting to spend more time on those responsibilities than in the newsroom. “I liked reporting and writing, but I was always more excited thinking about how to have conversations with residents in my living-learning community, how to design the curriculum for the extended orientation course I was helping teach,” says Taylor. It was then that she started looking into a master’s degree in the field of higher education and student affairs.

Her search led her to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The school was farther away from home than she ever imagined herself going, but it offered a unique graduate assistantship as the editorial assistant for a higher education and student affairs publication. In addition to her assistantship, the Miami curriculum allowed Taylor to specialize in college student development and college student cultures, a combination which she found “really exciting.” After graduating with her master’s degree, she took a position in Miami University’s Honors Program. She found the role to be diverse and dynamic, and because she kept “finding ways to grow and develop,” she chose to hone her professional practice there for seven years.

Toward the end of her tenure at Miami, Taylor found herself wrestling with some difficult questions. She found herself asking: how do diverse college students develop at a predominantly white institution? And are we doing enough to prepare students for a fulfilling life after college?  “Students could do everything right: honors, straight A’s, a long list of co-curricular activities, and be well suited to go off to graduate school or pursue any position they wanted,” says Taylor, “but they hadn’t really thought about who they were or what they really valued.”

High GPA alone, she realized, would not set students up for success in the “real world” and, in fact, might set them up to have some real challenges.

Her desire to investigate these questions further led her to a Ph.D. program at The Ohio State University. She started the program thinking she wanted to return to undergraduate administration, but along the way she found herself drawn to preparing graduate students for the field and conducting research. As she prepared to return to full-time work within higher education and student affairs, she started looking for a faculty position within a cohort-based master’s program that emphasized the connection between classroom and practice. UConn met this criterion, and the program director role had the component of leadership and vision-setting for a program that excited her. So in the fall of 2017, Dr. Taylor came to UConn.

Broadly, Taylor’s research focuses on college students’ processes of learning and meaning-making. Her Ph.D. dissertation, which was a case study involving a civic engagement course, investigated students’ capacity to develop what scholars term “critical consciousness.” Developing students’ capacity for critical consciousness, says Taylor, means not only helping students learn about who they are but also about who they are in society, amidst systems of privilege and oppression. “I hope my research helps administrators understand that there’s a difference between promoting intercultural understanding and critical consciousness,” says Taylor.

“We focus a great deal on intercultural understanding, perhaps because it can be a little less politically charged. But I hope my research will show that critical consciousness is equally important in preparing our students for the diverse democracies that they will live and learn in, both in and beyond college.”

At UConn, Taylor continues to enrich the field of higher education and students affairs with her scholarship and teaching. The through line of all of her work, says Taylor, is learning. The specifics, however, are always evolving, and she knows that she won’t pursue the same topic for the rest of her life. Staying curious and relevant is crucial to who she is as a scholar, a practitioner, and a teacher.

“We’re always trying to prepare students for a world that isn’t yet here, that we don’t yet live in,” says Taylor. “This places a responsibility on us and also an opportunity to keep asking new and different questions.”