Month: March 2019

Courses and Curriculum: EDLR 5105

UConn’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) offers a rich and diverse curriculum that prepares both undergraduate and graduate students to be educational leaders in our ever-changing world. The “Courses and Curriculum” series highlights innovative courses within EDLR’s catalog that are changing the education game for the better.  

The Department of Educational Leadership’s (EDLR) master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) boasts a robust curriculum that prepares students to be well-rounded and reflective student affairs practitioners. EDLR 5105: Structured Group Dialogue in Student Affairs is both an innovative and integral part of the HESA curriculum, giving students a space to consider how dialogue, and intergroup dialogue specifically, can be a tool to explore  their own racial identity and socialization, as well as the identities and processes of socialization of others. Students in the course are continually asked to reflect on the personal, professional, and educational implications of their learning. These insights and processes help the students learn how to dialogue with others who have varying perspectives given their own identities and socialization– a much-needed process on college campuses today.

Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya headshot
Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya

Students in EDLR 5105 engage in dialogue with each other as an entire class as well as in smaller, intra-class groups. One of the major aspects of the course is the Intergroup Collaboration Project (ICP), which, as the closing project for the course, encourages action as a result of learning. Students work alongside their cohort members in assigned groups to create visual representations of their learning, specifically around race and intergroup dialogue in student affairs practice. Through the ICP projects, students dialogue across differences to arrive at an understanding of that year’s selected theme: in 2016, the theme was “allyship;” in 2017 it was “social responsibility;” and in 2018 it was “disrupting race talk.” These visual representations are then shared with the larger UConn community in the form of a HESA Gallery Walk, which engages the larger UConn community in dialogue about race and higher education.  

The course is co-taught by Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya (she/her/hers) and Danielle DeRosa (she/her/hers). It was Castillo-Montoya who lead the charge several years ago to update HESA’s existing groups-based course. As part of her research on teaching in higher education, she had begun to explore intergroup dialogue, and in the winter of 2015 she was part of a six-person UConn delegation that attended the University of Michigan’s intergroup dialogue training program. Upon her return, she worked with the department chair to incorporate her valuable training into the course, which was first offered in its renovated form in the fall of 2016. The course, which follows the University of Michigan model, is co-taught by design: its two instructors have different social identities which are aligned with focus of the course. In UConn HESA’s case, the central focus of the course is race.

The course is divided into four phases: Forming and Building Relationships, Exploring Differences and Commonalities of Experience, Exploring and Dialoguing About Contentious Issues, and Alliance Building and Social Responsibility. In each phase, says DeRosa, students are both learners and teachers: “My favorite part of teaching this course is learning with and from our students.  Students in the HESA program think deeply about the ways in which college campuses can be more inclusive. As a community, we are each able to contribute from our own unique perspectives and lived experiences.”

Castillo-Montoya reaffirms the importance of bringing one’s unique identities and experiences to the course. “My lived experience as a Latina, first-generation college graduate from a low-income background informs my teaching of this course. So does my research expertise in teaching and learning in higher education,” says Castillo-Montoya. “From these experiences, I understand that the content of the course isn’t something ‘out there’ to be learned; it is inside each of us as we unpack our own assumptions and understandings about ourselves, others, and society relative to race. Then we can consider how those things impact our practice”

Danielle DeRosa headshot
Danielle DeRosa

For DeRosa, her experience working with Husky Sport, a campus-community partnership between UConn and a community in the North End of Hartford, has been important to her ability to complexly and responsibly co-teach this course. “I have had to examine my own positionality as a white woman engaged in work in a neighborhood mostly comprised of people of color. I’ve had to do a lot of the work that we are asking our students to do in the course, and this is work that I continue to invest in; the process of learning about and unlearning our own socialization never ends. It can be helpful to share the journey of understanding my own racial identity as I connect with students.”

Kayla Moses (she/her/hers, HESA ‘20), a student in the course this past fall, says she has learned a great deal about the impact of socialization and the power of her identity. “Within the context of this course, I became more aware of how the world around us, along with our personal stories, can impact the way that we think and develop,” says Moses. “I became more aware of my position as a woman of color and how that has affected my learning. This course allowed me to not only expand my understanding of how my identity can help me relate to my current and future students of color, but also to realize that sharing the load with white peers and colleagues is the only way that this work can be done effectively.”

Fellow student Steven Feldman (he/him/his, HESA ‘20) says that the course opened his eyes to important differences between one-on-one and group dialogue. “In one-on-one conversations, it is more difficult to avoid or disengage from conversations about race, but in group conversations, it is easier to fall into racialized scripts of behavior,” says Feldman. “When this happens, white folks like me tend to stay silent either because we do not feel like we have the tools to talk about race yet or because we are experiencing the discomfort of talking about race. This course challenged me to reflect on my identities and consider the consequences of my words and behaviors in group contexts.”

Students at the 2018 HESA Gallery Walk

Castillo-Montoya and DeRosa, who just completed their third year teaching this course together, say it was their best co-teaching semester yet. Along with several of their students, they recently presented on the course at the 2019 ACPA (College Student Educators International) Annual Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. “Having this course makes UConn HESA one of only a handful of programs in the country that includes education on intergroup dialogue as part of their curriculum for future higher education and student affairs practitioners,” says Castillo-Montoya. “Practitioners in the field are increasingly competent in social justice and inclusion, and we want our graduates to be well prepared for their work with diverse students on diverse college campuses.”

“EDLR as a department has supported the development of this course from the outset,” says department head Dr. Jennifer McGarry. “We sent several faculty members to participate in the intergroup dialogue training at the University of Michigan, supported time and space to share about that experience, and encouraged the faculty who took part to integrate their learning with other opportunities to study, participate in, and lead dialogue about race. EDLR is committed to the course, the instructors, and the students: we see this teaching and learning as integral to who we are and what we value.” EDLR 5105 aligns with the Department of Educational Leadership’s mission to “inspire and cultivate innovative leaders for positive change” and Neag’s mission to develop leaders dedicated to improving education for all. The Department of Educational Leadership is proud to have talented teachers such as Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Danielle DeRosa doing the important work of opening and deepening dialogue on college campuses and beyond.


Humans of HESA: Alfredo Ramirez

Alfredo Ramirez (HESA ‘19) didn’t begin his undergraduate career thinking he would eventually pursue a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs. But thanks to his undergraduate experience at Montclair State University, Ramirez realized he had a passion for the field. As an undergraduate, he was actively involved in a host of student clubs and organizations such as residential life, student government, student programming, the student leadership office, and many more. These experiences led Ramirez to his current path in UConn’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) master’s program.

Ramirez has a busy schedule in the HESA program, including coursework, a faculty-led mentorship, and a graduate assistantship. In his assistantship for the Department of Student Activities-Leadership and Organizational Development, Ramirez works one-on-one with UConn students as they complete their undergraduate experience and transition into the next phase of their lives. “I enjoy getting to support my students and watching their growth as leaders from day one of the semester to the last day of the year. There is a special component of watching some of my students graduate and prepare to take the next steps in their journey, and it means so much to me that they allow me to be a part of their journey,” says Ramirez.

Balancing school and the rest of his life can be a challenge, says Ramirez. At the end of the day, though, Ramirez is thankful for the opportunity to build relationships with other members of his HESA cohort and to improve himself as a professional in this field. Ramirez says that his HESA cohort, faculty, and his advisor Dr. Castillo-Montoya have been an enormous source of support, in school and beyond, as well as his family, fiancee, and friends.

While the majority of his time is dedicated to HESA, Ramirez makes sure to spend time with friends and family. Originally from New Jersey, Ramirez enjoys exploring New England’s unique attractions: watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park, eating an authentic lobster roll, and visiting local breweries. Ramirez’s favorite local spot is the popular diner the Cosmic Omelette in Manchester, CT. Ramirez also enjoys baking, reading, and theatre. Nevertheless, says Ramirez, “it’s important to come back to these little things– they ground you.”

To prospective HESA students, Ramirez notes that graduate school is not easy: “In order to really learn, you have to know that you want to come here. You have to really want it– it can’t just be for fun.” Ramirez likens graduate school to being behind the scenes at an amusement park: “when you step from a student leadership position out of undergrad into a masters student affairs program, you go from being a participant of all the great things a park has to offer to the person who is making the decisions which can be a tough transition for folks. The process though is worth it.”

When faced with challenges, Ramirez urges students to keep an open mind in all areas of their personal and professional lives. “Navigating the system can be difficult at times,” he says. “It’s important to maintain your own sense of self and allow your personal values to flourish in the many relationships you will build.” Ramirez reminds students to “not be afraid to change or ask yourself questions. This is what grad school is all about.”

Staying in Storrs: Adult Learning Alumnus, Kevin Thompson, Ph.D.

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

Dr. Kevin Thompson, Assistant Professor in Residence in the UConn School of Business’ Management Department, is no newcomer to the UConn community: he is also an alumnus. He earned his Ph.D. in Adult Learning from the Neag School of Education and decided to bring his expertise back to UConn to work with the next generation of business professionals.

Dr. Kevin ThompsonAfter 30 years in the corporate world and earning a Ph.D., Thompson decided to leave his senior management position and return to Storrs to share his skills and knowledge with business students. He says he hopes to provide students with the same experiences and opportunities he received during his time as a student. Thompson’s mission to help students achieve success is clear in his research.

“My research focuses on how to enhance learning for the millennial generation and how service-learning impacts career success,” says Thompson.

Using his research as a foundation, Thompson has introduced experiential, project-based learning to the Business School curriculum. In December of 2018, Thompson was awarded the UConn Provost Award for Engaged Scholarship for Non-Tenure Track Faculty, which recognized his dedication to pairing community engagement and student success.

During his time as a Ph.D. student in the Adult Learning Program, Thompson said he wrote a paper that compared and contrasted adult learning scholarship and practice. Ever since that paper, he has been fascinated by the role scholarly research plays in improving lives and increasing student success. Thompson says his experience as a UConn student played a big role in his professional success. “I find that relationships can be even more important for career success than your level of technical expertise,” says Thompson. “In my Ph.D. program, I was able to develop relationships with both other students and faculty that are an essential part of my support network to this day.”

Thompson says that the most fulfilling part of his faculty position is the regular experience of engaging with students and helping them achieve their learning and career goals. “Not a day goes by that this effort does not bring me satisfaction,” says Thompson. “It drives me to try to create an even more valuable experience for the students I teach.”

Overall, Thompson describes his UConn experience as “inspired” and says that it’s important to take opportunities to pause and reflect on one’s life and career.

“It is heartwarming and inspiring to know that I’ve come to a place in my career where I can leverage all that’s been given to me for the benefit of UConn students.”

Joseph Cooper Releases New Book: From Exploitation Back to Empowerment

The Neag School of Education covers Sport Management’s Dr. Joseph Cooper, who recently released a new book, From Exploitation Back to Empowerment: Black Male Holistic (Under)Development Through Sport and (Mis)Education which was inspired by his research on the intersection between sport, education, race, and culture and the impact of sport involvement on the holistic development of Black male athletes.  Read the full story here.

Staying in Storrs: Ed.D. Alumna Joins PK-3 Leadership Program

The University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership is fortunate to have well-connected alumni who continue to work with the university post-graduation or who have returned after years of work in diverse professional settings. The “Staying in Storrs” series highlights our talented EDLR program alumni and the work they are currently doing with UConn. This feature focuses on the PK-3 Leadership Program and Ed.D. Program.

Ed.D. student Tayarisha Stone is writing down strategies on a large yellow post-it, during her time in the Ed.D. Program
Tayarisha Stone-Batchelor engages in classroom activities while obtaining her Ed.D. degree. Photo credit: Shawn Kornegay/Neag School of Education

This March, Dr. Tayarisha Stone-Batchelor, Principal of Rawson STEAM School in Hartford, CT, will return to her alma mater at the University of Connecticut to co-facilitate the latest module for the PK-3 Leadership Program.  Stone-Batchelor will be teaching alongside her Ed.D. classmate and returning PK-3 instructor, Dr. Roszena Haskins.

The Leading for Equity, Excellence, and Early Success module focuses on the critical components of leadership inside schools, the community, and across government and private agencies. Stone-Batchelor’s experience in the education field is extensive and includes a doctorate in education from The Department of Educational’s Ed.D. program. She graduated in 2017, and during her time as a student was actively involved with her cohort, which enabled her to strengthen her leadership skills by working with different students both inside and outside of her classroom experiences. She shares the most important part of being a leader is being able to be collaborative.

“To be successful in partnerships, it is imperative to have people working together, listening to other voices, and most importantly, being open to hearing other views.” – Tayarisha Stone-Batchelor

Stone-Batchelor used the strong leaderships skills she developed while in the Neag program to build and sustain positive relationships like the one with EDLR’s Husky Sport Program, an in-school and after-school program geared towards engaging Hartford youth through healthy nutrition, positive life skills and physical literacy.

In addition to her work and experience at UConn, Stone-Batchelor has been the principal of Rawson Elementary School in Hartford for the last 8 years. She was interested in working in an urban district to apply her expertise in developing a new model that would ensure all students have equal access and can compete for future jobs.  As the principal, Stone-Batchelor strives to give her students STEM opportunities that fully immerse and engage them. Stone-Batchelor’s efforts towards improving urban schools goes hand in hand with the passion she has for using her platform to become a voice for minorities. In February of 2019, she was recognized by the Voices of Women of Color earning the Trailblazer award for providing Women of Color with leadership skills that lead to employment opportunities and success in their communities.   

Because of Neag’s integral role in her success as an administrator, Stone-Batchelor has decided to return to Storrs. She hopes to give others the same experience she had, share what she has learned, and encourage and inspire others who undecided on their career path. She says that she made the decision to come back and teach at Neag because she sees that education has an impact on students and she wants to be a part of it. Specifically, Stone-Batchelor is excited to work with adult leaders, serving PK-3 aged students. 

What sets this program apart from others, says Stone-Batchelor, is that Neag’s PK-3 program uses modules that bring together an expert panel as a means to incorporate all perspectives and create a bigger picture for educators.  She believes it is important to expose educators to strategies that she has picked up in her time working in an urban district and she plans to implement the whole-child perspective which focuses on considering the child’s family as well stating,

“We’ve danced around the achievement gap for over a decade now,” she says. “We need to look at programs that partner with families early on so that we can break down the barriers early.”

Throughout her career, Stone-Batchelor has always kept a certain question in mind: how do we sustain what we have built so far and make it better? As she takes on this new role as PK-3 instructor, Stone-Batchelor says she finally hopes to be able to answer that question.

Student-Professional Feature: Sarhanna Smith

Sarhanna Smith, a student in the Executive Leadership Program (ELP) at the University of Connecticut, works hard to maintain an academic and professional career as both a full-time student and Principal of Read School in Bridgeport, CT. Smith’s teaching journey began in 1994 with her very first teaching position in grade three in Washington, DC, and then teaching first and second grades at an interdistrict magnet school in Connecticut run by Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES). She later taught older students who were identified as struggling readers. After earning her Master of Science in Reading in 2003, Smith became a literacy coach for the interdistrict magnet school. Through her work as a literacy coach, she worked with a district-wide committee to co-author the Scientific Research Based Interventions (SRBI) plan for the school district. In 2012, as a student in the UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP), Smith earned her sixth-year diploma in educational leadership and became assistant principal of Thomas Edison Magnet School in Meriden, CT from 2011 to 2013, then of Hamden High School in Hamden, CT from 2013 to 2014. She has been principal of Read School since 2014.

Sarhanna Smith in front of art wall

Smith’s commitment to education goes above and beyond teaching. She is actively engaged with district-wide committees, teacher organizations, and she challenges Connecticut to take action towards social change. Working to make her district stronger by “focusing beyond just the school level,” as Smith says, is vital in her success as an administrator. Another of Smith’s pursuits is part of Educators for Excellence-CT, a teacher-led organization out of Bridgeport, CT, whose objective is to make different routes to certification fair and accessible to teachers of color. In its beginning stages, Smith had the privilege of taking part in the creation of Educators for Excellence-CT’s policy paper, which has already grabbed the attention of the CT legislature and governor. But attention, Smith notes, is not enough: social change and action are needed to give qualified teachers of color access to available teaching positions. Smith is a firm believer that students learn best when exposed to content they can identify with and as a result, are able to connect to teachers who care about them, share and respect their social identities, and represent a more diverse population of educators. 

To other student-professionals, Smith emphasizes the importance of building a strong support network and connecting with others within your professional cohort. Smith advises other working mothers like herself to never give up and seek the support of peers and professionals within your cohort. As a student-professional, Smith understands the importance of time management. She believes she is strengthened both as a professional and as an individual pursuing a career in executive leadership as well as continuing her education as a full-time student. By holding a leadership position, Smith sees it a priority to be an example of hard work and ethics to her students. Smith says,

“Young people are constantly watching and learning from the adults around them”

and as a result, you are responsible for setting a good example for your students as well as for other up-and-coming professionals in the field. 

Whether it’s principal, student, or committee work, she admits,

“There’s never a time when I have no work to do.”

RESEARCH Series: Research to Practice

Research to Practice: "There's a great deal of work being done to improve schools, to make sure that every child has access to positive educational opportunities every day.  I want to make that all more feasible" - Quote by Dr. Sarah Woulfin

For Dr. Sarah Woulfin, the bridge between research and practice is well-traveled. Now in her fifth year of collecting data as part of a research-practice partnership (RPP) with Hartford Public Schools, Woulfin says creating an open dialogue between research and practice is at the core of her work.

“I want to try to answer questions that people in the field really care about, questions grounded in real-world issues,” she says. “There’s a great deal of work being done to improve schools, to make sure that every child has access to positive educational opportunities every day. I want to make that all more feasible. Increasing and understanding the doability of reform, preventing overload: those are the big picture goals.” – Dr. Sarah Woulfin

Dr. Sarah Woulfin headshot
Dr. Sarah Woulfin

Broadly, Woulfin’s current research seeks to understand implementation of reforms in educational systems, especially within urban districts. As school districts work to improve, they often use many levers: updating curricula, meeting state accountability goals, implementing new attendance policies and teacher evaluation methods, and more. Woulfin’s research asks: how do both district and school leaders cope with this mixture of reform pressures? How do districts support teachers in the midst of these reforms? How can districts avoid what Woulfin calls the “too-muchness” of reform?

In her partnership with Hartford Public Schools, Woulfin is able to explore these questions in real time and from many different angles. RPPs are necessarily dynamic, says Woulfin, and her role is continually shifting. Early in the partnership, for example, she was interested in understanding how Hartford was implementing Common Core standards, a national educational initiative that was adopted by Connecticut in 2010. She learned that the district was mostly using instructional coaches for implementation, so she started researching instructional coaches’ roles and responsibilities in Hartford Public Schools – what kinds of support they received, where they were struggling, and so on. Soon, Woulfin started sitting in on professional development sessions for teachers, offering an extra set of hands and and quick-cycle feedback for the coaches. “It’s an interesting dance,” says Woulfin. “I don’t have authority in that sphere, so what I can do is increase access to useful materials, share my experience from other districts, and be a transporter for different techniques.”

Woulfin’s data collection focuses on the instructional coaches and teachers who are experiencing the reforms and the professional development activities: how they experience the reforms and professional development, what they find challenging, and how the daily realities in their school buildings make it easier or harder to take on the tasks that are expected of them. Within the framework of the RPP, Woulfin is able to put her findings in practice in a streamlined way. In addition to working with coaches and teachers, she also advises district leaders. “It gives me a good sense of what the more macro priorities are,” says Woulfin. “Each role in a district faces a different set of pressures.”

Woulfin’s commitment to bridging the gaps between research and practice comes from her own past; before she returned to school and earned her Ph.D. in Education from UC Berkeley, she was a teacher and a reading coach herself. When she was deciding to pursue her Ph.D., the research-practice partnership model was still a relatively new concept. Nevertheless, Woulfin found herself drawn to it, ending up in RPP-style projects before she even fully realized how to classify them. For her doctoral dissertation, for example, she conducted a one-year study of a school district; although not originally designed as such, it soon became an informal RPP. “I kept hearing, ‘you’re back?’” says Woulfin. “There’s something unique about becoming fully embedded in a district instead of dipping in for a shorter period of time. People realize ‘oh, she’s really here.’”

Recently, Woulfin had an experience that exemplifies the uniqueness of the RPP model. “I’ve been working with the math coaching team in Hartford, and recently they created team t-shirts for a Hartford schools event,” she says. “After the event, someone emailed me and said ‘we got you a t-shirt, we’ll give it to you next time!’ I had tears of researcher joy in my eyes. It was a huge moment for me: I truly felt like a part of their community.”

Looking ahead, Woulfin is excited to continue her work in Hartford and also to expand a second RPP with Bristol Public Schools. She is also in the conceptual stages of a project that would bring together urban district administrators from across Connecticut in a “community of practice.” On top of her research-practice work, Woulfin teaches in a multitude of Department of Educational Leadership programs: the Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP), the Ed.D. program, the Ph.D. in LLEP program, and the Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates (TCPCG). She credits her students, many of whom are school and district leaders themselves, with helping her broker and continue these partnerships. The Department of Educational Leadership is proud of Dr. Woulfin’s outstanding efforts to integrate research and practice in education.