Closing this Chapter and Opening Others: Putting the finishing touches on my Community Research Fellowship

As the summer comes to an end, putting the finishing touches on my Community Research Fellowship presents a series of bittersweet emotions. On the one hand, I am proud of the work I engaged in and the community partnerships I built, but on the other, I am saddened to say goodbye to the regular meetings with my community partners and the experiences that helped me grow as a person and researcher. I foresee the work I did with Justice Scholars Institute and A+Schools to continue well into the future. As I develop my own teaching pedagogy, I am reminded of the research I found on educational disparities in curriculum and the extent teacher perceptions, beliefs, and expectations for their students can have on a child’s identity and sense of academic capability throughout their schooling careers.

One of the reasons I was drawn to this fellowship was the appealing nature of engaging directly with the community. I am not one that excels in confined laboratory environments or when presented with chemical experiments. This fellowship provided the opportunity to broaden my understanding of how to respectfully and reciprocally research within an already well-established community. I learned to leave whatever preconceptions or assumptions I may have at the metaphorical door before I enter these spaces. I learned that some of the most formative and lasting research comes from just listening from those more familiar and immersed in the field than I am. As this was one of my first independent researching experiences, I was initially anxious, but that anxiety quickly turned into anticipation and excitement. At every meeting with my community partner and faculty mentors, I was challenged to think of my research beyond the scope of completing my final deliverables. I was frequently presented with scenarios that made me question what my stake in the research was and why what I was researching was meaningful and significant to me. I learned that I am someone who needs to have a personal relationship and investment with the community I am involved in. In this fellowship, I did just that.

This past week, I had the opportunity to present my research to Justice Scholar Institute’s cohort of teachers and faculty and it was a privilege to do so. I shared my findings and policy initiatives I had researched and was pleasantly surprised by the feedback I received. Teachers were interested in the recommendations I made and commented on the daily experiences they have with witnessing curricular disparities. This reminded me that although I am an undergraduate researcher, the work I engaged in is still relevant and important to this Pittsburgh community and even those far-reaching too. Going forward, I plan to stay involved with Justice Scholars Institute and support them as they finish crafting their report. As for A+Schools, I am very interested and keen on delving deeper into local Pittsburgh educational policy and especially mandates regarding gifted and talented education. I also had the chance to share my research with our fellowship cohort and hear about the summer researching experience from my colleagues.

This summer, I was so fortunate to have an immense amount of support. I wouldn’t have been able to complete my research without the support and mentoring from Dr. Esohe Osai and Dr. Shanyce Campbell from Justice Scholars Institute. From A+Schools, Dr. Kaitlyn Brennan’s policy updates from D.C. shaped the way I thought about and reviewed local policy, and the contributions from James Fogarty on Pittsburgh Public School gifted and talented education helped broaden my horizons when considering district-wide policy recommendations. The support from Everett Herman and Stacie Dow gave me the confidence to step boldly into this foundational researching experience. I wanted to also extend my gratitude towards Jackie Spiezia who’s coaching and mentoring helped me navigate the vast field of literature and provided me with techniques to synthesize my findings in the most effective manner. Last, but certainly not least, I could not have found as much success as I did this summer without the reassurance and encouragement, from my fellow research partner, Megan Hanlon. I learned so much from her own investigation on academic supports and from our frequent discussions on our experience, which nudged me to consider how our research overlaps and how our polices can fit hand-in-hand.

The recurring theme that comes to mind when I think of this experience holistically is community and intentionality. This experience for me will be the first of many more community-based and community-involved researching endeavors I undertake. Whether I’m pursuing another degree or in the workplace, I know that I will be intentional in making sure I have some place and a stake in the community’s betterment. The discussions our cohort had on respecting, valuing, and making sure any research has a significant degree of reciprocity will shape the way I consider already published work, and in my own going forward. This fall semester, I plan to engage in a virtual math and literacy tutoring program for students and know that many of the themes highlighted in this fellowship will directly translate to my work there. This community fellowship was a monumental steppingstone in my personal and academic careers, and I look forward to seeing the various ways I involve myself not only in the Oakland and Pittsburgh communities, but others that lay ahead in my path.

Pictured above is a screenshot from the Justice Scholars Institute presentation on my research regarding educational disparities in curriculum and my researched policy recommendations to teachers, counselors, and districts.

Image sources:

Harris, A. [n.d.] [Illustration]

Reed, J. Reuters. [n.d.] What does the progress of Black students look like? [Image]

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