Analytical Personal and Professional Update
Over the course of the last year and half my personal, professional, and academic endeavors have changed in many ways. While several components of my plan to complete my doctoral work at George Mason University (GMU) have remained constant, my long-term professional and academic goals have shifted since my Portfolio I review in October 2012. Academically, I have worked to develop a deeper understanding of educational psychology to eliminate gaps in my knowledge related to topics of motivation, achievement, and elf-efficacy while also attempting to connect these concepts to my dominant interest in international education. Professionally, I have had the opportunity to work in two very different organizations with different missions, structures, and funding sources, which has informed several career interests. These positions have contributed to my knowledge about issues of diversity and underrepresentation in education abroad as well as institutional challenges in higher education that contribute to different levels of access to international opportunities, which are both topics I in which I have expressed an interest exploring more professionally and academically. As a result of my professional endeavors overlapping with my scholarly interests many, my interests and experiences over the last two years have been symbiotic. Personally, my life has been transformed by the presence of my nine-month old daughter, which has both presented great opportunities while also presenting unique challenges to my academic and professional pursuits. Here I will reflect on many of these experiences and decisions and connect how they relate to my experience in the Ph.D. in Education at GMU.
My academic goals have not changed significantly since my initial Portfolio Review. I still have much work to do to ensure that the research I am working on aligns with the student populations with whom I had originally intended to work. In recent iterations of my research proposals, I have placed little emphasis on students from underrepresented backgrounds (i.e., racial and ethnic minorities, high financial need, first-generation to college), a clear interest of mine since I was admitted to the program. This happened, in part, in an effort to look at a wider body of students to compare the experiences of underrepresented and majority students; however, in broadening the focus of my research I did not come back to asking questions related to underrepresented student experiences. The literature also guided me in a more general direction, and while it added context and support for certain areas of my research questions the scholarly work I was reviewing included questions related to underrepresented groups primarily in terms of demographic questions. As a result, I modeled my questions according to the literature and have not returned to incorporate questions related to the experiences of underrepresented students in education abroad. I have since reevaluated the education abroad programs that I would like to assess for my research and am looking for ways to partner with an institution that has education abroad programming specifically geared toward underrepresented students. Ideally, I would like to be able to work with a general education abroad program at the same institution so as to provide a control group to look at possible variations in student outcomes of those who participate in programs tailored to underrepresented students and those that do not.
Moreover, my research goals focus greatly on the individual outcomes of education abroad. My questions broadly ask if students’ goals for their education abroad experience influence their perceived self-efficacy upon return. While these questions are interesting and often not explored areas of education abroad, my experience in the international education coursework I have taken has continued to pull me back to the larger institutional and systemic barriers to underrepresented student participation in education abroad programming. The Social Justice in International Education, International and Comparative Education Policy, and Research Inquiries in International Education courses have all seemed to bring me back to my previous interests in educational policy work. My professional work with Diversity Abroad, which I will mention later, has intersected with these ideas of institutional and systemic challenges to education abroad and has only contributed to my pivot away from individual outcomes to education abroad.
This is not to say that I am no longer interested in student outcomes from their international experiences because I am very much interested in exploring the longer term results of an international experience in college (i.e., career interests, retention, academic achievement over the course of their undergraduate experience after having studied abroad). However, the longer-term questions are less desirable as a research question since they would require more time, effort, and resources to explore. Additionally, I recognize that questions related to individual student outcomes are valuable to the conversation of accessibility and inclusion in education abroad because these outcomes often “make-the-case” for education abroad professionals to continue to advocate for students to go abroad. Thus, I do not anticipate making a significant shift in my research questions but do anticipate exploring a wider view of how student outcomes can be used to support reducing institutional barriers to access and participation in education abroad. In this area, there have been a handful of articles that have looked at these issues including Rubin and Sutton (2004), Hamir (2011), and Martinez, Ranjeet, and Marx (2009). I hope to integrate these ideas with those of Bandura, Zimmerman, and other educational psychology scholars.
Professional Engagement and Goals
Professionally, I anticipate continuing to pursue the kind of projects and initiatives in which I am currently involved. As the Manager of a large institutional consortium of institutions of higher education, much of my portfolio focuses on increasing access to international opportunities for traditionally underrepresented student populations by providing training and resources to professionals working in education abroad. This has allowed me not only work on projects that are related to my academic interests, it also allowed me to be active in the field in which I hope to remain. As a result of my ongoing interaction with professionals and scholars in this field, I have made valuable professional connections and have been able to remain abreast of much of the work that is being done to diversify education abroad. I have coordinated panel presentations, both virtually and in-person, that have highlighted key names in the field including Dr. James Lucas, Dr. Mark Salisbury, Dr. Gary Rhodes, and others. Admittedly, I have not yet made the same strong connections to scholars in the educational psychology arena. I do, however, anticipate doing so once I have developed more clear connections to my work and the work of those whose research align with my own.
My longer-term goals have shifted, as mentioned earlier. Whereas my academic pursuits have tended to focus in individual student outcomes, I have found that my work with Diversity Abroad and the Global Access Pipeline have shown me that my professional interests are really geared toward institutional and organizational change needed to increase access to international opportunities and improved student support for diverse and underrepresented student populations. The idea of working to develop evaluation and assessment tools that would measure institutional barriers as well as systematic changes in the field of education abroad has become more appealing to me over the last year. I have recognized my own interest in the larger issues that may need to be addressed to make international opportunities more accessible and prepare education abroad professionals to work with students from all backgrounds. In my work for Diversity Abroad I have been able to identify significant institutional barriers to serving a more diverse constituency of students. For example, the current profile of education abroad professionals reflects the current student profile of education abroad participants. This in part due to the nature of how professional come to the field, which generally happens as a result of their own previous participation in education abroad. Indeed, it is often the case that education offices require some kind of international learning experience in order to be considered for an open position. This is one example of many that I could offer of initiatives that I find particularly appealing. I would like to have my professional work focus on identifying strategies to addressing these issues and eventually also have my research relate to similar issues.
In addition to my professional positions, I have been actively engaged in a consortium called the Global Access Pipeline and have presented at national conferences hosted by entities such as the Department of Education and NAFSA: International Educators. I anticipate increasing these activities over the course of the next year, and plan to explore presentation opportunities in the field of educational psychology to expand my experiences beyond that of education abroad.