Three PhD Alumni Win NAE/Spencer Fellowships

Three PhD Alumni Win NAE/Spencer Fellowships

Three of the 25 prestigious National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships went to alumni of Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy this year. Mimi Engel (PhD08), Victor Lee (PhD09) and Enid Rosario-Ramos (PhD11) won fellowships for significant research to improve education.

The National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. This fellowship, which carries an award of $55,000, funds research with the potential to make important scholarly contributions to the field of education.

Mimi Engel

Mimi Engel
Engel, who is an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, will study kindergarten teaching and learning. “How kindergarteners’ classroom time should be spent has been the subject of much debate, around which little to no consensus has been reached,” says Engel. Her fellowship study will compare data from two nationally representative cohorts of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study for kindergarten.

Engel says her study will answer four questions: First, what reading and mathematics skills do children have at kindergarten entry? Second, how much time do kindergarten teachers spend on instruction and other activities, and how much coverage of “basic” and “advanced” content in reading and mathematics do they report? Third, what is the association between time use, content coverage, and student learning in kindergarten? Finally, what are the effects of time use and content coverage on kindergarteners’ socioemotional and behavioral outcomes?

“This study will inform our understanding of changes over time in school readiness and kindergarten content coverage. It will provide new information about the effects of time use and content coverage on students’ academic and socioemotional outcomes,” says Engel, a graduate of the SESP Human Development and Social Policy Program.

Victor Lee

Victor Lee
Lee, an assistant professor at Utah State University, is a learning scientist and education technologist who considers materials and strategies for improving K-12 science learning. The goal of his fellowship research is to understand what happens when knowledge provided in physics class intersects with intuitively understood physical movements. For two years Lee will be researching “how students’ thinking and understanding change as they reconcile how enacting a certain motion ‘feels’ with what they are supposed to already ‘know’” — such as when they launch a projectile.

“I think this is important work for a few reasons, including first the growing awareness among education researchers that our bodies play an important role in how we come to understand the world. With something as common and visceral as motion, which is also notoriously difficult for students to learn in a physics way, we have a lot of questions still about what makes ideas look one way rather than another and what makes them change. Also, we are now seeing a pretty big shift in the technological infrastructure around us that is now making it possible and more common for learning activities to involve students physically enacting certain movements in order to learn science or mathematics,” says Lee, pointing to new technologies such as XBox Kinect that have potential for science learning.

Lee sees his fellowship-funded research as an extension of the disposition he learned in the SESP Learning Sciences Program. “At SESP, and in particular in the Learning Sciences Program, there has been a strong focus on understanding how students think and learn and how that thinking and learning is sensitive to the immediate context. Understanding those things helps to drive design of new learning technologies and learning environments,” he says. “The mentors I have had at SESP have always encouraged me to ask core, fundamental questions about the nature of thinking and learning and to focus on issues and questions that have real implications for design of learning environments.”

Enid Rosario-Ramos

Enid Rosario-Ramos
Rosario-Ramos, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Education and another graduate of the SESP Learning Sciences Program, is investigating the development of civic engagement skills and participation in social action among minority youths. Her project uses participatory action research to examine how instructional approaches and initiatives promote students’ civic identity and participation.

“It is hoped that such a study can contribute to knowledge on innovative approaches that can involve youth, particularly those living in low-income communities of color — who have disproportionately low rates of civic participation — in civic action on behalf of their communities, as well as elaborate a more nuanced and robust definition of civic identity and engagement,” says Rosario-Ramos, referring to a 2009 finding by Meira Levinson of Harvard University.

Rosario-Ramos’s work at SESP focused on youths’ development of critical literacies skills as they participated in an educational environment that supported their critical reflection and collective action. “My current work extends previous work by continuing to look at ways in which schools and community-based organizations support minoritized youths’ development as critical and committed members of their communities who are able and willing to engage in participatory action that leads to social justice,” she explains.

The NAE/Spencer fellowship is administered by the National Academy of Education, an honorary society that advances the highest quality of education research and its application to policy development. Fellowships are funded by a grant to the Academy from the Spencer Foundation, a private foundation that supports research to improve education. 

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 5/28/14