School of Education and Social Policy doctoral candidate Mollie McQuillan has received a 2017 Presidential Fellowship, the most prestigious award available to Northwestern University graduate students.
McQuillan will use the highly competitive fellowship to study how educational policies and school climate impacts the stress levels and health of students who don’t neatly fit into traditional gender roles and norms, particularly those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ).
“American schools have become a central battleground in the debate over policies intended to protect LGBTQ students,” said McQuillan, who is pursuing her PhD in human development and social policy. “The controversies have centered on issues of ideology and rights, but little attention has been given to the effect school practices have on the mental and physical health of gender expansive youth.”
McQuillan’s research draws upon her personal and professional experiences as a former soccer player, hockey coach and public school teacher. Now the mother of one-year-old twins, she recently gained a parent’s perspective.
“I came to know the struggles LGBTQ students face in school, having suffered from discrimination myself,” said McQuillan, who was especially interested in helping young women who challenged gender norms but didn’t necessarily identify as LGBTQ, both in the classroom and on the athletic field.
During her fellowship, McQuillan will conduct three interdisciplinary studies examining the school environment for LGBTQ youth.
In the first, as part of a larger clinical investigation at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hosptial of Chicago, she’ll look whether gender dysphoria may lead to problems with inflammation and the immune system in young people who identify as transgender. She’ll also test different types of social stressors to see if school stress impacts the body’s systems differently than non-school stress, the first study to do so.
Her second study will examine the characteristics of schools that may be most likely to development inclusive policies. The third study looks at what is motivating school administrators to change policies for LGBTQ students and how they implement inclusive policies, once the decision to change has been made.
The Presidential Fellowship is funded by the President of the University and awarded by The Graduate School. Less than 15 percent of nominated students are appointed to the Fellowship, and they are chosen for their outstanding academic and creative efforts and leadership skills.
McQuillan is the second SESP student to be named a Presidential Fellow. Last year Cynthia (CC) Dubois, also in the Human Development and Social Policy program, received the honor.
Scholarship winners are expected to play an active part in the life of the Society of Fellows—distinguished faculty members and previous Presidential Fellows. The Society creates future leaders who embrace and support Northwestern’s broad scholarship.
In addition to exploring social justice issues related to her research at Northwestern, McQuillan has served as a campus leader, working on advocacy and community service for LGBTQ students, with an emphasis on bringing researchers and educators together.
“Ultimately, my goal is not only to contribute to the academic field but to make a difference in the lives of marginalized youth,” McQuillan said.
New fellows will be inducted into the Society of Fellows on May 2.
The outstanding students who were chosen to receive the Presidential Fellowship in 2017 are:
- Mollie McQuillan, Human Development and Social Policy
- Anya Degenshein, Sociology
- Daniel Garcia, Chemical Engineering
- Marcos Leitao De Almeida, History
- Jason Rosenholtz-Witt, Music
- Kritish Rajbhandari, Comparative Literary Studies
- Paul Ohno, Chemistry
- Carolyn Wilke, Civil & Environmental Engineering
Learn more about the Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) doctoral program, which focuses on factors affecting human development from the prenatal period through adulthood, with an emphasis on understanding the role of context, programs, policies and politics that influence the course of human lives. The School of Education and Social Policy's HDSP program was the first of its kind in the nation.