Reaching the Top: Meet Our New PhDs

Reaching the Top: Meet Our New PhDs

lu_phd.jpg Kristine Lu, who earned her doctorate in learning sciences, with her advisor, Matt Easterday.Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy celebrated its newest doctoral graduates during the annual convocation ceremony at Ryan Fieldhouse.

A Doctor of Philosophy––a PhD––is as far as one can go in education and reflects the country’s preparation of scientists, engineers, educators, and other scholars at the highest level.

The students earned degrees in two of the School of Education and Social Policy’s three doctoral programs: human development and social policy and learning sciences. The third and newest program offers a joint doctorate in learning sciences and computer science.

Graduates include Amy Chang, Kristine Lu, and Michael Spikes (learning sciences) and Eric Brown, Claudia Castillo-Lavergne, Sebastian Castrechini, Amanda Cook, Sheridan Fuller, and Sebastian Kiguel (human development and social policy.)

Read more  about our newest PhD’s:  

Amy Chang, Learning Sciences

chang400.jpgChang is a learning researcher/designer and board director at Kidzuem, where she advises on equitable learning designs and research that foster collaborative STEAM engagement and understanding among diverse learners. She also studies learning in the context of globalization and emerging technologies, with a specific focus on cross-cultural communication, civic journalism, and information literacy. She has conducted research, taught, and designed undergraduate and K-12 courses in a variety of fields (such as civic media, health, science and technology, social policy, and global journalism) in both in-school and out-of-school settings. She received her master’s degree in journalism and bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and literatures from National Taiwan University. 

Dissertation: “Understanding Ideological Reasoning: Shifts in Engagement through a College Journalism Course”
Chair: Bruce Sherin
Committee: Shirin Vossoughi, David Uttal

Kristine Lu, Learning Sciences


Lu is an incoming postdoctoral research fellow at the P3 Lab based at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, a multi-disciplinary academic and public forum dedicated to strengthening global democracy by improving and expanding civic engagement and inclusive dialogue. She researches and designs community-based civic learning environments, with a focus on participatory socio-technical systems. At Northwestern, she was a graduate researcher in the interdisciplinary Delta Lab based in Northwestern’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction + Design, and an awardee of the Advanced Cognitive Science and Segal Design Research Cluster fellowships. Her dissertation presents a model of capacity building for organizing new participatory democratic institutions, which emerged across over nine months of community-based participatory research designing and implementing novel learning environments to bring participatory budgeting to the City of Evanston for the first time. In this work, she partnered with a variety of stakeholders across elected officials, city staff, community advocacy groups, and graduate and undergraduate policy students to help the community allocate $3 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds. Prior to her doctoral work, Kristine conducted journalism research at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., where she worked on a variety of quantitative social science projects related to civic engagement and news attitudes and consumption. Her research experience also includes work in computational linguistics, digital humanities, educational technology, and information literacy. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English & Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Dissertation: "Participatory Democratic Organizing: Building Capacity to Solve the Paradox of Participatory Democracy"

Committee: Matthew W. Easterday (Chair; Learning Sciences); Elizabeth M. Gerber (Co-advisor; Mechanical Engineering, Communications, Computer Science); David N. Rapp (Learning Sciences, Psychology); Christopher A. LeDantec (Georgia Institute of Technology)

spikes400.jpgMichael Spikes, Learning Sciences

Spikes is a lecturer and director of the Teach for Chicago Journalism Program at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He has spent more than 15 years working in media literacy education, news media literacy, and youth media. Recently, he helped implement strategies for incorporating media literacy education into existing K-12 curricula for educators in Illinois, the first state to require such education. Spikes is the co-founder of the Illinois Media Literacy Coalition and the Illinois state chapter leader for Media Literacy Now. His work has been recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education as key resources for media literacy education, and in 2022 he received the Illinois News Broadcaster's Association Illinoisan of the Year award. Prior to Northwestern, Spikes was a project manager for the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University, a media studies teacher in both public and public charter schools in Washington D.C., and an educational advisory team member at the Newseum. He has also been a media producer and editor for National Public Radio, the PBS NewsHour, and the Kellogg School of Management.

Dissertation: "Learning to Think Like A Journalist: Examining the Pedagogy of Journalists as Teachers of their Profession"

Advisor: David Rapp

Eric Brown, Human Development and Social Policy

Dissertation: “A Mixed-Methods Investigation of School Racial Climate at One Racially Diverse Middle School”
Co-advisors: Jon Guryan, Simone Ispa-Landa
Committee Member: Leoandra Rodgers

Sebastian Castrechini, Human Development and Social Policy

sebastian_c.jpgCastrechini’s research looks at how educators teach, and youth develop in racially diverse spaces. His dissertation drew on a year-long ethnography in a high school debate league, where he examined the organizational practices that influences how youth expressed and experienced their identities when debating with cross-race peers. Castrechini also studies policy implementation, including leading a study of teachers' adoption of an online assessment platform in Oakland, Calif. He earned his master’s in education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and his bachelor’s in secondary education at Penn State University. He is also the proud father of twin 7-year-olds Serafino and Eyal, who inspired him to complete his doctorate.

Dissertation: "When We Bring in Our Positionalities, We Make the Space Inclusive”: Organizations, Identities, and Belonging in Racially Diverse Contexts” 
Advisor: Jim Spillane
Committee: Simone Ispa-Landa and Mesmin Destin

Claudia Castillo-Lavergne, Human Development and Social Policy

claudia_castille_400.jpgCastillo-Lavergne is the Robert Curvin Postdoctoral scholar at Rutgers University-Newark. An interdisciplinary social science researcher and scholar, she connects learning and human development in various contexts. Part of her work looks at the well-being of teens, young adults and older people by examining connections between psychological health, a feeling of belonging, and how multiple identities intersect in different social contexts. She also studies policies and programs associated with historically marginalized students pursuing STEM-Health Pathways throughout K-12 and postsecondary education. Her dissertation explores the long-term impact of educational interventions and settings, and whether they support the development of young people whose identities and experiences intersect with multiple systems of oppression. Born and raised in Colombia, Claudia immigrated to the United States at the age of 11 with her mom and sister. She grew up in West New York, N.J.—an immigrant community predominantly made up of people from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Dissertation: "Constructing Possible Futures: How Do Latinx Women Make Meaning of Their Futures across Learning Contexts, and How Does This Process Change over Time?”
Advisor: Mesmin Destin
Committee:  Jim Spillane, Shirin Vossoughi, and Janet Rocha

Amanda Cook, Human Development and Social Policy

cook_amanda400.jpgCook will be working as a data scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An interdisciplinary researcher, she uses tools from sociology, economics, and psychology to understand the forces that shape students’ access to, and success in, higher education. Her dissertation uses data from multiple large-scale datasets to investigate student-college match, college affordability, geographic access to higher education, and college student well-being. One of her dissertation studies, "Exploring the association between academic match and bachelor’s degree completion over time," has been published in Research in Higher Education, a leading peer-reviewed journal in the field of higher education. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Cook worked for several years at the Social Science Research Council in New York and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. She received her master’s in sociology and her bachelor’s in sociology and French from the University of California, Berkeley. 

Dissertation: “Choices and Tradeoffs on the Path to a Bachelor’s Degree: Essays on Academic Match, College Affordability, and Student Engagement”
Advisor: Jim Rosenbaum
Committee: Mesmin Destin, Christine Percheski, and Ofer Malamud

Sebastian Kiguel, Human Development and Social Policy

kiguel.jpgKiguel is a research associate for the Discovery Partners Institute, which works to put more women and people of color in tech jobs and make Chicago and Illinois a leading and inclusive tech community. The winner of a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation fellowship, he examined which Chicago high schools were able to reduce bullying, how they did it and the effects it had on the kids. “Although every state has adopted an anti-bullying law, the prevalence of bullying remains mostly unchanged,” he says.  Kiguel also was part of an interdisciplinary research team from Northwestern and the Chicago Consortium for School Research working on a large research project funded by the Gates Foundation on the effect of schools on adolescents’ socioemotional development. The project’s first two papers, co-authored with SESP faculty member Kirabo Jackson, have been published. Kiguel holds a master’s in public administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a Licenciate from the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A former teacher, he co-founded an inclusive high school for trans youth who had been excluded from traditional education in Buenos Aires.

Dissertation: How Can Schools Reduce Bullying? Lessons from Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Work
Advisor: Kirabo Jackson
Committee: Emma Adam and Terri Sabol

Sheridan Fuller, Human Development and Social Policy

fuller-400.jpgFuller studies how children and families interact with the social safety net, focusing on how income support programs affect children’s health, well-being, ability to find jobs, and more. Before joining Northwestern, he worked as an analyst and Presidential Management Fellow in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There, he worked on program policy issues related to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, Child Support, Child Care Development Fund, and Social Services Block Grant programs. He earned a master’s in public policy and a bachelor’s in American politics and African American studies from the University of Virginia.

Dissertation: “Children and Cash Assistance”
Chair: Diane Shanzenbach
Committee: Jon Guryan, Kirabo Jackson, and Quinn Mulroy

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 7/6/23