Research in Chile: A Combination of Passion, Experience, Work, Learning and Legacy

By Skyller Walkes
Doctoral Student in Education – Adult, Professional, and Community

Walkes-1I was one of eighteen doctoral students selected to participate in international educational research in Chile, in cooperation with Universidad Alberto Hurtado and several Chilean community organizations. As a result, we had the opportunity to apply theory to practice in a place unfamiliar in both culture and geography, which was incredibly stimulating.  Additionally, there was the exciting prospect of making connections that could resonate with the human experience through this unique and collective learning process!

In my experience, there tend to be three modes in which to engage academic learning- the cognitive, the didactic, and the pragmatic. For me, none of these proves to be as long-lasting as the sentient and experiential, and conducting educational research in Chile was a welcome opportunity to further that possibility. Though valuable, sometimes what we learn in our course work fails to be implemented in real world settings before leaving the classroom.

Being a 100K Strong-Gabriela Mistral Scholar under the tutelage of Dr. Michael O’Malley was an honor that allowed us to activate our knowledge in a unique space and place of simultaneous learning.

Experiencing this among peers with whom I’d had the pleasure of cultivating our shared interest through research design in the months prior to departure made for formidable efforts in preparation. Nevertheless, it was, undoubtedly, a worthwhile culmination.

Naturally, engaging individuals in a setting as both an active and passive observer insisted that I attempt to confront each interaction with a degree of sensitivity and openness, and by doing so, I learned just as much about myself as I did about the kind people who allowed me to experience their Chile. The community members with whom we partnered to develop collaborative relationships that we seek to continue in the future were integral to the cultural immersion learning experience. Even more, this experience broadened the skills essential to my desire to be a conscientious change agent in this world. Thus, Project LEARN-Chile will always be a transformative part of my learning here at Texas State University!

A Gates Millennium Scholar Reflection

By Christine Herrera
Doctoral Student in Mathematics Education

When I was a senior in high school my guidance counselor handed me what Gates Millennium Scholherrera2015ars like to call “the big packet”. It was like she handed me the golden ticket to higher education. As a high achieving, low-income, minority student I dreamed of attending college but I had no idea how I would afford it. At the time, I was living on my own struggling to pay the bills and buy groceries. So when I had found out that I had been awarded a full-ride scholarship that would pay for my undergraduate and graduate school I cried in disbelief. I was going to get to go to college! The Gates Millennium scholarship demolished the financial barrier between me and my dream of higher education.

The Gates Millennium Scholarship not only made my dream of going to college a reality but it transcended it to include pursuing my doctorate degree in Mathematics Education. Prior to receiving the scholarship, I was unaware of graduate school. The scholarship did more than open the door to higher education, it opened my eyes to a whole set of new opportunities. Without this scholarship, I would not be a graduate student here at Texas State University.

As I finish my last semester, I reflect on where I was before I began my journey in higher education and where I am now. I am fortunate to say that the Gates Millennium Scholarship alleviated the financial burdens that haunted me in high school; today I am not worried about affording rent but rather I am focused on completing my dissertation and graduating. When I walk across the graduation stage this May, I will not only become a proud Texas State Alumni but I will also be first and foremost a proud Gates Millennium Alumni.

Thesis-writing Journey: From Turkey to Texas

Tugba Somuncu

By Tugba Somuncu
Master’s Student in Economics, Istanbul Technical University

Since writing a master’s thesis is a long journey, I was looking forward to getting some feedback about my first draft before completing my final document. When my supervisor showed me the website of the International Research Conference for Graduate Students at Texas State University, I decided that I should participate in this conference. This conference provides an academic environment in every aspect. I had the opportunity to meet with people from different fields and listen to their presentations. It enhanced my perspective on research methods as I saw how the same method could be applied to different fields. When I presented my research, it was great to see how people became interested in my topic and asked questions about it even though they were all from different departments. Further, the faculty member who was the chair of our panel gave me detailed feedback about my presentation and my English language ability which was invaluable for me. After this experience, I became more confident about the final version of my thesis.

Even though it was the first time I was visiting the U.S. and Texas, I didn’t feel like a foreigner because people were so friendly. People were always willing to help me with a huge smile. The International Office even helped me to solve my accommodation issue. I am still talking about my experience to whoever I meet in Turkey, and I am sure that this conference will have more Turkish participants in near future. Thanks a lot to all those who have contributed to this beneficial and amazing conference!

More Than an Assignment: An International Research Conference Experience

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By Melanie Morales
Master’s Student in Mass Communication

Working at The Graduate College for more than four years and seeing the past few International Research Conferences come and go did not compare to the experience I was able to have by attending and participating in the 7th Annual International Research Conference this year as a first-semester graduate student. From the start of the conference, I was able to hear the opening distinguished research panel discuss their research, the process and overall skills necessary to conduct quality research. This granted me access into a world that I was not accustomed to and, quite frankly, was intimidated by.  They answered very practical questions and gave answers like: “set calendar reminders,” “allot a certain amount of time for your research per day,” or “define your long and short-term goals.” This could have been seen as common sense, but to hear them say we must use these techniques showed how I could be doing it even in my own graduate classes.

What really made the conference a great learning experience was being able to actually present our research topic in a session. The presentation even allowed me to see the amount of teamwork it takes to go into presenting at a conference. Though only myself and one other team member presented, each person of the team contributed many of their skills to make our presentation the best it could be. Our session’s chair, Dr. Coy Callison from Texas Tech University, said “good presentation” several times while also offering suggestions for our research.

Though it was a good opportunity to take another stab at public speaking, I ended up taking more away from hearing other students’ presentation because it gave me insight to how they approached their research and gave ideas for the course of action in my own research.

After our session ended, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and listened to the keynote speaker, Dr. Victor Saenz from the University of Texas at Austin, bring his own research experience and enthusiasm to the conference. He took the time to educate us on an important Hispanic-education issue based on his own research. This reaffirmed the fact that when you perform research you are truly interested in, it can reveal notable results and also begin to change the environment around you.

I had a great experience being able to work with my classmates, visit with faculty, meet current undergraduate and hopefully future graduate students, and present at my very first research conference. I walked away with a whole new outlook of not only what it takes to do research and present a topic, but what you can learn from others around you, no matter where they are at in the process.

Interning in London: An exciting experience

Rebecca SilvasBy Rebecca Silvas
Master’s Student in Mass Communication 

This past summer I had the opportunity to intern abroad with the US Department of State at the US Embassy in London. As a graduate student in mass communication with a concentration in global media, I was thrilled to be working in the embassy’s public affairs office. I was able to do valuable work in the section and I learned something new every day. It was particularly exciting to be able to round out my graduate studies with hands-on experience pertinent to my academic concentration.

They say that one of the best reasons to do an internship is to find out more about yourself and what direction you want to take your career. This was absolutely true for me, and I would especially recommend an internship to students that have entered graduate school straight from their undergrad like I did. Not only did I apply my skill set in the real world, but I also made valuable professional connections and gained several career mentors.

The cultural experience of interning abroad was something that I’ll never forget. It was a pleasure to learn from American Foreign Service Officers who have been working in the mass communications field in some capacity throughout their long and impressive careers, as well as British staff that knew how to promote an event like nobody’s business. Some of my British colleagues even asked me to be in a video promoting the embassy’s USA v. UK cricket match. That’s me at the beginning!

I would recommend an internship abroad to other graduate students in a heartbeat. Grad students tend to have a competitive edge over undergraduate students in the application process, and the opportunity to gain hands on experience in the field is valuable whether you plan to continue in academia or enter the job market. So go forth, intern and prosper!

Sharing my Experience as a Jackson Scholar with my Family

By Samuel García Jr.

Doctoral Student, School Improvement

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Samuel Garcia Jr. with his father, Samuel, daughter, Sofia and mother, Irma

One of the many blessings of being a doctoral student is the opportunity to travel.  There are numerous educational and professional development conferences that are hosted throughout the year and we have the opportunity to attend several due the financial support of our institution. My wife and I are both doctoral students in the Ph.D. School Improvement program and have benefited from both the Education Department and the university’s commitment to providing rich learning experiences for their graduate students.  Similar to the last two years, we attended the University Council for Educational Administration’s annual conference with our young daughter Sofia. It is extremely humbling to share these incredible learning experiences with your family. Being afforded the opportunity to travel to conferences has allowed us to travel as a family, immerse ourselves in great learning experiences, and meet passionate people committed to social and community change.

This year’s UCEA convention was hosted in the nation’s capital city, Washington, D.C.  In light of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the theme of the convention was, Righting Civil Wrongs: Education for Racial Justice and Human Rights.   This year the experience was extra special and humbling to me. First, I was selected and nominated by the School Improvement doctoral faculty as one of two people from my program to participate in the prestigious UCEA Barbara Jackson Scholar Network. The Jackson Scholar Network is intended to provide support to graduate students of color who have the aspirations of pursuing the professoriate.  Secondly, my parents flew from the Rio Grande Valley to share this experience.  It was a blessing to share this tremendous honor with them.

We had the privilege of convening a paper session and presenting several films that we edited that focused on issues of equity, empowerment, and collective action. We also had the privilege of establishing relationships with people who are deeply invested in educational and community change. Although we are still processing the events, we strongly feel that our experiences have served to further inspire and sustain our sense of social and moral obligation of serving others and advocating for educational and community change.              

For more information on the Jackson Scholars Program, please see:  http://www.ucea.org/graduate-student-opportunities/jackson-scholars-program/2015-call-nominations-scholars/

Successfully Juggling Responsibilities While Pursuing a Doctoral Degree

Karen-Johnston-AshtonBy Karen Johnston-Ashton
Doctoral Student in Developmental Education

I have been in graduate school for five years; two of those years were at Western New Mexico University, earning an MA. The last three years have been at Texas State earning my MEd in Special Education and an MA in History. In the fall of 2014, I began my Ph.D. program in Developmental Education. I chose to apply to the Developmental Education program because I believe all students deserve an opportunity to succeed in college. I have personally seen developmental classes in action when my oldest daughter took developmental writing. My own goal is to work within the research area of the field.

The decision to apply to a doctoral program was easy. I have always loved school and truly want to make a difference and work with students at a post-secondary level. Before entering this intensive period of schooling, I was a stay-at-home mom with a side business. My five children were my priority and I enjoyed spending time with them. I spent 15 years doing what I loved and as they left high school, I felt the desire to return to university life. With a family—I still have two adult children at home and one in college—I still have to juggle daily responsibilities. Choices are tough and I miss events sometimes, but manage to make all of the pieces work out.

My first semester in Cohort 4 is fabulous! I have a heavy load to cover and work as well, but the students in my cohort are interesting and come from a variety of backgrounds. This program is still new and only graduated the first Ph.D. candidate this summer. I am taking a mixture of classes that include Policy and Politics, Statistics, Exploration of Developmental Education and Research and got to jump into research immediately. I get to work closely with the movers and the shakers of the field.  Frankly,  I am in heaven and look forward to the challenges yet to come.

International Conference and Other Academic Involvement: An Invaluable Experience

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By Laura Cano Amaya
Doctoral Student in Environmental Geography

It has always been an interest of mine to explore different perspectives and approaches to “seeing things” as I look into addressing complex and multi-faceted issues whether in academia or elsewhere. Therefore, when I started my doctoral program, it was just a matter of time before I began to look for opportunities to engage internationally in my research area–which by the way is an incredible new research agenda on disaster resilience.

I knew going into seeking international conference opportunities that cost would be an issue, but long story short, I found several funding sources. With funds from my department and the Graduate College among others, I was able to present at conferences in Panama and Germany, and conduct my dissertation research in Costa Rica. As is almost always the case, our personal achievements are influenced by the incredible generosity of people around us. My family, dissertation advisor, friends, and academic department were all instrumental in this effort.

Presenting internationally is very similar to presenting at national conferences in the U.S. It is incredible how many people are multilingual around the world. This makes communicating with people at these international conferences very easy. Most international conferences have English as one of the conference’s official languages, so no problem there. To express what it means to have the opportunity to interact with people from all around the globe working on the same research as you is hard to convey. The passion and knowledge is an incredible thing to experience, but the opportunity to start building your international research and collaborative network is invaluable as an emerging scholar. My recommendation, take the time and meet your international peers. It is a worthwhile opportunity.

Libera Tu Mente: Studying Abroad in Santiago, Chile

Kevin McGovernBy Kevin McGovern
Master’s Student in Business Administration

This past summer I was lucky enough to travel to Santiago, Chile for the Texas State Study Abroad Program.  As a current master’s degree candidate in business administration, the 8-day trip to South America was the highlight of my summer term.  During our time in Santiago, the MBA group met with several Chilean business leaders who provided us with new perspectives on how Chile and other Latin American countries operate in the local market economies, as well as the global economy.  Our company visits comprised formal meet-and-greets and informational sessions with business leaders from the energy sector, pharmaceutical sector, environmental sector, and most importantly…the wine industry!  The learning experience gained from these company visits was immeasurable, and coupled with the cultural and social immersion, our group was exposed to some great life-experiences that could never have happened here in the United States.

Chile is a country rich with culture.  While touring the colorful streets of Valparaiso, a coastal city in which artistic expression is a way of life, I came across a street-wall displaying the phrase “libera tu mente,” or “free your mind.”  Like thousands of others, this type of personal expression lines the streets and sidewalks of Valparaiso.  For some people it may simply be graffiti, but for me it was a cultural phenomenon; the city walls act as an open forum where artists, young people, and tourists alike can contribute to the vibrant aesthetics for which the city is defined.

Unique food, delicious wine, and good friends helped make this trip complete, not to mention a day trip to the Andes mountains and a week of World Cup Futbol in a country where citizens live and die by their national team!  My time spent in Chile may have been brief, but the learning experience will stay with me for a lifetime!

Valuable lessons for doctoral students: Make meaningful contributions and provide well-researched solutions

Granger-headshot-1By Sydney L. Granger
Doctoral Student in Developmental Education

I am proud to say I spent my summer working less than one mile down Auburn Avenue from where Dr. Martin Luther King was raised.  The location in Atlanta, Georgia, could not be more appropriate as I was working with the Southern Education Foundation, an organization committed to “combating poverty and inequality through education.”  As SEF’s Higher Education Doctoral Intern, my contribution to that mission came in the form of applying my knowledge and expertise of Developmental Education to support projects focused on improving the educational experiences of academically underprepared students attending Minority-Serving Institutions.

As a PhD student, my classes have centered primarily on Developmental Education as related to curriculum and instruction.  However, this summer I was able to apply what I have learned at Texas State to much larger contexts, like program planning for four Minority Serving Institutions as part of a US Department of Education grant proposal and policy analysis to better understand the degree of differential effects of performance-based funding programs on Minority-Serving Institutions.

Through my 10 weeks in Atlanta, I learned two very valuable lessons I think every doctoral student should hear.  First, at a certain point in your program, you become an expert in your subject.  While this may seem obvious, I argue this happens before you have your degree in hand.  While graduate school is largely years spent being told about all the things we don’t know, as doctoral students, the depth and breadth of our understanding of our respective fields are expansive and impressive, which means we should not wait until graduation to start making meaningful contributions to our field.  Second, stop thinking you alone can solve the problems in your field but instead, contribute nuanced, well-researched solutions.  Big problems, like inequity in education, cannot and will not be solved by a single person.  Instead, solutions will come through the constant and focused efforts of dedicated individuals who believe in the power and possibility of change.

This summer was the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of The Freedom Summer, and, yet, many of the same problems surrounding equity in education and racism still exist.  This doesn’t mean these problems are insurmountable; this only means we’re not done yet.  I am confident that my 10 weeks at SEF helped support, if only a in a very small way, the work for equity intrinsically tied to Auburn Avenue.