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Friday Institute Selects 2020 Graduate Research Fellows

RALEIGH, N.C. — This year’s Friday Institute graduate research fellows are researching topics that will support both educators and students around the world. From serving teachers through capacity building and high quality professional development to preparing students for their own future careers, each fellow is doing her part to impact education.

Each year, the Friday Institute selects a few graduate or doctoral students to become a Friday Institute graduate research fellow. Fellows are nominated by Friday Institute faculty fellows and are selected for their strong record of academic achievement and service to students and educators. They must be students at NC State University who are working on their dissertations and have been actively engaged in the Friday Institute’s work. Fellows receive $1,000 to support their research. 

Learn more about each of the 2020 Friday Institute graduate research fellows below.

Emma Refvem

Emma Refvem is a former science teacher who is interested in innovative strategies to recruit new teachers to science teaching. She is National Board Certified, and her work has focused on teaching in schools with large populations of underserved youth. While a teacher and doctoral student, Refvem has been highly engaged in outreach to the community, including presentations at the National Science Teaching Association, North Carolina Science Teachers Association and a number of school systems in North Carolina. While at the Friday Institute, she has taught a number of lessons for Vance County Middle School students to introduce them to virtual reality technologies and has conducted research on science teacher motivations and recruitment, virtual reality, museum youth education programs and most recently research on integrating awe into science teaching. Her research is examining variables that contribute to preservice and inservice teacher career aspirations. This fellowship will allow Refvem to more effectively recruit participants for her research by being able to offer them an incentive for participating. 

“In the face of a growing STEM workforce, the need for effective science teachers becomes even more important,” Refvem said. “My research focuses on the motivations for people to choose a career as a science teacher. While we know about the motivations for teachers in general, not much is known about the motivation of science teachers in particular. I plan to investigate the factors that are the most influential in a teacher’s career choice so that recruitment programs can be more effectively designed to support the teaching force.”

Revfem’s advisor, M. Gail Jones, Ph.D., nominated her for this award. Jones is a Friday Institute faculty fellow. 

“Emma is not only highly talented but works very hard within the state to improve science instruction in our public schools,” Jones said. “She has a strong drive to work with underserved youth and to support teachers in our schools. Emma’s research will document and test career pathways for science teachers, and this information can help us design new recruitment strategies to attract the next generation of science teachers.”

Danielle Boulden

Danielle Boulden is a graduate student in the NC State College of Education’s Teacher Education and Learning Sciences (TELS) department and is currently collecting data for her dissertation study, which is advised by Kevin Oliver, Ph.D. Her research centers around building teacher capacity to integrate computational thinking into core subject areas. Boulden has been Eric Wiebe, Ph.D.,‘s full-time research manager for the past two years while continuing to move her dissertation work forward. She is co-author on 12 published papers, including six journal articles. She has also been lead/co-author on numerous American Educational Research Association (AERA) and National Association for Research in Science Teaching conference papers. This fellowship will help Boulden facilitate her data collection and analysis efforts by allowing her to purchase appropriate software, transcription services and participant incentives. 

“This work is critical if we are truly going to provide all learners with equitable opportunities to build this important skill set during their formative schooling years,” Boulden said. “I felt so honored and proud to receive this prestigious award. The Friday Institute has played a pivotal role in my doctoral studies. I have learned so much about how to blend research, practice and policy to improve educational outcomes for students by being immersed in the work at the Friday Institute.”

Wiebe nominated Boulden for this award. He is a Friday Institute faculty fellow.

Jessica Vandenberg

Jessica Vandenberg is a graduate student in the NC State College of Education’s  TELS department and is currently collecting pilot data for her dissertation study. Wiebe and John Neitfeld, Ph.D., are her co-advisors. Vandenberg’s research focuses on how 4th and 5th graders regulate their learning and collaborate in program environments.

“I am interested in how upper elementary students regulate their learning and collaborate in programming environments,” Vandenberg said. “It is important because collaboration, technology use and problem solving are all essential academic and life skills.”

Vandenberg is the lead graduate research assistant on the Fostering Collaborative Computer Science Learning with Intelligent Virtual Companions for Upper Elementary Students (FLECKS) project and has provided key guiding ideas to the theoretical framing, formulation of research questions, study design and data analysis work on related project studies. She has been co-author on seven published papers and lead/co-author on a number of AERA papers. A two-year, three-study research project is currently in a second round of minor revision for a top tier computer science education journal. This grant will help with dissertation data collection and analysis by defraying the costs of transcription services. 

Wiebe is also Vandenberg’s advisor and nominated her for this award. 

Heather Barker

Heather Barker has worked as a graduate research assistant on the Enhancing Statistics Teacher Education with E- Modules (ESTEEM) project with Hollylynne Lee, Ph.D., for the past three years. She intends to examine the collective data from across all seven offerings of the Teaching Statistics Through Data Investigations (TSDI) Massive Open Online Course for Educators to better understand engagement patterns and satisfaction ratings. Further, she will do a follow-up survey and interviews with participants from past TSDI courses to examine if there are any lasting impacts that have affected classroom practices or their own further professional development related to teaching statistics. Heather is a co-author on two papers that have been accepted to the International Congress on Mathematical Education to be held in July in Shanghai, China.

Lee, Barker’s advisor, nominated her for this award. Lee is a Friday Institute faculty fellow.

Lili Wang

Lili Wang is a third-year doctoral student in literacy and English language arts in the TELS department. She taught English in China for nine years, and she recently published an article entitled “Empowering English Language Learners through Digital Literacies: Research, Complexities, and Implications.” In her mixed methods dissertation, she is investigating how technology is integrated into English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms and what the factors are that influence technology use in those classrooms. She is currently working with Hiller Spires, Ph.D, in the New Literacies Collaborative and helping with research for a National Science Foundation grant on their project, Project-Based Inquiry Global, in a North Carolina rural-urban school partnership. She will be presenting her research at a conference in Sweden this summer. This grant will help Wang collect data, recruit participants and attend conferences for her mixed methods study in high school EFL teachers’ technology use in China. 

“I was humbled and grateful for being awarded and felt more obliged to help the English language learning communities,” Wang said.

Spires, Wang’s advisor, nominated Wang for this award. Spires is also the Friday Institute executive director and NC State College of Education associate dean.

“I nominated Lili Wang because she is an outstanding graduate student,” Spires said. “She is passionate about conducting research on English learners, and her dissertation will make an impact internationally.”