Inaugural Class Supports Impactful STEM Education Research in Georgia and Beyond
ATLANTA – Despite challenges imposed by COVID-19, Jami Friedrich, Caitlin Hochuli, Tynetta Jenkins and Stacey Young-Rivers – four Ph.D. candidates from Mercer University’s Tift College of Education – recently began working with the newly created STEM Education Innovation (SEI) Lab to engage in research.
As part of their fellowship appointments, SEI Lab Graduate Research Fellows receive partial scholarships and work closely with faculty mentors from the College of Education, including Dr. Karyn Allee-Herndon, Dr. Cynthia Anderson, Dr. Justin Ballenger, Dr. Susan Cannon, Dr. Meenakshi Sharma and Dr. Elaine Thurmond, to support STEM education research activities.
Fellows are collaborating with faculty from Mercer and other partner institutions to support multiple research initiatives and STEM outreach programs. These activities focus on: 1) Innovations in STEM education; 2) Expanding access to high-quality STEM enrichment for all students; and 3) Supporting Georgia’s STEM career pipeline.
“Becoming a graduate fellow in Mercer’s SEI Lab provided the right mix of academic rigor and practical application for developing my research skills,” said Young-Rivers. “Within one semester, I gained more confidence in my ability to make a positive impact on research projects. I feel very privileged to have this experience on my CV before I accomplish my Ph.D.”
SEI Lab Fellows were recruited as a cohort to provide students with a peer support group and to promote peer-to-peer mentoring. In addition to the mentoring relationships that Fellows have with faculty, they have also worked closely with faculty from other institutions of higher education and professionals in K-12 education and government-funded STEM outreach organizations.
“Being a part of Mercer’s SEI Lab team has allowed for opportunities to explore different projects and research interests that I feel have enhanced my research for coursework,” said Hochuli. “I also appreciate the opportunity to make a difference in the community partnerships we have made and build relationships outside of the Ph.D. program. As a first-year Ph.D. student, having the support and friendship of the other research fellows has increased my confidence as I have entered into the program.”
Another key element of the SEI Lab Fellowship is support for students pursuing their personal research interests. Aside from collaborating with the Fellows on grant-funded and faculty-led research projects, participating faculty also serve as members of the SEI Lab Fellows’ dissertation committees and provide guidance for students to pursue their personal research interests.
“Mercer’s SEI Lab has given me the invaluable opportunity to engage in projects that focus on my research interests while connecting with scholars in the field that dedicate their careers to the promotion of STEM education for minority students,” said Jenkins. “I am even more grateful for our group of research fellows that have become friends, functioning as support systems within the program while rooting for each other’s success.”
The ultimate aim of the fellowship is to provide developing scholars with opportunities, experiences and professional relationships that will support the them as they continue to develop personally and professionally. The experience is also designed to inspire the Fellows to infuse innovation and social justice into their future research agendas.
Friedrich, who will be the first graduating SEI Lab Fellow at the end of the current academic year, will transition into a postdoctoral research experience with the Atlanta Citizen Review Board that will investigate best practices for designing and disseminating a community outreach curriculum focused on equity and social justice in law enforcement.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to be a graduate fellow on Mercer’s SEI Lab team as it has truly enhanced my doctoral journey,” said Friedrich. “Both the hands-on experiences with research projects and the mentorship of faculty to help in my growth as a researcher have definitely given me the confidence to transition from student to scholar.”
The SEI Lab Fellowship was developed in response to the College of Education’s strategic plan to increase research output and engage students in rigorous research activities that support positive change in the community.
“This fellowship is an initiative that is connected to the core mission of Tift, which is to develop a community of transformative educators,” said Dr. Ballenger, who serves as executive director of the SEI Lab. “The SEI Lab Fellowship is strengthening engagement among Mercer’s faculty and graduate students in critical issues impacting communities throughout Georgia and beyond. Our goal as faculty mentors is to inspire each Fellow to not only become top-tier scholars and researchers in the field of STEM education, but also to develop into leaders who create positive change in the world.”
About the College of Education
Mercer University’s Tift College of Education – with campuses in Macon, Atlanta and the University’s two regional academic centers – prepares more professional educators than any other private institution in Georgia. Named for the former women’s college that merged with Mercer in 1986, the College of Education offers baccalaureate and graduate degrees, and is guided by the conceptual framework of the “Transforming Educator,” which supports those who aspire to grow professionally throughout their careers, while also seeking to transform the lives of students. For more information, visit education.mercer.edu.