Curry School Launches New Internship Program to Increase Number of Education Researchers From Diverse Backgrounds


Jen Mashburn (back row, 2nd from left) with the Summer Undergraduate
Research Program interns. Photo by Jane Haley.

July 15, 2008 – Thanks to an awesome middle school social studies teacher, you've known for a while that you want to be a researcher, academic or perhaps even policy maker in the education sciences. But how does an undergraduate get there?

One way is through a new program at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, launched this summer, which is helping eight undergraduates learn the professional science ropes.

The aim of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, an eight-week internship, is to increase the number of under-represented students who enter the education sciences.

"We need to have education researchers from diverse backgrounds to foster a broader scope of research, which will ultimately create better educational environments for diverse youth," said Jennifer Mashburn, a research scientist at the Curry School.

Students in this inaugural program, which began June 3 and runs through July 29, have been involved in collecting and analyzing data, writing sections of research papers, participating in research meetings and presenting on research.

"Some interns have been watching videos of pre-K classrooms to examine elements of instructional support, emotional support and classroom management that go into high-quality teaching," Mashburn said. "In another project, interns have been learning how to observe and code the behaviors of teachers and children in third- and fourth-grade mathematics classrooms. What stands out is that each student intern gets ample one-on-one time with faculty and advanced doctoral students who provide them mentorship, guidance and answers to their questions about educational research."

When students are not working in their research labs, they spend time engaged in journal clubs, GRE courses and special seminars about writing for publication or using statistics, Mashburn noted.

"I look at classrooms completely differently now," said program intern Rashida Whitley of Georgia State University. "I have learned a lot about teacher quality and assessing teacher quality. I think one of the highlights of the program was being able to attend the Head Start Conference and learning so much about what is on the cutting edge in educational research."

Intern Lanore West of Florida A & M said, "I was focused on the counseling track before, but now I’m more interested in research. One highlight has been meeting great mentors and hearing about how they got to where they are – and the GRE classes are a plus."

Andre Durham of U.N.C.-Chapel Hill said, "SURP has done a great job at creating opportunities for us, not just to learn about some of the nuances of academia, but also allows us to network with some of the biggest names in the field. This experience has really been an eye-opening one, not only am I now seriously considering applying to U.Va. for graduate school, but I have gained so much insight on the application process in general that I feel exponentially more prepared than I was just a few weeks ago."

More than 30 students applied to SURP, almost all from outside of U.Va., Mashburn said. This summer, the eight students enrolled come from Howard, Spelman, Florida A & M, U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, Georgia State University, Virginia Tech and two from George Mason University.

"We will keep in touch with these students as they finish their undergraduate studies to find out what they do after graduating and whether they end up in graduate school in the education sciences and what career paths they follow," said Stan Trent, assistant dean for diversity and equity and associate professor in the Curry School. "Of course, we hope that they will enter the Risk and Prevention in Education Sciences Ph.D. program or other Curry programs."

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program is part of the Curry School's Risk and Prevention in Education Sciences Program, housed at the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.

NOTE TO REPORTERS: Interns will be making presentations on their research projects at a ceremony on July 28. If you'd like to cover this event, contact Audrey Breen, director of communications at the Curry School, at aed2f@virginia.edu or 434-924-0809.