UW-Madison’s Hirshberg, Rau, and Smith named NAEd/Spencer Fellows

The National Academy of Education (NAEd) announced the recipients of the 2019 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral and Dissertation Fellowships, and this year three people with ties to UW-Madison’s School of Education are receiving these highly competitive awards.

Matthew Hirshberg and Martina Rau were named NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows, while Ashley Smith is receiving an NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship.

“The NAEd/Spencer Fellowship Programs cultivate the next generation of education scholars by funding their research projects and providing resources to strengthen their research and research training, including mentorship from NAEd members,” says NAEd President Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor emerita with UW-Madison’s School of Education. “We consider these fellows to be among the best in their respective fields, and I look forward to working with them in the coming year.”

The NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship provides $70,000 to early-career scholars to focus on their research and attend professional development retreats. This year, the 30 postdoctoral fellows were selected from a pool of 221 applicants.

The 35 NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellows – selected from a pool of roughly 420 applicants – will receive $27,500 for a period of up to two years to complete their dissertations and also attend professional development retreats.

Those with ties to UW-Madison’s School of Education who are receiving these prestigious fellowships are:

matthew hirshberg
Matthew Hirshberg

Matthew Hirshberg received his Ph.D. from the Department of Educational Psychologyand is a postdoctoral research associate at UW-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds. He also holds an M.Ed. from Lesley University and was a middle school teacher before earning his doctorate. Hirshberg’s research is animated by two central questions: What qualities underlie personal and professional accomplishment and overall well-being? And how can these qualities be systematically developed?

Hirshberg is especially interested in the application of these questions within educational contexts, for both students and teachers. His research has involved: observational studies to estimate the relationship between qualities, competency, and well-being; development of novel measures to better assess key qualities; and intervention research using contemplative techniques such as mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations to examine whether qualities identified as important can be systematically developed. His research is intended to inform educational policy and practice so that educational systems can realize equitable and beneficial outcomes at all levels.

Hirshberg’s postdoctoral project is titled, “Understanding the qualities of effective teachers.” He asks: What are the individual differences that predict effective teaching? Hirshberg explains that the surprising but honest response is that we don’t really know. Recent advances in educational sciences have operationalized the types and quality of teacher-student classroom interactions that promote student learning. A substantial collection of studies link the materialization of high-quality interactions to a range of salutary teacher and student outcomes. Although these advances intimate, they do not directly reveal the individual teacher qualities that underlie effective teaching.

Hirshberg’s proposed research will use covariate adjusted hierarchal Linear Models to estimate teacher impacts on student achievement outcomes. In these models, the intercepts (i.e., average student learning gain on the outcome for each teacher) are allowed to vary by teacher, representing the variance in teacher effects on student learning after statistically controlling for a wide array of confounding inputs. Extending previous research, teacher participants will complete a comprehensive assessment battery of the qualities theorized to be important to teaching effectiveness. In a stepwise fashion, he will enter variables as teacher-level predictors to estimate the amount of variance in intercepts each quality explains, providing novel insight into the individual differences underlying teacher effectiveness. Results from this study will inform new approaches to teacher education and professional development by identifying the teacher qualities most strongly associated with salubrious outcomes from students and teachers.

martina rau
Martina Rau

Martina Rau is an assistant professor with the Department of Educational Psychology, with an affiliate appointment in computer sciences. Her research focuses on understanding how students learn STEM content with visual representations and to examine how educational technologies can help them use visuals more effectively. To this end, she uses a multi-method approach that integrates learning outcome measures with process-level measures of learning.

Rau received her doctorate degree from the human-Computer Interactions Institute at Carnegie Mellon university. She has received an NSF CAREER grant, an award from the Siebel Scholar Foundation for Academic Excellence and Leadership, and best paper awards at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education and the International Conference on Educational Data Mining. Rau also has a master’s degree in psychology.

Rau’s project is titled, “Collaboration support for learning with visual representations in undergraduate chemistry.” She explains that many students have difficulties interpreting visuals. It is well established that collaboration can help students learn with visuals. Prior research has focused mostly on how verbal communication can help students reason about how visuals show complex concepts.

However, notes Rau, we know little about how nonverbal communication, such as pointing gestures, helps students learn with visuals. As a part of this project, Rau will investigate how supports for verbal and nonverbal communication affects students’ learning with visuals. She will conduct a study with chemistry students learning about molecular geometry with ball-and-stick models and Lewis structure drawings. This study will help us understand how collaboration can enhance learning through verbal and nonverbal communication processes.

ashley smith
Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. Her research centers on the experiences of young black girls in predominantly white, suburban middle schools and the development of an identity-based group space she created alongside the students and black women community members, called Black Girl Magic.

Smith examines the discipline, punishment, and multiple forms of violence black girls experience in schools. Her research has been informed by her work as a creator and co-facilitator developing curriculum with elementary and middle school black girls, in support group spaces at various schools. She previously earned a master’s degree in higher education from Syracuse University.

Smith’s dissertation project is titled, “Everyday anti-black girl violence: Surviving and learning amidst persistent school violence among middle school black girls.” She explains how recent scholarship suggests there is consensus that something specific exists about black girls’ schooling experiences that warrants necessary attention, yet scholars have not adequately explored how gendered anti-black violence facing young black girls should be addressed in theory and in practice. Furthermore, while educational scholarship prioritizes the experiences of high school girls, this study contributes to the underdeveloped literature on middle school black girls’ understandings of their identities and schooling experiences.

Smith’s qualitative study examines: the experiences of black girls at two predominantly white, suburban middle schools; analyzes systems of schooling and education as social institutions that perpetuate anti-black violence against black girls; and how school staff, teachers, administrators and district leaders perceive black girls and their experiences.

Additionally, this research examines youth participant experiences in the Black Girl Magic group, a school-based, identity-centered group facilitated by black women from the surrounding community, and explores how black girls use the group to define black girlhood, and resist and combat daily experiences of racism, sexism, and anti-blackness. Using narrative inquiry and a critical ethnographic methods, this study interrogates how black girls survive the daily racial trauma and anti-black girl violence they face in predominantly white suburban schools, and challenges myths that greater education opportunities exist in these contexts. This study warrants the necessary attention to black girls’ voices, ensuring that they are uplifted in order to inform educational research at the intersection of race, gender, and school violence to support implications for more humanizing pedagogical practices in schools.

Information on these projects was provided via this National Academy of Education news release.

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