Launched in 2019, the Office of Child Development Student Fellows is a yearlong opportunity for students at the University of Pittsburgh to learn and grow as integral parts of our work. This is part of an ongoing series where we asked students to share about their experiece with our Office.
Graduate Research Assistant
PhD Student, Psychology in Education
On being awarded a $5,000 Remake Learning grant to support her work on the Pittsburgh Study
"The grant is to provide racial equity training for some of the literacy organizations in Allegheny County and so Shannon [Wanless] and Sharon [Geibel] had held focus groups with some of the leading representatives from those organizations a couple months ago, just to find out what their read was on the local literacy environment in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. They offered their insights as to how they thought it should function, what they thought was missing, and then they talked about race and racial equity. All of them expressed interest, but really didn't know how to proceed from there, with integrating racial equity into their programming or into their organizations.
When the Remake Learning grant came up, we were like, ‘Oh, that's what Remake Learning is about.' And so the budget was perfect. We started with 10 representatives from the organizations and we would do four, two-hour trainings with them throughout the next school year and it'll be project based so of course, color picture books are the thing. So we'll start with those. Each representative will get five of those and then throughout, Aisha [White] will do the equity training. They'll develop projects that they can take back to their organizations based on one of the books that they read to integrate into their children's programming. So it's not just lecturing about how to incorporate racial equity, but it's really getting a lot of self-reflection and then the project based aspect of it, I think, is going to make it more fun and accessible but also practical for how they can implement it in the organizations. And then the last session will be kind of like a party, where each person will bring someone else from that organization to show them what they've learned and that person can ask questions and explore too. That's to promote the sustainability of this over time by including more people."
On why she is excited about the work
I'm excited for a few different reasons. Personally, this is the first thing I've ever been put in charge of, so I'm, very, very nervous and very excited to kind of be able to oversee a grant process. Also, I think that I have a lot to learn from Aisha and how she approaches and teaches this to people and how she engages people in the topic. I have not experienced that for myself outside of the Think Tank Tuesdays, which are great.
I'm excited on a personal level for both of those reasons, but also, I'm really interested in learning ecosystems. So how children and Allegheny County learn across contexts. I think that this will help me get a better understanding of the organizations in Allegheny County and how they contribute to children's literacy. In the research that I do, like learning about learning ecosystems and social networks and stuff like that, there's not a lot of talk about equity. I don't think a lot of the approaches are really as critical as they could be. Studying how children and Allegheny County learn to read is one thing, but actually effecting change in that, especially with a critical lens towards equity for children, I think, is a whole other thing. I'm excited to bring a racial equity piece together with this learning ecosystem that I'm already engaged in.
On how her most impactful experiences as a Student Fellow
"One of the Fellow experiences was when we all met a lot of faculty at the School of Ed, but also faculty from all across the University, from different departments. I see the diversity of work that happens in OCD, but to see the diversity of how that plays out in the academic world was really interesting for me and made me think about kind of learning in a broader sense. I get the sense from OCD, like, to me, that's where I don't want to call it the real work but that is where the real work in my eyes is happening, on the ground with children and families and trying our best to navigate all the research and policy and budget stuff that happens up here, but on the ground running every day with families and actually moving things forward. So I think that seeing that energy and how it happens, like all the different divisions with the same kind of lens towards equity, That has been really impactful. My first experience was at OCD. When I think about research, that's what I think about – not how research operates out in the academia world, but how it actually operates in a community or in a community based setting. OCD has been very impactful in that way."
On how her time at the Office of Child Development has helped her grow
"Had I come in, I'm thinking of other schools that I applied to and had I been accepted there, I would have only been on campus in the academic world. I literally see all the people's faces from OCD and those are the people that I'm thinking about when I'm thinking about research and how to help kids. It's how to help all of us, not just what does research say about kids’ development. I think that OCD has definitely shaped that aspect of the content of what I want to study and how I want to approach research. I would say that the Think Tank Tuesdays have been the most impactful personally on me. I came in wanting to know more about racial equity – I grew up in a tiny rural village with only white people and my school was all white and rural. So I never had any experience and I always felt really uncomfortable about it because I knew I wanted to do something, even if it was just changed me and my own views. I think that the Think Tank Tuesday has been the most impactful for making the self changes and the self awareness that I need to do research in a way that I feel OK about, where I'm at least hopefully not doing any harm."