SOE News

Education students, faculty explore “research to practice” at fourth annual research symposium

Judith Meece, Melissa Miller, George Noblit receive awards for teaching, service

Photo of panel participants

Panel participants


Photo of workshop

Workshop with Elementary School Success Profile (ESSP) research team


Photo of award recipients

(l to r) Judith Meece, Dean Bill McDiarmid and George Noblit


Photo of award recipient

(l to r) Lara-Jeane Costa, Dean Bill McDiarmid, Melissa Miller and Cary Gillenwater

Approximately sixty education students and faculty participated in the School’s fourth annual research symposium April 24, 2009, at the Frank Porter Graham Student Union on the UNC campus. Organized by a student committee, the day-long symposium focused on research projects that are exemplary models of working with local communities and schools.

In addition to panel presentations and workshops, the symposium included the awarding of teaching and service recognitions to faculty members Judith Meece, Melissa Miller and George Noblit.

Symposium program

After a welcome from Senior Associate Dean Jill Fitzgerald, a panel of presenters described four projects that have successfully engaged with their local communities and schools:

  • Christina Gillanders, an investigator at the Frank Porter Graham (FPG) Child Development Institute, described FirstSchool, a pre-K-grade 3 initiative led by the FPG Child Development Institute and the School of Education. The purpose of FirstSchool is to promote public school efforts to become more responsive to the needs of an increasingly younger, more diverse population.
  • The Durham Freedom School was described by its director Kristal Moore, doctoral student Amy Charpentier, and doctoral candidates Heather Coffey and Sara Ewell. Part of a nationwide program developed by the Children’s Defense Fund, the Durham Freedom School held at N.C. Central University serves 60 young people, grades three through nine, from the Durham Public Schools, providing them with a supportive and academically stimulating five-week summer program.
  • The Research Triangle Schools Partnership (RTSP), described by Assistant Professor Jocelyn Glazier, coordinator of RTSP, and doctoral student Dwight Irvin, is a collaborative initiative of the School of Education and its surrounding school districts and communities. Schools in Durham and Orange counties identify needs in schools that also represent areas of interest and expertise of faculty members in the School of Education, and partnerships are formed to work on those needs.
  • The Elementary School Success Profile (ESSP) was described by Joelle Powers, clinical assistant professor in the UNC School of Social Work, and Heather Bower, a doctoral student in the School of Education who works with the ESSP research team in the School of Social Work. This assessment tool was developed at the School of Social Work with the goal of promoting academic performance and helping to close the achievement gap. It helps identify threats to academic success and facilitate intervention planning through a database of best practices and interventions.    

Following the project descriptions, School of Education Assistant Professor Jeff Greene, panel moderator, posed questions to the panelists and facilitated audience discussion. Participants then had an opportunity to attend two workshops where they could discuss the project’s research and connections with local schools in greater depth.

“The workshops provided opportunities for more informal dialogue between the presenters and participants,” said doctoral student Mary Bratsch, co-chair of the symposium. “For example, in the FirstSchool workshop, Christina Gillanders talked about her work with Latina and African American moms. She described issues that these moms were experiencing with their children in schools and asked participants to help her think about ways of approaching the school principals to make school administrators aware of the issues without alienating them.”   

In the afternoon, the group re-convened to hear Dean Bill McDiarmid speak about the bridges between research and practice. He emphasized that these bridges are not new but that they need to be strengthened. He gave examples from Bell Labs and other industries that have successfully associated their research with their practice.

The symposium organizers believe that several benefits will come from the day’s interaction. “One benefit is the likelihood of increased cross-pollination of researchers from different disciplines across our campus,” said doctoral student and symposium co-chair, Beth Bader. “After exchanging research ideas at the symposium, researchers from the School of Social Work said that they hope to develop more collaboration with researchers from the School of Education.”

“Also I think that many of us began to think more deeply about ways of connecting research to practice and how to set a research foundation for practice,” Bader said. “Once I understood the intersection of research and practice, I could see that it’s a natural connection and doesn’t need to be forced.”

“One thing that all the project representatives talked about was the importance of making sure that school-based research fits the needs of the school,” said Bratsch. “It’s important that researchers not impose their research interests on schools but rather listen to the ideas and needs of the schools and use those as a basis for research.”

“What I learned at the symposium convinced me that I need to be thinking about research in a different way,” Bratsch added. “I need to think about the larger picture of education and schooling, and how research can tap into that.”  

Participants agreed that the symposium was enlightening and inspiring. They reported that they valued the diversity represented by the four highlighted projects and found all the breakout sessions to be energetic and passionate as well as filled with practical information. They appreciated the involvement of researchers from the School of Social Work and the FPG Child Development Institute.  

One participant commented, “The RTSP session was a good opportunity to learn more about how to approach schools and work with them.” Another said of the ESSP session, “It was interesting to see their perspectives on what and how to measure change in schools. … I will definitely make use of the ESSP database.”

Faculty awards

Three faculty awards were presented during the symposium’s afternoon session by doctoral student and symposium committee member, Cary Gillenwater.
Judith Meece, professor of educational psychology and chair of Human Development and Psychological Studies, and George Noblit, Joseph R. Neikirk Distinguished Professor of Sociology of Education, received School of Education Distinguished Service Awards, based on nominations from their fellow faculty members. Melissa Miller, assistant professor of special education, received the School of Education Exemplary Teaching Award, based on nominations from students at the School of Education.

Meece was recognized as a strong advocate for students, faculty and programs in the School of Education and an active advisor for many master’s and doctoral students. In her scholarship, she has worked with the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to provide education for young women and girls, building their skills and confidence and equipping them for productive futures.

Noblit was honored for his service and leadership of a host of committees and initiatives in the School of Education, from the Carolina Teaching Fellows to the Futures Committee. Through his scholarship, said one nominator, he “gives voice to those whose voices are often silent in the conversations of the powerful.”

Miller pushes her students to perform at the highest level and encourages them to undertake challenges and think outside the box, according to her nominators. She leads her students to rethink the way they view Special Education, and supports and assists them throughout the learning process. She “does not just teach and inspire, but also demonstrates a passionate belief that to be an educator is to make a difference in individuals’ lives, the community and society.”  

Each recipient was presented with a framed certificate provided by the symposium committee and a monetary award provided by the UNC’s Alpha Sigma chapter of Chi Psi, a fraternity that holds education as a high priority. One member of the symposium committee is also a member of Chi Psi.  

Resources available through wiki and exhibits

The symposium committee developed a wiki─a collection of Web pages and resources─related to the symposium and its theme of “research to practice.” Resources for teachers are posted in the wiki related to several content areas, including early childhood education, elementary education, English education, English Language Learners, mathematics education, science education and social studies education.

Anyone may obtain these resources by visiting the wiki.

In addition, during the breaks at the symposium, participants had an opportunity to view exhibits from several educational organizations, including the UNC Center for School Leadership Development, NC TEACH, the North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network, the North Carolina Principal Fellows Program, the Model Teacher Education Consortium, LEARN NC and UNC-Chapel Hill’s Odum Institute.

Literature from some of these exhibits is still available to anyone interested and can be found in the Graduate Student Lounge, 202 Peabody Hall.