Questions for Ithaka S+R’s Summer 2021 Fellow Cohort
This summer, we welcomed four fellows to our team. In this interview, they reflect on what brought them to Ithaka S+R, what they accomplished, and their experiences this summer.
What attracted you to Ithaka S+R? What current projects are you working on?
Jeremiah Perez-Torres (PhD Candidate, CUNY)
Ithaka S+R works towards improving higher education in a variety of ways and ensures that all voices are heard. As someone who strives to improve access and equity in higher education for communities of color and marginalized folks, Ithaka S+R was the perfect place to join. The main project I worked on this summer was the Community College Academic and Student Support Ecosystem initiative. My role was to develop a blog series that centered the student voice on a variety of themes related to the transition to a “new normal” this Fall at postsecondary institutions.
Raul Armenta (MA Candidate, Teacher’s College)
I was particularly interested in topics and issues on carcerality, education, and policy prior to joining Ithaka S+R. After learning about the organization’s commitment to expanding educational opportunities for diverse populations, I found an opportunity to hone in on research related to my interests and background. By joining the Libraries, Scholarly Communications, and Museums team, I was able to conduct research and contribute to the Ascendium Education Group project to further expand access to higher education for currently and formerly incarcerated people.
Tangier Davis (PhD candidate, University of Michigan)
I was attracted to Ithaka S+R because their goal of making higher education more accessible aligns closely with my own goals as a researcher. Specifically, my work is dedicated to examining and addressing the barriers that people of color experience as they move throughout their career, starting with their time in higher ed. My research has shown me that these barriers are systemic, and, consequently, they need systemic solutions. The work that I do with Ithaka S+R allows me to think of those systemic solutions. For instance, I am working with the Aspen Institute to assess their Rising President’s Fellowship program, which aims to increase the diversity of community college presidents by recruiting and developing diverse leaders who can go on to lead colleges.
Yuzhou Bai (PhD candidate, Princeton University)
I was attracted to Ithaka S+R because of my passion as a researcher of education. This summer, I worked on a landscape review of “research cores”—the research facilities managed centrally and for shared use in American universities—focusing on the challenges their business models face.
What was one learning goal you had for yourself on this fellowship? Did you accomplish it?
My main goal was to build on my research skills prior to pursuing a doctoral degree while expanding my knowledge in the field. Not only was I able to sharpen my research skills and gain professional experience, I also expanded my social network from other fields of expertise. A second learning goal was to improve my organizational skills to improve my productivity. I was able to analyze my productivity while making improvements through professional development training and everyday practices.
One learning goal I had during this fellowship was to learn how to effectively communicate research and different perspectives to the public and postsecondary institutions. The three-part blog series that I developed with my supervisor and others at S+R certainly helped me achieve this learning goal.
One of my learning goals was to apply my skills as a historian to tackle present-day issues. My project at Ithaka S+R certainly embodies that learning experience, and I’m very proud of it!
One goal that I had was to learn how to translate my academic work into information that is both valuable and digestible for non-academic audiences. I believe that I accomplished this. My projects required me to write for stakeholders who needed to understand the theoretical background and the implications of evidence-based learning techniques, and I learned how to state this information in a succinct and clear way. These skills are invaluable!
What strengths and skills did you discover through this experience? In what ways can you use what you’ve learned?
A strength that became apparent for me during my fellowship was my previous experience as an instructor. This experience was useful while I was working on a project that focused on the use of evidence-based learning techniques in the classroom. I was able to offer my perspective as someone who has taught and designed college courses. It reminded me that as important as research is, lived experiences are valuable as well, since they help to contextualize research.
I honed my communication skills through pitching my project to various colleagues, collaborating with them, and the constant exchange of honest and constructive feedback. The deeply collaborative culture at Ithaka S+R certainly helped me develop my people skills, and I am excited to exercise these skills in every organization and team I will join in the future.
Working in a collaborative environment like Ithaka S+R helped me develop the skills needed to pitch and develop a project from the ground up. In addition, it taught me how to effectively work and do research in a non-academic institution, which is quite different from doing this work in the academy. Lastly, learning how to pilot surveys and ensure that they are ready for dissemination was very helpful. All of these skills and many others will be useful for my own work outside of Ithaka S+R and in my future career, and I am very grateful to have gained them during my time here.
A strength that I discovered was my ability to work both individually and within a team in remote settings. Because of this, I discovered new ways to manage my time and share content with my team through different communication mediums and web applications. I became much more knowledgeable about these forms of communication, and it will definitely be useful beyond the fellowship as the use of technology expands.
How will this experience inform your career or shape your professional interests?
I have always been interested in research roles in the not-for-profit sector. This fellowship confirmed to me how enjoyable it is to work with people with shared passion for the greater good. Now I feel more motivated than ever to pursue this path after my PhD.
This was my first opportunity to work outside of academia. I learned so much about myself and about what opportunities there are to use my research skills in different sectors. My fellowship with Ithaka S+R has confirmed that a research role in a non-profit organization would provide me the opportunity to do work that I am passionate about. I am excited to continue this work after I complete my PhD program.
With the knowledge I gained, I am more confident about the professional and academic career paths I can take. Learning about academic jobs that are available beyond the academy helped me realize that I am still able to contribute to participatory action research (PAR), an approach to working with communities collaboratively through both research and advocacy. Ithaka S+R gave me the opportunity to experience one career path that is relatively similar to PAR by conducting research for the public good.
This experience has solidified my passion for working in a research-based organization after completing my PhD where I can contribute my skills and learn more. I feel that I will be adequately prepared to join these types of organizations and do work that has policy implications, particularly with the communities impacted by those policies that I care for, like college students, foster care youth, criminal justice involved individuals, and so on.
Learn more about Ithaka S+R’s fellowship program. We expect to start recruiting the summer 2022 cohort in January.