IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Helping People with Disabilities Achieve their Employment Goals

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is held every October to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. This year, we asked Dr. David Mann, a senior researcher at Mathematica and alumni of our University of Pennsylvania predoctoral training program, to share his journey as a researcher with a physical disability as well as his current research on vocational rehabilitation.

As a person with a physical disability, how have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

Having a disability has profoundly shaped my scholarship and career. My research focuses on the employment, benefit receipt, and health of children and working age adults with disabilities. My interest in those topics is rooted in my own experience as a person with a disability. Before my injury and subsequent disability, I had limited interest in disability awareness or policy. But after joining the disability community, I came to appreciate the importance of generating evidence that can empower people with disabilities to live the lives they want. More personally, I view my disability and the insight it provides as a critical component of who I am.

What sparked your interest in education research?

My interest in education research is rooted in my personal experience. I acquired my disability at age 14, just after finishing the eighth grade. I was taught at a young age that education is critical to having a fulfilling career, but that insight became even more important after acquiring a disability. I knew that if I wanted to be independent as an adult, education would be critical. This personal experience made me interested in education research more broadly, especially the intersection of education and disability.     

How does your research on vocational rehabilitation contribute to a better understanding of how to support students with disabilities as they enter the workforce?

The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program provides services and supports—including education-based supports—to people with disabilities who want to work. The services and supports are individually tailored based on each customer’s career goals and barriers to employment. I received VR services during my time in college and graduate school. My recent VR research focuses on testing new interventions that could improve employment outcomes for key groups of VR customers, such as transition age youth or people receiving subminimum wages. If we can generate evidence that identifies more effective strategies for helping people with disabilities achieve their employment goals, then we can have a large positive impact in the disability community.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered as a researcher with a disability and how did you overcome the challenge?

My biggest disability-related challenge as a researcher is managing the effects of my condition, which are wide-ranging. My limited stamina, inability to physically write, and limited ability to type are key challenges when trying to produce research and keep up with colleagues. I use assistive technology and other accommodations whenever possible to overcome these challenges. However, not all the effects of my condition are addressed with technology or accommodations. Consequently, I also do the best I can to take care of myself and avoid situations that demand more stamina than I have.   

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers with disabilities?

If I had to highlight one thing the broader education research community can do to support researchers with disabilities, it would be creating a culture of encouragement. Reflecting on my experience in the predoctoral training program, a few key faculty members linked to the program regularly signaled to me that I could do what I set out to achieve. Put another way, they believed in me. I will always be grateful for that because it gave me the confidence to pursue the career I really wanted, not what I thought was expected of me. Any graduate student can benefit from encouragement but encouraging researchers with disabilities is especially important because of the additional challenges they must overcome.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars with disabilities who are pursuing a career in education research?

Pursue your research passion! I was interested in disability-related research since college, but early in my graduate career an advisor in the economics department dissuaded me from pursuing disability-related research because I have a disability. I now realize how misguided that advice was, but at the time, I followed his advice. It was only after graduate school that I felt free to examine the intersection of disability, education, and employment. Do not make the same mistake—start pursuing now the research topics you care most about.


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see herehere, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. 

David Mann is a senior researcher for Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy. His primary research interests include the labor force participation, human capital accumulation, and benefit receipt of youth and adults with disabilities. He also has expertise in disability policy reform.

This blog post was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), NCER program officer and co-chair of the IES Diversity Council.

It Takes a Village: Supporting the Next Generation of Education Researchers

The IES Pathways to the Education Sciences Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Dr. Guadalupe Carmona, Principal Investigator of the P20 Pathways to Education Research training program at University of Texas at San Antonio to share her career journey and advice on supporting the next generation of education researchers.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

It takes a village….

My goal has been to prepare the next generation of students in STEM by providing all students access to fundamental STEM ideas from an early age. My own early life experiences guided my scholarship and career in mathematics education. I was born and raised in Mexico City by my mother, an English teacher, and my father, a chemical engineer. They always inspired me to wonder, to ask questions, to seek for answers and to ask more questions, to never settle.

I was inspired to become an educator at the age of 15 when I volunteered for an adult literacy program. There, I had the opportunity to meet an amazing group of (mainly) women who taught me the best lessons of my life. One of my students, Doña Lola, was 70 years old. For 40 years, she sold newspapers at the stand only 2 blocks away from where I lived. Every day she would earn a living by selling news that she was unable to read. Doña Lola was an example to her two daughters, who were 35 and 40, who also enrolled to obtain their middle school certificate. For three consecutive years, I met with Doña Lola and her friends every week. Their perseverance and knowledge earned them an elementary school certificate. When graduation day came Doña Lola’s daughters received her diploma because she had passed away.

Doña Lola and all the wonderful people I met in this program have inspired my scholarship and career. They taught me that education was a privilege that I had taken for granted. They taught me about the joy in learning new things that can transform lives in better ways and about the joy of teaching in their learning. Even in these early years in my life, they taught me that students’ agency and participation in learning communities are fundamental to provide all students access to fundamental ideas from an early age.

At the age of 16, I became inspired to become a mathematician. By a teacher’s recommendation, I registered for the Mathematics Olympics. I didn’t know what this was about, but I knew I had to show up on Saturday and Sunday. I was handed three problems and was given four hours to solve them. I found great joy in finding different ways to solve these problems and in finding ways to explain my thinking process clearly so that the judges would understand my reasoning. Several months later, I received a phone call asking me to come with my family to receive an award. In that ceremony, I met Dr. María Trigueros, faculty at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, who offered me a scholarship for the mathematics program. She inspired me to write my honor’s thesis about the Conceptualizations of the tangent line and its relation to the derivative, my introduction to mathematics education.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

My research, teaching, and service have been guided by an integrated vision to build a scalable and sustainable research program to prepare the next generation of students in STEM by broadening access to fundamental STEM ideas from an early age, through innovative approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment. In our research group, we use low-cost technologies that are easily available to develop learning environments in STEM. My work centers on impacting the field to become more diverse and more inclusive of populations who have historically been underrepresented. As a scholar and an educator, I work on broadening participation in STEM and STEM education and building bridges to create pathways from K-16 that leads to improved access and quality to education innovation, research, and workforce in the STEM fields.

In a time when Hispanic students are the fastest growing population in this country, providing support for STEM education resources that are also bilingual/biculturally sensitive in Spanish and English, and especially, strengthening ties with STEM and STEM education researchers in HSIs, Mexico and Latin America, are fundamental pieces to achieve these needed changes. This vision cannot be achieved by a single individual. I am fortunate to work within learning communities formed by national and international network of scholars, research and resources who share this vision.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

It is important that the education research community respond to the imminent need to broaden participation in education research—especially by engaging groups that historically have been underrepresented—and work together towards systemic change. There are at least four key action items:

  • Increase research focus in educational systemic changes by simultaneously addressing equity and knowledge, in the design of PreK-16 learning environments for all students, teacher professional development to support these learning environments, and innovative assessments to capture the complexity of student thinking in these learning environments.
  • Support training programs, such as the IES Pathways Research in Education Training Programs, for underrepresented individuals to develop careers and create new pathways in education research. These programs support fellows to develop knowledge, tools, and experiences in doing research and participating in learning communities and networks to support their lifelong careers in education research.
  • Foster collaborations for interdisciplinary research that requires broad and diverse perspectives to solve grand challenges in education. It is important to have a shared vision and work together in coordinated ways for changes to occur systemically.
  • Make use of science communication training for scholars to disseminate results of educational research, especially when addressing interdisciplinary challenges in education so that relevant knowledge quickly becomes part of public domain and citizen literacy.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

Ask questions. Seek answers. Find mentors. Learn and participate. Be grateful for the doors they will open for you. Build community. Become mentors. Inspire others and open doors for them.

Be passionate about changing the world. Be strategic about the ONE thing you want to change; prioritize and focus. Always remember that YOU are part of the change!


Dr. Carmona is a Professor in STEM Education at The University of Texas at San Antonio and also serves as Executive Director of ConTex, an initiative between the University of Texas System and Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) to foster binational academic collaborations between Mexico and Texas that are mutually beneficial for both countries. Dr. Carmona’s research agenda for the past 20 years has focused on broadening participation in STEM and addressing the need to prepare the next generation of students who can have democratic access to the fundamental and complex ideas in STEM from an early age. 

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program.

Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Behavioral Interventions in Early Childhood

The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention is designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Dr. Jun Ai recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Her research focuses on the implementation of early childhood behavioral interventions, particularly for young learners with disabilities and those from minoritized communities. We recently caught up with Dr. Ai to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.

How did you begin your career journey as an education researcher?

My research focuses on the equitable and sustainable implementation of early childhood positive behavioral interventions and supports (EC-PBIS) to promote the social-emotional and behavioral health of all children, especially those with disabilities and/or from minoritized groups. Before starting my PhD program, I was a special education teacher working with students with autism spectrum disorders in China. That’s when I learned about applied behavioral science and PBIS. I decided to become a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) during my doctoral studies at the University of Kansas. Through my BCBA practicum, I worked with young children with disabilities and challenging behaviors in self-contained settings.

Meanwhile, I was also supervising pre-service teachers and behavioral analysts working in inclusive early care and education settings where behavior issues were addressed through multi-tiered EC-PBIS. These experiences deepened my interest in EC-PBIS and led me to research how to prepare professionals to use multi-tiered EC-PBIS to promote foundational social-emotional competence and prevent challenging behaviors for all children, regardless of their abilities or forms of diversity. Most importantly, I study how equitable and sustainable implementation of EC-PBIS can reduce racial disciplinary disparities to eventually eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education. Through my dissertation and NCSER-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas, I led multiple independent research projects in these areas. With the support from my mentors, Judith Carta, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jay Buzhardt, I also had the opportunity to work on several NCSER-funded projects that address issues in EC-PBIS and the implementation of evidence-based practices.

What is the most rewarding part of your research?

Currently, I serve on the Iowa state leadership team of EC-PBIS and continue to expand my scholarship on EC-PBIS implementation through my research and teaching capacities. The most rewarding part of my work has been gaining expertise in a variety of research methodologies, especially mixed-methods research. Mixed-methods research allows me to carry out rigorous quantitative intervention and test hypotheses while also hearing the voices of participants and various stakeholders using trustworthy qualitative methodology, with data from each method informing the other. As a result, I can tackle complex issues related to implementing interventions in real-world settings and improve the design of interventions.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

One of the greatest needs is around diversifying the researcher leadership workforce. Higher education institutions need to prioritize recruitment, retention, and tailored support for educational researchers from historically and currently marginalized groups based on their race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, disabilities, and more.

Equally important is the need to increase funding resources for minority researchers whose scholarship aims to dismantle systemic racism and racial inequities in our educational systems. Researchers of color need more seats at the table to disturb the power imbalance within the research community, advocate for students and families in their own communities, and improve the relevance of education research for diverse groups.

Last but not least, the education research community at large needs to question the status quo of how to conduct research for, with, and by diverse communities.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

Find the research topic that gives you goosebumps. It might be hard at the beginning when research interests are highly directed by the existing research agenda of advisors or funding sources. But don’t let that feeling of butterflies go. Try to start small. It might mean stepping out of your normal circle to find mentors, allies, or funding agencies that are also excited about your mission and your research interests.

Remember that you need to be so good that nobody can ignore you. Researchers of color, especially minoritized early career scholars, still need to work multiple times harder to be seen and heard. Unfortunately, this will still be true in the foreseeable future. Find and join minority education researcher communities through professional organizations or organize your own. You are not in this alone.

While continuing to hone your craft, speak up for yourself and your community when you can. Recognize your own burdens and privileges and stand with the most oppressed. Learn about and practice how to have a voice at the table even though your culture or your lived experience told you otherwise. The work you care about can change students' and families’ lives. Your work matters. Your voice matters.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see herehere, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

This blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Supporting Bilingual Learners in Early Childhood

The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention was designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Xigrid Soto-Boykin recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor and senior scientist at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on early childhood education for bilingual learners, including those with communication impairments. We recently caught up with Dr. Soto-Boykin to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.

Photo of Xigrid Soto-Boykin

As a Puerto Rican who learned English at age 11 and who was the first person in my family to attend college, my passion for conducting research focused on high-quality early childhood education for Latinx preschoolers stems from my personal experiences.

During my postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas under Dr. Judith Carta, I had the opportunity to conduct community-based research in a local bilingual early childhood center in Kansas City. Initially, my goal was to expand my dissertation work, which focused on evaluating the effects of bilingual emergent literacy instruction for Latinx preschoolers. However, like all great stories go, my research agenda took some unexpected twists and turns. On the day my initial research study was approved, we were informed we needed to work remotely and that we could not go on-site to conduct our research due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What initially felt like a major setback became an opportunity to expand my research. While working remotely, I continued to collaborate with the administrators and teachers to determine their most pressing needs. We co-constructed a strategic plan for identifying the center’s strengths and areas for improvement. To address areas identified as major needs, we began initiatives to provide educators with ongoing professional development and families with engagement opportunities. Through this research-community partnership, we were awarded a Kauffman Quality Improvement Grant. This grant is funding our creation of the infrastructure necessary to apply data-based decision making to guide teacher professional development and monitor children’s school readiness and bilingual development.  

In 2020, as the nation was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and a reckoning of the structural racism impacting the lives of Black and Brown individuals, the work I was doing at the bilingual early childhood center became contextualized. I saw how teachers who earn minimal wages risked their lives to provide essential care for children and families. I saw how families struggled to make ends meet after losing their jobs. I began understanding how linguistic discrimination impacts the way researchers, educators, and policymakers address bilingualism. As I read outside my typical fields of speech-language therapy, bilingualism, and early childhood special education, I began to see how the interconnected systems in our society impact the lives of Latinx bilingual children.

This renewed understanding led me to where I am today. In 2020, I launched a website, habladll.org, containing free resources for parents, teachers, and therapists working with bilingual children. I am presently an assistant research professor and senior scientist of bilingual learning at The Children’s Equity Project (CEP) at Arizona State University. The CEP is a non-partisan center that seeks to inform research, policy, and practice to promote equitable access to early childhood education. In this role, I am applying what I learned during my postdoctoral fellowship to ensure young dual language learners with and without disabilities and their families receive the bilingual support they deserve.

My research and personal experiences are one and the same. I see myself as a scholar-activist with the goal of creating just educational experiences for Latinx children and their families. I am grateful for my training, mentors, colleagues, and community partners who continue to equip me with the tools to co-create a world where Latinx children receive high quality early childhood instruction centered on their unique linguistic and cultural assets.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, hereand here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

This blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Challenging Implicit Bias in Schools

School environments are places in which students, particularly students of color, are exposed to implicit bias and discrimination that can negatively impact their academic outcomes. In this interview blog, we asked prevention scientist Dr. Chynna McCall to discuss how her career journey and her experiences working with children and families from diverse populations inspired her research on creating equitable school environments.   

 

Chynna McCall PhotoHow did you begin your career journey as a prevention scientist?

Perhaps my most valued professional experience is serving as a licensed school psychologist in public schools in Colorado, working with children and families from racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse populations. This experience inspired me to join the Missouri Prevention Science Institute in 2018 as an Institute of Education Sciences postdoctoral fellow, where I studied how to use research to solve real-world problems. More specifically, I learned how to use prevention science to develop and evaluate evidence-based practices and interventions that prevent negative social and emotional impacts before they happen. After my fellowship, I was hired and promoted to a senior research associate position at the Missouri Prevention Science Institute. In this role, I have operational responsibilities for various federally funded grants and conduct my own grant-funded research. Presently, I am working on the development and testing of an equity-focused social-emotional learning curriculum for 3rd through 5th grade students.

What challenges did you observe as a school psychologist?

As a school psychologist, I worked in two vastly different school districts. In one, most students came from low-income families, spoke English as a second language, and the school's performance on standardized tests was significantly below average. Most of the challenges I tackled during my time there could be categorized as social-emotional; most students had unbalanced home lives, and many suffered emotional or physical trauma. Because the school district pressured teachers to improve test scores, focus on behavior and classroom management unilaterally shifted towards scholastics. The unfortunate outcome was neglecting to acknowledge the role that student behavior and the root causes of those behaviors play in affecting academic outcomes. While the second district I worked for was a high-performing one with generally high socioeconomic status, I chose to work for the school designated for those children in the district who have serious emotional disabilities.

Even though there are stark differences between the two districts, I consistently encountered a need for students to develop better relationships with their teachers, peers, and parents, develop a better sense of self, and for teachers, other school personnel, students, and parents to have a better understanding of how their practices and interactions are impacting student social-emotional and academic outcomes.

How does your background as a school psychologist influence your research?

My experience as a school psychologist has reinforced my understanding of what is needed to improve public education and what research questions are of utmost importance. Through my time as a school psychologist, it helped me define the goals of my research, which include 1) understanding the influence of prejudice and discrimination on student internal and external behaviors and outcomes, 2) understanding how school personnel expression of prejudice and discrimination influence student internal and external behaviors and outcomes, and 3) determining how to most effectively develop an equitable school environment that positively influences marginalized and minoritized youth outcomes.

My research examines how school environment—including the prejudicial and discriminatory thoughts and behaviors of school staff, students, and guardians—influences identity development, identity expression (for example, racial identity, gender identity, sexuality, and intersectionality) and internal and external behaviors. The objective is to use this knowledge to create a school environment that facilitates prosocial student identity development. My research hinges on my observations and experiences as a practicing school psychologist to focus on how to shift differential outcomes observed in public education due to experiences of discrimination both in and out of the school setting.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I believe schools at every level of education are microcosms for the greater society. How students traverse through the school system dictates how they will navigate through the macrocosm of society. How students navigate the school system can be improved if school systems are equipped with the tools that allow staff to prepare the students better academically, socially, and emotionally. These tools are essential for students who are having a difficult time because of cultural, linguistic, psychological, or physical differences from their peers. It is crucial for the research community to continually advocate for positive change in our education system, work towards better understanding student needs, and develop effective and efficient tools that better promote student growth and outcomes.

I also believe that researchers who study school environments must explicitly study bias. We have to look at whether and how school professionals are becoming aware of and challenging their implicit biases, as well as how students are becoming aware of bias and how they deal with it—either by internalizing it or challenging it. We also must look into how challenging or accepting bias affects students emotionally, behaviorally, and academically.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

See your perspective and experience as assets. Your perspective is underrepresented and is needed in making necessary changes to education and education outcomes. When you view your perspective as something of value, you are better able to determine what unaddressed research questions need to be asked and to move education research in a direction that is more inclusive of every student.


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, here, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Black History Month blog series, we are focusing on African American/Black researchers and fellows as well as researchers who focus on the education of Black students.

Dr. Chynna McCall is a Senior Research Associate with the Missouri Prevention Science Institute at the University of Missouri. Prior to this position, she was an IES postdoctoral fellow in the Missouri Interdisciplinary Postdoctoral Research and Training Program training program.

Produced by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer, and Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and predoctoral training program officer.