New Career Options Open Up for Two SURP Interns While at Curry This Summer

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) is a rigorous 10-week internship program funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences as part of the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellowship program.

SURP provides undergraduates from underrepresented populations with valuable research and professional development experiences under the guidance of U.Va. Faculty. Interns are mentored by faculty and graduate' experiences, interests, and the research.

The interns highlighted here are working primarily with Vivian Wong, Ph.D., and Daphna Bassok, Ph.D at the Curry School of Education and EdPolicyWorks. The research project entitled "Examining the Expansion of State Pre-Kindergarten Programs on Private Preschool Markets" examines the impact of state pre-kindergarten programs on private childcare markets.

Karen A. Fernandez attends Mount Holyoke College and is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Educational Policy and Practice. Her research interests include English Language Learners, bilingual education, best practices for Special Education instruction, and the ways in which state and federal education policies affect students with exceptionalities.

Question: How did you get interested in SURP?

Fernandez: I was looking for summer internship opportunities, and found SURP online. I noticed one of the alums was a Mount-Holyoke student, so I reached to her. She told me how great the program was and how much direct research mentorship I would get. I knew I wanted to get a Ph.D, but wasn't sure which was right track for me. This type of intense research program, that provides lots of mentorship and support, was ideal for me to get more experience!

Question: What has been most beneficial for you in SURP?

Fernandez: I've learned a lot about the different paths people can take in their careers in educational science. Seeing these different paths and how there is no right or wrong way to do it has been a very reassuring thing for me. I used to think I had to go right into graduate school, but now I know I could work public schools to see what needs to be improved on which would eventually lead me to my research as a PhD student later. This program has definitely made me think differently about the different paths that I could take after college.

Joshua Hughes attends Claflin University where he is a psychology major with a minor in philosophy. His passion is to influence youth to pursue education and help improve their lives.

Question: How has the research experience with SURP helped you think about other research you are doing?

Hughes: This program has been a great way to help me think about my senior thesis at Claflin. I have been thinking about ways I could take my SURP research and extend it as a project for my thesis. I'm interested in family structure and success, and trying to see if students that come from single parent families or families with two biological parents have higher GPA and graduation rates. My SURP research is looking at childcare centers and family childcare homes, and how different communities have unequal access to high quality programs because of lack of funding or resources. All my SURP experience has made it easier for when I'm going to have to do my own senior thesis.

Question: How has SURP helped you think about your career?

Hughes: A number of aspects of this program have helped me think about my career. During one of our faculty lunches, I got to interact with someone who was a social worker and now doing research. My affiliate mentor, who is a graduate student in psychology, has also given a lot of information about that type of career. Finally, in our faculty advisor meetings, we are mapping out our career trajectories and getting advice on different paths to choose in educational science. All these things have helped me solidify my career. 

Fernandez and Hughes are the second group of SURP interns interviewed in the 2016 series, and you can read more about the other interns on our alumni website.

For more information about SURP, please visit our website or email