Q&A: Alumna Reflects on Key Research Skills Gained at Curry

By Leslie M. Booren

Educational Psychology alumna Angie Henneberger discusses her experience in the VEST program, and how she used it as a springboard for her career in research.

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With more than 80 alumni across education, economics, sociology, and psychology departments at the University of Virginia, the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellowship program has produced highly trained professionals who now hold positions from postdoctoral scientists to education statisticians to assistant professors.

The VEST program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, has been supporting doctoral students at UVA for over 10 years. The program applies rigorous research methods and analytical techniques in the social sciences field to study school and classroom effects.

In continuing a question-and-answer series with VEST alumni, we sat down with Angie Henneberger, a 2012 graduate from the Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science (EP-ADS) program, to learn more about her experience at the Curry School of Education and her professional life after UVA.

Angie Henneberger, Ph.D. is currently a research assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the research director for the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center, which is a state-wide repository of education and workforce data from Pre-K through K-12, Higher-Ed, and the workforce.  Prior to this position, Henneberger completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Prevention and Methodology Training (PAMT) program at Pennsylvania State University.

Question: How did your experience at UVA set you up for a career in research?

Henneberger: My experience at UVA shaped and grew my research interests. I knew when I started the VEST program that I was interested in interventions, adolescence, and how we can use preventive science to shape the future of youth. But I didn’t really have a clear understanding of how to do that, or what the most appropriate research questions would be. Over time the program really shaped my interests and I was able to more clearly articulate the mechanisms to actually intervene in behavioral and educational processes. The VEST program also helped me to learn advanced statistical methods and be able to apply quantitative and qualitative methods appropriately to answer prevention and intervention research questions.

Question: What skills do you use in your current job that you learned while at UVA?

Henneberger: In my current position, I am directing the research for a state agency, which has allowed me to apply the knowledge I learned at the Curry School. I am applying my advanced methodological and research training to large statewide data linked across state agencies to evaluate programs and policies in Maryland. At Curry, I learned to think at multiple levels, from state to district to school to individual levels. I use this frequently in my current position because I have to zoom in and think about a problem or policy locally, and then zoom back out and think state-wide or nation-wide again. This is critical in my position, and the training through the VEST program helped me acquire those critical skills.

Question: What was the most rewarding part of your experience at the Curry School of Education?

Henneberger: Undoubtedly the relationships I developed and the strong support I received for my research and professional development. My faculty mentors provided support to find opportunities in networking, in supporting my career development, and growth across the board including research, teaching, and mentoring students. I had a primary mentor at the Curry School, but every faculty member within VEST and the Department of Psychology, was more than happy to work with me, help me, and mentor me along the way. That in turn has made me a better faculty mentor and teacher in my current position.

Question: What advice would you give to those interested in education sciences and research?

Henneberger: I would suggest finding good mentors that really care about you and support your development. Also, find mentors who have overlapping research interests with you—this will help to expand your thinking and move you more towards an independent research career. Finally, don’t be afraid of learning statistical methods and try to learn as many methods as you can, including qualitative and quantitative methods. You never know when those methods might be useful in your career and having more methods in your toolbox can be beneficial down the road.

Henneberger is the eleventh VEST fellow alumni interviewed in this series. Read the other Q & A articles with Wei-Bing Chen, Erin Dunlap, Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, Terri Sabol, Laura Brock, Myles Durkee, Maria Fitzpatrick, Eva Galdo, Anne Cash, and Riana Anderson.

For more information about the VEST program, please visit our website or email [email protected]