Student Spotlight: Chelsea Duran Tackles Issues of Inequity and Discusses How to Approach Educational Research in the Real-World

Q&A on an EP-ADS Student & VEST Fellow By Pam Jiranek & Leslie M. Booren


Name: Chelsea Duran
Hometown: Minnetonka, MN
4th year Ph.D student in the Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science (EP-ADS) program at the Curry School of Education, a researcher at CASTL, and a VEST pre-doctoral fellow.

Question: How did you get interested in educational research and why did you choose the Curry School of Education?

Duran: I received my Bachelors from Iowa State University and taught high school math at a private school in Richmond. Although the work was really interesting and rewarding, there were social problems and other socio-economic barriers I once thought I understood, but I was being confronted with in new ways. Research was a way to tackle these issues and so I joined the RAND Corporation, a think tank in Washington DC. For three years I was primarily involved in research outside of education, but which helped me understand the inner-workings of governmental agencies. During this time, my interests eventually centered on how poverty affects children’s cognitive development and academic outcomes. I started looking for graduate schools doing work in this area and the Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science program at the Curry School of Education was a great fit. The research here is applied with a real-world focus on inequity, socioeconomic status and factors related to poverty.

Question: What are you working on and how will it influence the field?

Duran: Throughout my time at Curry, my research has focused on self-regulatory development, or children’s ability to respond and adjust to on-going demands in their environment. My work right now examines delay of gratification in a sample of racial/ethnic minority children from low-income families. I see this work as the start of a line of research considering how children from low-income families have adapted in ways which could be considered strengths, but which our current framework sees as weaknesses. It is possible that children who grew up in these different environments have relative strengths in other areas that we’re just not measuring or aren’t aware of them. I’m hoping that my research will serve as a springboard for thinking about these issues from an adaptation framework, as opposed to just a deficit framework. My hope is that this work helps to adjust the way we think about kids coming from low-income backgrounds and families.

Question: What has been the most rewarding part of your Curry program?

Duran: The Educational Psychology-Applied Developmental Science (EP-ADS) and VEST programs have prepared me well to do research. I have a really strong methodological background which has helped me develop a toolkit to conduct research that matches the complexity of real-world settings. Our faculty mentors are always telling us to follow our question, to not let methods and data constrain you, and to always determine what question you’re going to ask first. We are focusing on important issues that have an impact, as opposed to just doing what you can with what falls out of the data. And the faculty are very supportive of this model! I’ve really felt supported by all the faculty and have learned something different from each person I’ve interacted with.

Question: As you leave Curry, what skills are you taking and how will this program have a lasting impact on you?

Duran: Throughout my time at Curry, I have learned how to manage multi-year projects with multiple cohorts of kids—there is a real complexity with managing and analyzing that much data and dealing with the realities of working in a high poverty and highly mobile population. I have also had an opportunity to interact with people with Policy and Economics backgrounds, which has been an important part of shaping the way I think. I’m constantly reminded of another discipline’s perspective. When I have new ideas, I talk with students or faculty in our interdisciplinary community which helps ground my perspective – I have the opportunity to test whether people outside of my research niche also think my questions are interesting and important. This has been invaluable in my training and something I will take into the future as I continue doing applied educational research!

Duran is a doctoral student in the EP-ADS program and a fellow in the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST), a pre-doctoral fellowship program funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. She also is a researcher at the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL).