Student Spotlight: Triple ’Hoo Shares Thoughts on Ed Policy Research and Earning Her 4th UVA Degree

By Leslie M. Booren

Katharine Meyer, a rising 5th year in the Ed Policy Ph.D. program, reflects on her UVA experience, her passion for studying education inequality and her hopes of becoming a quadruple ’Hoo.

Katharine Meyer_0.jpgKatharine Meyer is a rising 5th year doctoral candidate in the Education Policy MPP/Ph.D. program through the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, as well as a researcher at EdPolicyWorks. Meyer grew up in Westbrook, Maine, but moved to Virginia for high school.

In this student spotlight, Meyer discusses her experience at UVA and the research interests that put her on the path to becoming a quadruple ’Hoo. She has earned three degrees from UVA: a bachelor’s in government, a M.Ed. in research, statistics and evaluation, and a master’s in public policy. This year, Meyer will be completing her Ph.D. in education policy from the Curry School.

Question: What sparked your interest in Ed Policy research?

Meyer: As part of my time as a UVA undergrad, I had the opportunity to get involved with a research project that was focused on helping low income and minority students prepare for Advanced Placement (AP) courses. It was a really great opportunity to not only work directly with the students and their teachers over the summer, but also to see the research end of that project to understand all that goes into crafting an effective program and how to evaluate the impact on students’ lives. Now as a graduate student, I’m interested in similar out of classroom experiences that students have. Because students spend a lot of time in school in direct instruction, a lot of education policy has focused on those experiences and interactions with teachers. However, students also spend a substantial amount of time outside of the classroom, and I’m interested in how we can leverage that time to reduce income inequality and improve educational outcomes. One of my projects focuses on the counseling and advice students receive, particularly in high school, and how we can examine the effects school counselors have on student outcomes in similar ways to how we’ve identified the effects of teachers and other school professionals.

Question: What research are you working on right now?

Meyer: I have a really exciting project working with the Brooklyn Public Library to examine how non-school institutions can affect young adolescent literacy development. We’re piloting some interesting innovations on how we can increase student and parent engagement at the library. At the start of the project, we did a thorough review of their existing communication strategies, from their emails, phone calls and text messages to the posters on the wall when you walk into the library. Then, we did an analysis of their data system and what capacity they have to leverage that for future interventions. It’s been a really great opportunity to take a lot of the skills I’ve developed in other research partnerships and in my classes at UVA and apply it to a very concrete question. This project has given me the chance to work deeply with an implementation partner—people who are on the ground such as librarians who interact with these youth every day and have this deep knowledge and institutional understanding of their library engagement. I get to couple my research expertise with their content expertise, and put together both structural and behavioral recommendations on how we can improve student outcomes. We hope to have an effect on the students’ academic outcomes both in the short run and in their long-term affinity for literacy, the library, and learning in general.

Question: What motivates you to do this research?

Meyer: I’m really motivated by the deep economic inequality in educational outcomes and educational opportunities that students face in this country. Research shows that 9% of students born in the lowest income quartile will eventually earn a B.A., compared to more than half of students in the top income quartile. This gap in college completion doesn’t appear all at once – it’s a result of students spending their life in educational systems that disadvantage students from lower-income backgrounds. These inequalities are partially a result of big policies as well as a function of many small steps along the educational trajectory where lower-income students face higher barriers to persistence than their more affluent peers. In many cases, high income students have what we call social capital or knowledge of the educational and financial systems that helps them navigate the systems and access better opportunities, whereas low income students tend to drop away bit by bit along each step, creating this big college completion gap. I’m really interested in looking at the small steps along the way, and seeing how targeting each one of those individually can lead up to a really big impact.

Question: What’s next for you?

Meyer: Going forward, I will be looking for a faculty position at a university in either a policy or education school. I’m particularly interested in studying higher education and students’ experiences from high school to college, but also more broadly interested in the application of behavioral sciences to all of the “small steps” along the education trajectory that contribute to postsecondary attainment and achievement gaps. I’m also passionate about teaching and mentoring students, and having opportunities to engage with collaborative departments to do rigorous research that has practical applications. Academia is an ideal setting that encompasses all this!

Meyer is also an IES pre-doctoral fellow in the Virginia Educational Sciences Training (VEST) program and a research affiliate for the Nudge4 Solutions Lab at UVA.

EdPolicyWorks is a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. EdPolicyWorks brings together researchers from across the University of Virginia and the state to focus on important questions of educational policy and implications for the workforce.