Alum Stephanie Couch Tackles STEM, and More

Stephanie Couch

Stephanie Couch (Department of Education, Ph.D., 2012) was recently named Interim Associate Vice President for Research and Professional Development at CSU East Bay. She kindly agreed to answer some email questions for the Gevirtz School in relation to her new post and her time her at UCSB.

GGSE: That's quite a title--what does it mean you end up doing?

Dr. Couch: There are numerous aspects to this new role. The most immediate need is to support faculty with the day-to-day implementation and management of grants. I will be working to create a service center that reduces the timelines, paperwork burdens and workload associated with contracts, purchasing and accounting so that faculty members’ expertise can be devoted to the core focus of the project. Compliance with applicable rules and regulations is also part of the job. The most exciting aspect of this new role is the ability to work with members of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Research, faculty PIs and campus administration to enhance and build on existing and emerging research strengths. The Provost is investing University funds in research and I look forward to doing my part, in concert with University Advancement, to build partnerships that generate even more funding for faculty and student research from external sources.

GGSE: You are also the Executive Director of the Institute for STEM Education and Director of Gateways East Bay STEM Network. Again, that seems like a huge job--what does it entail? What kind of projects are part of this STEM network?

Dr. Couch: As Executive Director of the Institute I have been working with a Board consisting of the Deans of the College of Science and the College of Education, and faculty from the different disciplines within these two colleges to make CSU East Bay a destination for those who want to major in science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics (STEM). Our regional economy is highly dependent on a diverse and well-prepared STEM workforce. High wage jobs are not limited to STEM majors. Thus, we are also working on interdisciplinary approaches to teaching that infuses STEM into the coursework for non-STEM majors. Increasing retention and graduation rates for our diverse student population is also a major priority.

Gateways, a regional P20 ‘cradle to career’ initiative staffed by the Institute, engages a wide range of stakeholders across Alameda and Contra Costa counties in efforts to address major barriers to students’ success in STEM. Through the alignment of resources and expertise (i.e. collective impact), we are working with partners to implement research-based strategies and to assess their effectiveness over time. Initiatives focus on early numeracy development (preschool – third grade), getting STEM programs into after school settings as a method for increasing learning opportunities (more than 163 thus far), STEM professional learning communities for educators implementing Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, and STEM college/career pathway development efforts in high schools and beyond.
GGSE: When and how did you develop your interest in STEM education?

Dr. Couch: After spending the first 15 years of my career in the State Capitol working on education policy matters and school finance issues, I had the good fortune of launching the University of California’s Institutional Advocacy Office. During this time, UC played a major role in bringing high speed Internet connectivity to K12 schools and county offices of education across the state. I got involved with the design of the network and working with UC faculty and staff in research related to new models of teaching and learning enabled by the new Internet based technologies. This work captured the attention of the Gates Foundation and the Bechtel Foundation who were supporting the development of a statewide STEM network. I had the privilege of designing and launching the California STEM Learning Network which Gateways is affiliated with.

GGSE: Who did you study with at the GGSE, and what kind of research did you do while you were here?

Dr. Couch: Dr. Judith Green was my Faculty Advisor. Professors Richard Duran, Mike Gerber, Danielle Harlow, and Carol Dixon also mentored me. Judith and I first connected during my work with the UC system surrounding innovative uses of new technologies and high bandwidth Internet connections to support teaching and learning. While my other colleagues were busy trying to identify ‘killer apps,' Judith was researching ways new technologies and their models of use in educational contexts impacted learning opportunities and the take-up of new ideas. Her focus on change, evidenced by changes in the discourse between students, teachers and others across time, stood in stark contrast to typical assessments based on standardized test results. I was intrigued by the ways Judith conceptualized the design of new learning opportunities, how she looked at what was being accomplished in real time and over time, and how she was able to make visible what difference the differences (i.e. new technology supported models) had made.

After years of work on joint initiatives, and with Judith’s encouragement, I ultimately found myself in graduate school where I had the opportunity to learn even more from Judith. My research interest is in interactional ethnography and discourse analysis as a means for researching innovations in educational contexts. Research conducted for my dissertation focused on the formation of an innovative team that designed, developed and implemented a complex technology enabled education program. I was especially focused on how innovative teams form and develop and what constitutes leadership in such teams. I have also examined and presented a research paper on the role of the embedded ethnographer within this team.

It is in this context that I came to fully appreciate just how devoted Dr. Green is to cultivating the next generation of researchers who will carry-on her work in education. She has always given generously of her time, knowledge and expertise. While reaching forward to take her research into unknown territory and to apply her knowledge to new challenges, she has always reached back to those of us who want to develop our research capacity and ability to inform our fields of study.  I am one of many who are eternally grateful for her many contributions.

GGSE: How did the GGSE prepare you for what you do today?

Dr. Couch: My professors provided keen insights into current thinking regarding how people learn and meaning making in educational contexts. They developed my awareness and appreciation of classrooms as cultures in the making, the many ways of looking at cultures in the making and for examining what is being accomplished through social interactions. Faculty introduced me to new ways of looking at innovations in teaching that can improve learning and offered a new language for talking about the benefits to students that is not dependent on quantitative data from pre and post tests. All of these have instilled a passion for further development of my own capacity in the field of ethnography in education and that of future generations. It is this interest, passion and preparation that I am building on in my new work at CSU East Bay.