This past spring, the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education School launched a new lecture series, “ExpandED: Broadening the Understanding of Today’s Educational Issues.” It’s similar to a number of on-going series such as the “Policy Goes to School Lecture Series,” but with a few key differences: graduate students are invited to speak to an audience of undergraduates.
Jacob Kirksey, a fourth year doctoral student in Education, advocated for this series after noticing interest among his undergrad research assistants and other undergrads eager to discuss educational research but often intimidated to speak up at a lecture with faculty members and grad students. With ExpandED, Kirksey hopes to help increase the exposure of the UC Santa Barbara student body to the latest research in a variety of disciplines that concern educational issues. He explained, “The goal of the series is to make research more accessible to undergraduate students by reducing potential power discrepancies and otherwise limited interactions with faculty.”
Mentoring undergraduates is an important aspect of his work at the Gevirtz School; he has had four students receive grants from the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities office. His research group consists of five undergraduates per quarter on average working on projects ranging from looking at drivers of absenteeism/truancy, effects of immigration enforcement on California school districts, and determinants of transfer student success. Kirksey and his students have presented work at the Association for Education Finance and Policy and the Conference on Social Justice in Education. Some of the undergrads are co-authors on manuscripts under review at journals.
One of Kirksey’s graduate assistants, who was interested in learning more about the psychology of immigrant origins students in school, attended the May 9th ExpandED lecture entitled “The Social ABCs: The Role Social Attitudes, Beliefs and Cognition Play in Schooling and Relationships,” by University of Nebraska graduate student, Cory McGinnis. With this opportunity, she was able to ask questions about McGinnis’ research and life as a graduate student in Nebraska. McGinnis even offered to continue the conversation after the lecture ended. “It’s about making these connections happen with some structure but then letting that organic energy develop,” remarked Kirksey. He then half-joked, “I think graduate students aren’t that far off from undergrads. Most of the time, we don’t know what we’re doing either.”
All kidding aside, Kirksey’s commitment to his students has not gone unnoticed. This past June, he was awarded the Dean’s Graduate Mentoring Award from UCSB’s Graduate Division. Kirksey believes that organizing the ExpandED series has given him invaluable experience for a career as a professor. He credits his faculty advisor, Michael Gottfried, and dissertation committee member, Hunter Gehlbach, for demonstrating what it means to be a mentor and advocate for students.