"Improving educational equity, reducing social inequalities."
College: Social Sciences and Public Policy
Degree Program: Sociology
Awards: P.E.O Scholar Award (2019); Phi Kappa Phi Love of Learning Research Grant (2017).
After completion of a year of service as an AmeriCorps Fellow, I joined the staff of the Office of National Fellowships (ONF) at Florida State University (FSU). My responsibilities included recruiting and advising traditionally underrepresented students for scholarships, fellowships, and other educational programs. I recognized the persistence of inequality in the higher education system and could see the challenges that minority students had in achieving the same outcomes as their wealthier, white peers so it was a natural fit to pursue my PhD at FSU where I could study education inequalities in the context of a bureaucratic system I knew how to navigate. The FSU Department of Sociology features rigorous quantitative methods training and faculty with expertise in education and institutional inequalities. Additionally, I was attracted by the opportunity to cross-register for elective coursework in the College of Education to bolster my expertise in the sociology of education.
Motivation to pursue a graduate degree
My commitment to education equity research is grounded in my experiences serving as AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow at a non-profit in Boston’s South End. I was tasked with designing and implementing a college preparation program for racial-ethnic minority teens from low-income backgrounds. On paper, my role appeared simple: to motivate teens to pursue their dreams of going to college. Within the first few weeks on the job, however, I quickly understood how earning a high school diploma alone was an incredible achievement for these students, considering their lack of adequate resources and support both at school and at home. During that year as an AmeriCorps Fellow, I saw firsthand how systemic social inequality and injustice lead to lower academic, workforce, and economic outcomes for today’s young people. This experience has motivated me to pursue my career in education, identifying evidence-based best practices for mitigating education disparities and improving student outcomes.
Importance of research
Aiming to produce an increasingly talented pool of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduates, the American higher education system has developed various policies and programs designed to increase retention and graduation rates in these fields. One strategy is the implementation of STEM Intervention Programs (SIPs) which aim to remove barriers between students and their pursuit of STEM degrees and careers. Many of these programs focus on leveling the playing field for groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM, including racial-ethnic minority and low-income students. My quantitative dissertation research project investigates four distinct SIPs implemented on one campus that purport to improve the education and career outcomes of racial-ethnic minority students. Overall, this study will systematically assess whether educators can mitigate the differential STEM preparations that underrepresented racial-ethnic minority students experience in primary and secondary school compared to their white peers“ and if so, will illuminate what specific strategies contribute to achieving STEM education parity across racial-ethnic groups. Researchers, practitioners, and funders may use these findings to improve their practices and affect the lives of students who aspire to complete STEM degrees.
I want to continue a career in analytical research, contributing to the development of state and federal programs and policies that will eliminate educational and early-career employment achievement gaps. I plan to maintain an active academic publishing and teaching career, while also publishing practitioner-oriented texts and workbooks that share evidenced-based best practices for reducing STEM inequalities from K-12 through graduate education. I am committed to making a strong local impact at community colleges and universities here in North Florida and hope to contribute to wider regional and national dialogues about mitigating inequalities in education and the early-career workforce.
Advice for prospective graduate students
I've seen many folks compare graduate school to a marathon - in that the road to getting a PhD is like a long race that requires endurance. However, I think I might characterize graduate school more like a triathlon, or decathlon: sure, you have to keep on pace for a long time, but it has the added twist of switching between very different skill groups along the journey. In a given semester, you may find yourself taking classes, teaching, apprenticing under faculty, performing research, and programming in statistical software, working independently, working in teams, and writing manuscripts for publication. In that sense, I'd encourage anyone considering graduate school, or students early in their graduate school journey, to try out a lot of these skills and have the courage to keep going, even if you "stumble" the first few times or if you're decidedly better at some skills than others. I find a lot of excitement in transitioning between different skill sets; it keeps me interested and motivated to keep moving forward.
Accomplishments during graduate career at FSU
Recipient of the 2019 P.E.O. Scholar Award and the 2017 Phi Kappa Phi National Honors Society Love of Learning Award.
"Warming the Chill: Insights for Institutions and Researchers to Keep Women in STEM
Emily Šaras and Lara Perez-Felkner (2019) “Sociological Perspectives on Socialization”
Šaras, Emily and Lara Perez-Felkner (2018) Blog: Wicked Problems, Wicked Solutions From the Classroom: Students Co-Create A Social Movement Photovoice Blog Following the Parkland, FL School Shooting Won’t You[r Money] Be Mine? The Marketability of Queer Inclusivity on Valentine’s Day