New Burns Fellowship Program Supports Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Research

December 16, 2015Carrie Gates

A new interdisciplinary fellowship program launched by the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) will train graduate students in state-of-the-art quantitative methods, allowing them to examine the impact of educational policies, programs, and practices.

“This is a game-changer in terms of attracting quality students, focusing their programs of study on rigorous methods of research, and helping them land outstanding placements afterward,” said Mark Berends, professor of sociology and director of IEI’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity.

Beginning in fall 2016, the Rev. James A. Burns Fellowship is open to prospective students applying to Ph.D. programs in economics, political science, psychology, and sociology who plan to pursue educational research.

Mark Berends
Mark Berends

IEI fellows from those departments, along with faculty from the Notre Dame Center for STEM Education, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, and other affiliated centers will train the students.

“Students in the Burns Fellowship program will be able to create and carry out field studies, apply rigorous statistical methods to outcome data, and understand the impact of educational reforms,” Berends said. “To be able to bring those things together is invaluable.”

Named for the Rev. James A. Burns, C.S.C.—a president emeritus of Notre Dame who was known for his passion for education—the fellowships will be awarded to five incoming graduate students each year. Burns Fellows will receive an annual top-off award for up to five years, as well as professional development funding for research and travel.

Nicole McNeil
Nicole McNeil

“This exciting program will strengthen the connections among students and faculty on campus who are dedicated to understanding and improving education,” said Nicole McNeil, ACE Associate Professor of Psychology. “I’m looking forward to my psychology students gaining more exposure to the ways scholars in other disciplines think about research in education.”

In addition to completing coursework in their chosen field, the students will participate in two interdisciplinary courses and a seminar series featuring world-class educational researchers such as Adam Gamoran, president of the William T. Grant Foundation, who will speak at Notre Dame next year.

The first course will offer an in-depth look at how different disciplines—economics, political science, psychology, and sociology—conduct educational research, while the second will delve into designing, managing, and analyzing experiments.

“By engaging in a community of researchers with different approaches and assumptions, students will gain a broader perspective,” McNeil said. “Ultimately, these students will have an easier time generating and producing research that is relevant and accessible to parents, teachers, principals, and policymakers.”

Giving students the opportunity to work in interdisciplinary research teams and alongside faculty who are overseeing experiments—such as William Evans and James Sullivan in the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities—is one of the most valuable aspects of the program, Berends said.

“Those kinds of research experiences are going to be critical for students,” he said. “There are great projects the faculty are doing that have national import, and also fit the mission of the University in a way that contributes to, and hopefully, has an impact on Catholic education.”

The program will further enhance Notre Dame’s role shaping and advancing the educational landscape of the United States, Berends said.

“A truly interdisciplinary program like this will be great not only for the students who participate and the faculty who teach in it,” he said, “but also for the University through its involvement in examining educational policy, programs, and practices.”

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