Research Statement

My research focuses on the core academic mission of postsecondary institutions and emphasizes the relationship between students’ educational experiences and the outcomes associated with holistic development. Specifically, my work falls into two overlapping areas of inquiry: academic experiences and outcomes and research design. I primarily employ quantitative methods, including multiple regression, logistic regression, mixed methods multilevel modeling, structural equation modeling, fixed effects regression, and propensity score analysis. I have expertise in using large-scale survey data from datasets such as the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education—a longitudinal, multi-institutional study examining college experiences and outcomes—and the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement—a cross-sectional, multi-institutional survey examining instructors’ experiences in the academy and their expectations for student engagement—as well as in designing studies and managing data collection. I approach research with critical awareness, examining both how postsecondary education and research methods can promote equity. Across my areas of inquiry, I work to inform higher education policy and practice by providing useful insights for instructors, administrators, policymakers, and researchers.

I have investigated four issues that influence students’ educational experiences: instructional practices, instructors, disciplines, and curriculum. The outcomes I emphasize are associated with students’ development as global citizens prepared for purposeful lives and meaningful work, including cognitive skills and dispositions, psychological wellbeing, authenticity, openness to diversity, and social responsibility. My examinations of the effects of instructional practice using large-scale data have focused on good practices such as collaborative learning and academic challenge, as well as the ways in which these relationships may be moderated by student background characteristics such as race/ethnicity, sex, and academic ability. Recently, I have been conducting a series of collaborative projects that disaggregate good practice scales to identify the instructional mechanisms that make these practices effective; this line of inquiry emphasizes the practical implications of my research for college instructors and faculty developers. Further, I have been involved in two studies of pedagogy specific to STEM courses. In the College of Engineering, I conducted a study with an experimental component of a single course that had been redesigned to include more active and collaborative learning activities. Similarly, I have been involved in a quasi-experimental study of collaborative learning in Computer Science funded by the National Science Foundation.

Widening the scope beyond the classroom, my research also explores how academic culture is transmitted within the organization of higher education. For instance, at the disciplinary level, I have examined the relationship between disciplinary affiliation and the use of good practices. Two projects have used instructors as the unit of analysis. One investigates the organizational, disciplinary, and professional influences on instructors’ emphasis on intellectual development in their course design. In the other, I look specifically at non-tenure-track faculty to see which organizational behaviors communicate a commitment to their success. Given the increasing reliance on contingent faculty in the United States, institutions of higher education as employers must consider how to effective communicate support to these instructors, as perceived organizational support precedes employees’ development of affective commitment to the institution, fostering loyalty, job satisfaction, and engagement in the academy. At the curricular level, my work has examined the impact of the general education curriculum on students’ intellectual development, as well as the relationship of programs such as first-year seminars and honors with students’ persistence, success, and satisfaction in college.

My other primary area of research explores research design. In particular, I am interested in issues of outcome measurement and quantitative analysis. Two new scales I have created using data from the Wabash National Study provide more equitable and holistic alternatives to commonly used outcome measures. The critical being measure captures a wider set of skills, dispositions, attitudes, and behaviors than traditional measures of critical thinking; subscales includes critical and creative thinking, cognitive dispositions and judgment, and social awareness and responsibility. Further, group differences on critical being are far less than scores on the standardized critical thinking test included in the study, which privileges students with dominant identities. As an alternative to existing measures of spirituality, which are often explicitly ties to religious beliefs, my new measure of authenticity incorporates qualities of spirituality, such as modeling values, engaging in caring interactions, and using reflection for self-acceptance and self-improvement. The authenticity scale allows for measurement of students’ inner development regardless of their religious beliefs. Both new measures are currently being used in projects that examine how development of these outcomes is influenced by students’ experiences. Another line of inquiry explores how students’ cognitive and affective traits influence their perceptions of college; these projects inform researchers and administrators who use student survey data about the necessity of controlling for these non-demographic qualities. My work on quantitative analysis uses quasi-experimental methods, such as propensity score analysis, to better understand the relationship between high-impact practices and students’ outcomes, and some projects explicitly compare quasi-experimental and correlational analyses to add nuance to recent trends in quantitative analysis.