The Curry School of Education continues to support the Virginia Education Sciences Training (VEST) pre-doctoral fellowship program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. This interdisciplinary program has been supporting Ph.D students at U.Va for over 10 years!
With more than 75 alumni across education, economics, sociology, and psychology departments at U.Va, VEST has produced highly trained professionals who hold positions from postdoctoral scientists to education statisticians to assistant professors. The VEST program applies rigorous research methods and analytical techniques in the social sciences field to study school and classroom effects.
The Curry School of Education continues a Question and Answer series with VEST alumni throughout 2014. We sat down with Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, a 2007 Ph.D graduate in the Risk and Prevention in Education Sciences program, to learn more about her experience at the Curry School of Education and her professional life after graduation.
Dr. Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch is currently a research assistant professor at the Center for Advancing the Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the Curry School of Education in Charlottesville, VA. Her research focuses on the supports and systems that influence children during their early school experiences, and how we can best enhance those experiences to support children’s social, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development. After graduation, LoCasale-Crouch continued in a post-doc position at CASTL before transitioning to a research scientist.
Question: What are some of the main duties of your current position and how did the VEST program prepare you for that?
LoCasale-Crouch: Given my focus on applied research in early childhood education, I spend a lot of time with community members and early childhood teachers assessing what would be useful to their work with young children. The VEST program really prepared me well to collaborate with key researchers and stakeholders while pursuing research questions with scientific rigor that is both effective and meaningful. The opportunity to collaborate with others at the University of Virginia but also across Universities was invaluable to my career development.
Question: How has the VEST program impacted your research interests and future work?
LoCasale-Crouch: From the beginning of my career and return to school with the VEST program, my interests focused on thinking through and understanding the ways in which adults work with children, and how we can find more effective ways to foster supportive adult-child interactions. This focus aligned well with the work of many of the VEST faculty. Though faculty focused on different age ranges or approaches to this idea, a central theme of helping children have more successful early experiences to start on a positive growth trajectory exists. The VEST program specifically increased my interest in seeing teachers as a key aspect of this picture, and thinking through how teachers can understand and enhance their role in helping form that early foundation for children’s future success.
Question: What aspects of the VEST program were a benefit for your future work?
LoCasale-Crouch: The opportunities VEST created to interact with and try to problem-solve with top researchers and practitioners from varying fields was invaluable. Any given research discussion could include viewpoints from psychologists, teachers, economists, sociologists or policy makers. To have those different viewpoints represented really made conversations or approaches to problems much more comprehensive and really prevented students from getting too much tunnel vision from their own discipline. These conversations from multiple perspectives allowed students to understand what it takes to conduct a large-scale study, all the challenges that come with it, the trade-offs with each decision made, and how to do this work well so it makes a difference.
Question: What advice would you give to students who may be interested in educational science or the field of research?
LoCasale-Crouch: Be open to research in different areas of study or interests than your own and think about what you can learn from their work that can inform yours. Thanks to my experience in the VEST program, I developed a more in-depth understanding of what other researchers are doing that you can’t just get from reading an article or on a website, and it made me a better researcher today.