Ed.D. in Educational Administration, 2011
School of Education
December 1, 2011
“Pursuing my doctoral degree at UCI was a decision that completely changed the course of my life.”
My interest in the field of education was sparked during my freshman year at Dartmouth College but was not fully realized until I began pursuing my doctorate. During my first year of college, it became apparent to me that I had mastered the art of memorization but had little ability to think critically or creatively. The vast majority of my papers were returned with a series of questions pushing me to provide more critique or reflection, or in some cases to find my voice. At the time, I found these suggestions frustrating and virtually unattainable. I simply wanted to work hard, get the right answers, and see As on my final transcripts. I chose to major in chemistry because I believed that the hard sciences would offer the kind of discrete and clear information that could be studied, memorized, and reproduced.
Growing up in a small farm town in rural Massachusetts, I had never been encouraged to develop higher order thinking skills or pursue a passion. Perhaps more importantly, I had never realized that anything was missing from my education. No one in my traditional Italian-American family had attended college and therefore my parents, despite their great interest in my academic success, had not been able to identify the growing deficit in my development.
After graduation, I chose to pursue a career in education. I found myself working in a college preparatory boarding school on the east coast, consistently reflecting on the great discrepancy between my educational experience and the one I was witnessing daily. The students in my care were certainly stressed, much like me, but they were engaged with the material and the teachers in a way that I never was. They were eager to share their opinions – and their opinions were valued. It wasn’t until I began my doctoral program that I began to fully understand what I had witnessed. The students in this school were encouraged to see learning as a process and a journey – and not simply a means to an end. They were engaged and personally invested in education, and their teachers had high expectations for growth and development.
My first cognition class with Dr. Michael Martinez not only introduced me to learning and motivation theories, but also inspired me to better understand the human attributes that lead to successful behavior. I became fascinated with the constructs of intrinsic motivation and goal orientation as well as the convincing literature that consistently linked intelligence to success. I realized that I had been extrinsically motivated and performance oriented as a young person, focused on grades as opposed to meaning and growth. Years after that first class, I would defend my doctoral dissertation titled Elements of Human Effectiveness: Intelligences, Traits and Abilities that Lead to Success and Fulfillment in Life. My study compared public high school seniors and adult entrepreneurs in an effort to identify correlations that lead to success (both objective and subjective). I wanted to see if the attributes that lead to success are the same, or different, in the two samples. Research variables included fluid and crystallized intelligence, personality traits, self-efficacy, goal orientation, achievement motivation, and creativity.
From the beginning of my doctoral journey, Dr. Martinez was someone who both inspired and believed in me. Through many twists and turns, which included illness and the birth of my second child, he supported my research efforts and provided the scaffolding that I needed to achieve greater levels of complexity and depth in my work. When the opportunity arose to become the project manager of the ST Math lab, an Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funded study, I immediately applied. The goals of ST Math are nothing short of revolutionizing mathematics instruction. I was intrigued not only by the mission of the program, but also by the fact that the program was being offered for free to some of Orange County’s worst performing schools. Additionally, I was both eager to continue working with Dr. Martinez and interested in strengthening my management and quantitative research skills.
Over the year that I have been a UC Irvine employee, I have helped to establish the Department of Education’s Center for Research on Cognition and Learning (CRCL), of which I am now the Assistant Director. In addition to our ST Math study, we have begun an after school program called Brain Boost that aims to increase intelligence and impress upon children that intelligence can grow through effort and persistence. I have also had the opportunity to teach Education 173: Cognition and Learning, a version of the very same course that inspired me almost a decade ago. Additionally, I joined the Board of Trustees at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School and feel honored to help lead such an incredible institution.
Pursuing my doctoral degree at UCI was a decision that completely changed the course of my life. UCI has become a second home to me in my new state of California. I cannot imagine finding a better place to work, grow, and learn. I feel so grateful to have identified what I had been missing all those years and to be amongst like-minded colleagues who believe learning is both a journey and a lifestyle.