Ph.D. in Education, 2014
School of Education
September 1, 2010
“I thrive by maintaining ties with real students and teachers in the classroom.”
Mary Cashen is a doctoral student in Education currently specializing in Educational Policy and Social Context. Prior to attending UCI, Mary spent five years teaching a variety of grades and subjects in Los Angeles schools, ranging from second grade to high school mathematics. Mary’s initial interest in education reform stemmed from her experiences volunteering at a low-income Mississippi school as a teenager. Her summer spent in Mississippi allowed her to interact with an impoverished community and make improvements to the school programs to better serve the children in that neighborhood.
Mary’s passion for educating underserved communities continued as an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), where she was an active member of Art Smart. Through this program she and other students volunteered in local elementary schools to provide quality arts instruction that the school could not otherwise afford. After completing her BA in Liberal Studies (LMU, 2004) she continued her education and commitment to underserved students as a member of the Loyola Marymount Place Corps. Through this Catholic teacher service corps she taught second grade at an underserved Los Angeles Catholic school. After completing her MA in Child and Adolescent Literacy (LMU, 2006), leading a Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) team, and teaching second grade for two years, Mary decided it was time for a change and sought out a position where she could have a more lasting effect on education reform.
In 2006 Mary joined a team that took the mission of an existing charter middle school in Los Angeles, expanded it, and opened a new school. This charter organization had sought out low- and mid-performing inner-city Los Angeles kids in the hope of transforming them into students who would be capable of college preparatory work by the time they graduated from eighth grade. Mary’s team recognized that after tremendous academic success in the 5th-8th grade environment, the students had few opportunities to continue on in a college-bound trajectory once they graduated from the middle school. Mary and the five other members of the faculty dedicated their efforts to correcting this. The new charter high school encountered its share of challenges, including a mid-school-year move, but the team was able to extend the success of the middle school experience into high school.
The most exciting success of all was the graduation of the first class, of whom over 90% will be attending college in the fall, most as first generation college attendees.
Mary left teaching in 2009 to pursue a Ph.D. in hopes of making a larger impact on education reform. She loved teaching and the students but felt more education would allow her to reach loftier goals.
UCI was the best fit for me in terms of doctoral programs because the program is enabling me to continue researching students in Los Angeles while working with a talented and supportive group of professors and students at UCI.
In her first year at UCI Mary had the opportunity to work with the credential candidates and university supervisors, both as a teaching assistant and a research assistant. She knows that she thrives by maintaining ties with real students and teachers in classrooms. During her first year she also began a research study looking at the differences in educational outcomes of charter high school students in comparison to their older siblings that attended typical public high schools. Additionally, she worked on a project that is currently in publication with a group of UCLA students examining how race, poverty, and immigration affect access to educational opportunities in six Southern California counties.
During her second year Mary is looking forward to working with students in her new capacity as a teaching associate and continuing her research in Los Angeles charter schools.
Mary views education as an opportunity to immerse oneself in a community, struggle at first to understand it, identify potential hurdles to improving the current situation, and then put your heart and soul back into the community to make it better. She thrives on working in challenging situations where the need is great and making the best of what is available to provide quality, rigorous instruction.
In addition to her interests in education, Mary is an avid snowboarder, wake boarder, and athlete. She believes being active is essential to one’s well-being and welcomes opportunities to lead students in soccer matches, long runs, snowboarding lessons, and late-night snorkeling adventures.