Dissertation Research and Current Student Spotlight

Dissertation Research

Dissertation Defense Announcements | The Graduate School | UNC Charlotte

Dissertation Titles and Abstracts 2018- present

2024 Dissertations

Doctoral StudentTitleAbstract
Dr. Elijah E. DunbarCULTURALLY RESPONSIVE PEDAGOGY AND ITS IMPACT ON THE ACADEMIC OUTCOMES OF MARGINALIZED STUDENTS (K-12) IN THE PEDAGOGICAL SPACES OF URBAN SCHOOLS: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL CASE STUDYCulturally Responsive Teaching is a holistic pedagogical approach that appeals to the “whole child,” “whole school,” and “whole community” (Gay, 2001; Teschers, 2020); it is a multicultural practice that improves teaching and learning, promotes quality education, taps into the potential and uniqueness of students, and impacts learners intellectually, emotionally, kinesthetically, and physically (Gay, 2010; Widodo, 2019). This qualitative phenomenological case study examines the concepts and pedagogical practices of culturally responsive teaching through the shared experiences of educators and implementers of culturally responsive pedagogy to find out how effective those concepts and practices are in improving the academic outcomes of marginalized students (K-12) in urban classrooms. A purposive case sampling method (PCSM) and semi-structured interview were instrumental elements of the data collection process. A grounded theory method was used to both collect and analyze the data. Themes that emerged from the data of the interviews conducted with the participants were amalgamated to form four main themes for the study. Though this study may be limited by generalizability, it however provides answers to some lingering limitation questions of existing studies on culturally responsive practices. This study draws on and adds to the works of Geneva Gay on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.
Keywords: holistic education, education equity, educational inequity, multicultural education, opportunity gap, culturally responsive pedagogy
Dr. Yvonna J. Hines
Teaching During Divisive Times: An Exploratory Study of Black Female Teachers in Social StudiesSocial studies education has garnered significant national attention as state governments throughout the country have waged an intentional, political attack against the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and “divisive concepts” in K-12 public schools. Even though CRT is often conflated with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and not actually taught at the elementary or secondary level, since January 2021, over one hundred anti-CRT (or divisive concepts) bills have been introduced in more than thirty different state legislatures throughout the country that would prohibit educators from teaching about concepts rooted in race. For Black women teachers, these legislative restrictions create a teaching context that pressures them to divert from the historical work of their predecessors and go against the grain of Black female identity. As such, this phenomenological study explored how Black female social studies teachers teach about race, racism, and oppression given today’s hostile sociopolitical climate.
Dr. Wally K. BurgessThe Rearview Mirror: Navigating the STEM (STEAM) Identity of Middle Grades Black Girls Through Online Extracurricular CounterspacesU.S. school achievement has been the subject of much discussion. In the case of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM), the national underperformance across the country, as well as the underrepresentation of minorities are key issues (Anderson et al., 2023; Handelsman & Smith, 2016; National Research Council, 2015; The White House, 2017). Particularly, there is a small, but growing body of research on the low numbers of Black women in STEAM, and the Black girls’ STEAM pipeline. Extracurricular STEAM programs have shown some success in increasing minority STEAM participation. As such, this dissertation seeks to investigate the following research questions: RQ1: How do online extracurricular STEAM programs created for Black girls serve as a potential counterspace to increase STEAM identity? RQ2: Are there identifiable features that exist in online extracurricular STEAM programs that are important for creating a counterspace for adolescent Black girls? Through a qualitative case study, this dissertation explored Black girls’ participation in online STEAM programs. The findings of the study reveal that the extracurricular STEAM programs helped to foster STEAM identities in young Black girls. The programs also helped students build a sense of community and created a safe space for Black girls. The study provides implications and recommendations for educators and policymakers who are interested in increasing minority STEAM participation.
Dr. Jordan Z. BoydBELONGING IN HONORS: AN IN-DEPTH EXPLORATION OF MINORITY EXPERIENCES IN A HIGH-ACHIEVING UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMThis dissertation explores notions of belonging among minority Honors students through student self-identifying questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. One objective of this study is to explore how the Honors educational environment impacts minority student populations and their overall sense of belonging. Another objective of this study is to examine the influence of race, class, gender, culture, and educational experiences prior to entering the Honors College. In the context of this study, a minority classification refers to the student’s self-identification as one or more of the following groups: LatinX, Indigenous American, Black/African American, Pacific Islander, and/or Middle Eastern. The findings indicate that having a fostered identity before entering the Honors College, minority representation, community, and social/emotional safety are aspects of the Honors educational experience that contribute to the participants’ notions of belonging. The study presents implications for diversity, equity, and inclusion in Honors programs, as well as institutional and systemic changes to help promote minority student success.

The Team | K12 Educational Technologies Security and Privacy | UNC Charlotte

Looking Closer at the History of Black Education in Charlotte | Cato College of Education | UNC Charlotte

Meet the Curriculum and Instruction Ph.D. Students

Please help us in congratulating our 2024 Doctoral Fellows Grant recipients!

J. Joy Davis, MBA is a multidisciplinary academician whose scholarship intersects women’s studies, urban education, and business. Davis, a distinguished Holmes Scholar, is obtaining a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction (Urban Education) with a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is a 7-year adjunct faculty in the Department of Communications Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC Charlotte. Additionally, Davis teaches a course in Women’s and Gender Sexuality Studies at Wake Forest University. Her research centers on how race and gender impact high-achieving African-American undergraduate women in their academic experiences. Davis’ two most recent research contributions were published in Films as Rhetorical Texts: Cultivating discussion about race, racism, and race relations” by Lexington Books (2020)and an upcoming anthology, Mamas, Martyrs and Jezebels published by Black Lawrence Press (2024). Congratulations, Joy!

Jessica Hawkins

Jessica Hawkins (she/her) is a first-year student in the Curriculum and Instruction PhD program, specializing in Urban Education. Prior to committing to full-time doctoral studies, Jessica spent 13 years as an elementary educator in her hometown of St. Louis. Her research interests include liberatory school design and non-traditional instructional methods aimed at disrupting curriculum standardization. She is particularly interested in promoting the inclusion of nature-based learning in predominantly Black urban schools. Congratulations, Jessica!

Tasha Allen

As a student in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Curriculum and Instruction doctoral program with a concentration in Urban Education, Tasha Allen aspires to become a professor at a 4 year university.  She plans to teach courses in teacher education and development, but also wants to commit to teaching developmental courses in mathematics.  Her current research interests are STEM education, Teacher education, and Social Justice in Mathematics. In her twenty years of K-12 education, teaching elementary, middle school mathematics, and currently high school mathematics, she has learned that students should be treated as individuals and be taught according to their needs, not a one size fits all curriculum. She spends her free time with her family and traveling. Congratulations, Tasha!

Erica Neal

Erica Neal is a first year doctoral student in the Curriculum and Instruction Program, Urban Literacy. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio in 2010. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Reading Education from University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2022. Erica’s research interests include adolescent reading engagement, adolescent literature, reading instruction, and book banning and censorship. Erica has fourteen years of teaching experience at the middle and elementary school level, teaching both English Language Arts and math. Outside of school, Erica enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and reading. Congratulations, Erica!

Lahcen Qasserras

Lahcen Qasserras is a Ph.D. candidate in Curriculum and Instruction program at UNC Charlotte, specializing in Learning, Design, and Technology with an emphasis on Artificial Intelligence in education. He earned his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Queens University of Charlotte and also holds a graduate certificate in Learning, Design, and Technology from UNC Charlotte.

With extensive teaching experience in both Morocco and the U.S. Lahcen is a certified K-12 TESOL educator and a school administrator in North Carolina. Additionally, he works as a Generative AI Model Training Expert at Scale AI and is a research assistant at UNC Charlotte.

His academic journey includes a Fulbright Scholarship at Lees-McRae College, NC, where he taught Arabic language and culture. Lahcen’s scholarly work, which is set to be published in journals such as Springer Communications in Computer and Information Science (CCIS), the University of Toronto Press, the UNC System Learning and Technology Journal, and The Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, covers a range of critical issues including AI ethics in education, anti-colonial approaches in ESL education, equitable technology integration in schools, and assessment literacy among pre-service teachers. Congratulations, Lachen!

Karen Kopitsky

Karen Kopitsky is a first-year doctoral student in the Curriculum and Instruction program with a concentration in Curriculum and Educator Development. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Rhodes College. She received a Master’s degree in Teaching from Pittsburg State University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Iowa College of Law. She has over 15 years of teaching experience at the middle and high school level. Karen’s research interests include potential solutions to the critical shortage of world language teachers through teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention, teacher preparation pathways, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and linguistic diversity. Congratulations, Karen!

Congratulations to Michael Hayes, the recipient of the 2024 Cato College of Education Clinical Educator Award!

Current student Nicholas Gathings’ book review on How Schools Meet Students’ Needs — Inequality, School Reform, and Caring Labor by Katie Kerstetter was published in the February issue of the American School Board Journal.

American School Board Journal February 2024 Issue

On October 26th, current doctoral student Brandon Johnson and the Lake Norman Charter’s administrative team engaged in meaningful dialogue with future teacher candidates. LNCharter wrote in their Facebook post: “We welcome future opportunities to learn, lead and serve in this capacity and applaud Professor Johnson for his innovative approach to teacher preparation.”

Lake Norman Charter Facebook posting

Debbie Saavedra-Winch – 2023 Engaged Leadership Initiative (ELI) Fellowship in the Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Deziree Baker – 2023 Engaged Leadership Initiative (ELI) Fellowship in the Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Patti Brooks – 2023 Engaged Leadership Initiative (ELI) Fellowship in the Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Torie Wheatley – 2023 American Education Research Association (AERA) Graduate Student Travel Award

Tierra M. Parsons – 2023 American Education Research Association (AERA) Graduate Student Travel Award