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Mary Napoli - Creating Equity in the High School to College Pipeline

Published on 4/5/2016 6:00:00 AM

Name: Mary Napoli
Role: Academic Specialist and BRIDGES Coordinator at the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences Academic Resource Center
Area of Concentration (ARCO): Doctorate of Education (EdD) in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education

Can you talk about your EdD research?
My research is focused on equity within the high school to college pipeline, specifically focused on access for students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education and making sure that they not only gain entry to higher education but are successful there as well. I spent some time looking at P-16 frameworks, which attempt to bridge the gap between high school and college. It spans both K-12 and higher education in terms of looking at equity between both systems.

How do you feel that place-based scholarships will provide greater access for minorities and low-income students?
Place-based scholarships are scholarships that are tied to a particular district or location and provide funding for students to attend higher education, whether that be career and technical education, community college, or four year universities and colleges. They are a huge movement in the United States at this point.

Starting with the Kalamazoo Promise back in 2005, they have really exploded, including the Pittsburgh Promise here. What is really exciting about these programs is that they really do consider bridging that gap between K-12 and higher education. If they can accomplish it, they provide an opportunity for students to attend higher education who may have thought that higher education wasn’t an option for them before.

Have you had any specific experiences that made you interested in this particular area?
My experience in education has been pretty varied. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work with both preschool students all the way up through students in higher education. What that allowed me to see was some of the issues within education at all of those different levels, and what maybe we could be doing better between those levels to help make sure students don’t fall through the cracks and that we really are serving all of them as best as we can.

That stems from my first two years out of college in AmeriCorps, where I worked in a public school district outside of Seattle. It was really my first experience working in public education. I saw a lot of things that really confused me about how the system worked and a lot of things that kind of angered me about how it worked. That got me started and totally switched my career trajectory towards education, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.

Has there been anything thus far with your research that has been particularly surprising or interesting?
I think what’s been most surprising for me is the variety of educational policies out there and their variable outcomes. I think many would agree that people in education are in education because they want to see students be served well and be able to achieve their goals, but there are, at times, policies that are put in place that despite having the best of intentions, the outcomes don’t necessarily match up with those intentions because they’re being implemented within a system with such extreme inequality. Those policies, which have really great goals, don’t necessarily reach those goals despite their best intentions. That’s part of my reason for looking at P-16 policies: I’m thinking about ‘How can we implement policies that really do address these issues of inequality across K-12 and higher education in a way that works within the system that we have and so that we don’t see some of these unintended effects that continue to disadvantage some students?’

How has the University of Pittsburgh faculty supported you?
Having been in Pitt’s School of Education for some time now, I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of different faculty members within the department. Each of them has taught me something different. I feel like they’ve pushed me to ask important questions. I think I came into the program really having this idealistic view of ‘I’m going to learn how to really change education and be a great leader.’ It’s much more complicated than that and the faculty pushed me to ask some really hard questions and think about the overall system and how I can be impactful in it. They’ve pushed me to be a stronger writer to be able to support my arguments and think critically about some of the information in the research out there. I think that’s been one of the most valuable things I’ve received from the program thus far: that ability to think about problems on a larger level.

Why did you choose Pitt to pursue your doctoral studies?
I had looked at several different graduate schools of education when we moved to Pittsburgh years ago. What drew me to Pitt, particularly for the social and comparative analysis in education program, was their emphasis on social justice. That was really what drew me to education in the first place, so the fact that I could come to graduate school and be able to explore that more in depth was really exciting to me. The classes that they offered that looked at some of those bigger systemic issues in education was what drew me to the program.

Can you address ways that you have been able to implement things that you’re learning and put it directly into your practice?

The EdD program is unique in that it provides you with an opportunity to take what you’re leaning within the classroom and actually apply it to what you do in your job every day. There have definitely been some things that we’ve learned and talked about within our classes that I can then take to my job, particularly as related to how we think about problems in education and how we think about solving and addressing those problems.

In your job it encourages you to think about, ‘If this is a problem, what are the root causes of this problem and what are the best ways for me to go about addressing it?’ while thinking more along the lines of being an adaptive or transformational leader. The EdD provides you with some of those skills and the space to think about those issues that maybe in the day to day of your job you’re so busy that you don’t necessarily have the time to be able to really think about deeply. The EdD provides you with the space to be able to do that so you can take that back to your job and do it better.

Is there anything that you think would be good for prospective students to know?
Pitt’s School of Education is diverse in the number of faculty that are looking at different areas of education and really wanting to make a difference within it. Coming to Pitt, you’re going to be able to have an experience with those faculty members and be able to learn about their research and what they’re doing in lots of different areas of education. That can really expand your skills as a leader in education.

To get a full scope of the EdD program, you can view our videos. Discover why we created the new EdD program, how our programs allow for a work/life balance, the importance of a cohort model, and the benefits of studying with students in other disciplines.


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