Through the one-year fellowship, Means will conduct state policy-focused research related to rural education and equity. Based on this work, he will create a report and deliver a public presentation.
"Rural communities are sometimes an afterthought with some of the policies that do exist," says Means.
Means seeks to change that.
"My goal is to closely study state policy," says Means. "I will review state policy related to higher education retention, attainment, and graduation to better understand how inclusive state policy is of rural education, rural communities, and rural students. And, based on state policies, how might they support and/or hinder educational equity for rural college students."
Means will carry out his Rockefeller fellowship research in collaboration with rural college students. He is creating a small group of undergraduate student researchers from four-year and two-year higher education institutions in five states: Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
The other 2021 Rockefeller fellows are:
Auyon J. Ghosh is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University. As part of his fellowship, Ghosh will examine the lung health-related effects of highway placements.
Jack Cunningham, who previously worked in the banking and financial industry, is commissioner of public works at the Town of Colonie in New York. As part of his fellowship, Cunningham will focus on representational disparity in town governance structure.
Kaitlin Stack Whitney is an assistant professor in the Science, Technology, and Society department at the Rochester Institute of Technology. As part of her fellowship, Whitney will examine highway roadside design policies nationwide and assess some emerging uses such as solar development and pollinator habitats.
In addition to the Rockefeller fellowship, Means was recently named as a 2021 Dean's Scholar in Equity, Justice, and Rural Education at Pitt Education.
Means is also the interim chair for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the rural education special interest group of the American Educational Research Association.
Throughout his work, Means has observed a common misconception about rural communities.
"There are monolithic understandings of rural communities. People think everyone is the same. That these communities are all farming communities or that these communities are predominantly white or all white. I try to disrupt that in my work," says Means.
Through the Rockefeller fellowship, Means can shed more light on policies that support rural college student success.
Darris Means is a member of the Department of Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy at Pitt Education.
In addition, he teaches in the higher education academic programs offered at Pitt Education.