Mile Higher Ed Podcast

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Podcast Series 

Higher education today faces challenges. We are reckoning with a legacy of discrimination and exclusion, moving through a global health pandemic, adapting to technological advancements in teaching and learning, and grappling with questions about the cost and even the value, of a college degree. Here at the Higher Education Department in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver, our faculty, students, and alumni are working to address these challenges head on.

In Mile Higher Ed, we will shine the spotlight on the work DU higher ed faculty and alumni are doing to advance higher education. We will bring you the latest stories from our department--from compelling research findings to innovative practices to leadership in the field. Whether you are a DU higher ed alum or prospective student, or a higher ed researcher or practitioner, we invite you to learn from our community as we work to make higher education more effective and equitable.

Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.

Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.


  • Trailer
    Audio file
    Welcome to Mile Higher Ed Podcast







    Higher education today faces challenges. We are reckoning with a legacy of discrimination and exclusion, moving through a global health pandemic, adapting to technological advancements in teaching and learning, and grappling with questions about the cost and even the value, of a college degree.


    Here at the Higher Education Department in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver, our faculty, students, and alumni are working to address these challenges head on. We’re researching matters of equity and access, and student and faculty experience along the intersections of race, gender, ability, sexuality, and other facets of identity.  We are preparing emerging leaders in higher ed to advance social justice in higher ed institutions and policy. And we want to share these stories with you in our new podcast, Mile Higher Ed.


    In Mile Higher Ed, we will shine the spotlight on the work DU higher ed faculty and alumni are doing to advance higher education. We will bring you the latest stories from our department--from compelling research findings to innovative practices to leadership in the field. Whether you are a DU higher ed alum or prospective student, or a higher ed researcher or practitioner, we invite you to learn from our community as we work to make higher education more effective and equitable. This is Mile Higher Ed.


  • Interpreting Campus Sexual Assault Policies with Dr. Sarah Hurtado

    In this inaugural episode of Mile Higher Ed, Caitlyn interviews our own co-host Dr. Sarah Hurtado about interpreting campus sexual assault adjudication policies, and how the language used in these policies sets the tone for the student experience relating to interpersonal violence and Title IX. Her article “Using Intersectionality to Reimagine Title IX Adjudication Policy” was recently published in a special issue of the Journal of Women and Gender and Higher Education.


    About our guest: Dra. Sarah Hurtado has been with DU Higher Education since 2018. She first started in a visiting role, and loved it so much she decided to stay. She has been in her current Assistant Professor position since 2019. She teaches several courses in the program including Critical Race Theory, College Student Development Theory, and research courses. Her research focuses on addressing sexual violence among college students and how institutions contribute to the perpetration of this issue with a specific focus on the role and responsibility of faculty members. 


    She received her PhD in higher education at Indiana University Bloomington where she served as a Project Associate for the Center for Postsecondary Research. Specifically, she worked with the National Survey of Student Engagement Institute for Effective Educational Practice. In her role, she worked with institutions to better utilize their NSSE data to inform practice. Prior to that, she worked as a Coordinator of Student Development at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for three years. She received her Masters from Indiana University Bloomington and her Bachelors from the University of Redlands.



    Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.


    Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

    Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.


    Dr. Sarah Hurtado
    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Podcast Episode 1







    SH: Welcome to our first episode of Mile Higher Ed. I'm one of your hosts, Dr. Sarah Hurtado, assistant professor of higher education in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. I am joined by my co-host.


    CPG: Hi, I'm Caitlyn Potter Glaser. I am a PhD student studying higher education here at DU.


    SH: And the purpose of this podcast is to share a little bit about the amazing things coming out of our department, including faculty research and alumni stories. So each episode Caitlyn and I will interview someone about their work. To get us started today, Caitlyn will actually be interviewing me about a recent publication in the Journal of Women and Gender and Higher Education.


    CPG: All right, so let's get started. My first question for you is actually inspired by Dr. D-L Stewart in Structural Foundations of Research. He always asks us, Where did our idea for research come from? So, where did your idea for this study come from?


    SH: Yeah, so I am actually the second author on this piece, so some context there. The first author is a brilliant doctoral candidate who is actually at the University of Arizona, Brenda Anderson Wadley. And a few years ago I was assigned her mentor at the Council for Ethic Participation ASHE Pre-Conference. And since that conference we maintained this mentorship relationship and I've written a couple of pieces together this being one of them.


    And she really had this interest in conducting this type of study to really think about the utility of Title IX policies, and specifically adjudication process policies, and how this actually gets used on campuses, What it actually means for people at institutions. And so that was what we were really thinking about there in terms of, How do we think about the real impact…on people of these policies that, you know ,we talk a lot about but what does it actually mean to think about impact?


    CPG: Wonderful. Can you tell us more about how you approached this work?


    SH: Yep, so we use a critical discourse analysis, and we analyze the Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Student Investigation and Adjudication Policy used by the University of California system. And so this was actually Brenda's idea. She had started to do this type of analysis before I got on board in this project, and it was right before Title IX was changed in 2020. So then when Title IX was changed and institutions were required to make those changes and implement them in August of 2020, she was like, “Oh, how do I go back and re-look at these policies?” And one of the interesting things is there wasn't actually a lot of changes in what this policy and procedure looked like at the University of California system because they were kind of already doing some of the things that were then required.


    And so the other justification, too, was thinking about the University of California system as a multi-campus system and, you know, something that probably is looked at as kind of a leader and exemplar in a lot of these pieces. And so we wanted to see, you know, What are they doing? So we really only looked at it from one institution, but the policy represents the entire system. And that's what we did.


    CPG: Why did you choose critical discourse analysis for the project?


    SH: Yeah, so one of the things that we were thinking about is that really one of the struggles that institutions have is, like, how do we actually interpret the law? How do we actually think about the words that are written in these federal guidelines that then shape the words that are actually written in our institutional policies that then ultimately have an impact on people? Right? So institutions often will follow up with these lengthy documents and write out these plans and all these things, and it's like, what does that actually mean, you know? Like, what does it actually mean for folks who are doing the work, who are participating as people in the investigation process, you know, as students who are reading these policies and trying to make sense of them?


    So, we were trying to kind of uncover some of the discourses that are in these policies to think through ultimately what happens for the people who are living through these and having these experiences. Which is also why we use a framework of intersectionality in this piece, because we know that people who live at the intersections of oppressed identities are more likely to experience violence.


    So, it was really important for us to think about what that means in these policies and processes being used by these institutions is, you know, when it comes to those who are more likely to experience violence, how are they actually thought about in terms of the processes that in theory are meant to like offer them protection and support after experiencing that violence?


    CPG: So you've talked a little bit about where your idea came from, your approach, your frameworks. Tell us a little bit about what you found. What came out of this study for you?


    SH: Yeah, so we had three main findings. One is really kind of the power of the investigator in this, and how they are situated as kind of both judge and juror in these processes. Right, so, what does that mean in terms of having one person kind of hold a ton of power in, you know, sexual misconduct adjudication process? We know that people in our society are socialized in racist, sexist, transphobic, ablest beliefs and cultural scripts that are going to influence their perceptions of different types of information. And you know, it's especially frustrating to think about that for something that is meant to be, like, a civil response to something that it looks so much like a criminal response to something. And we know kind of the discourses and things that are at the root of our criminal justice system, and in our study we really saw that's the same thing that we see in these policies and procedures within our institutions, unfortunately.


    Some other things that we found is this kind of gender-neutral and color evasive language. Right, like these policies and procedures are written in such a way that they try so hard to be neutral. Which on the surface makes sense, right? Like, it sounds like intuitively if we make these all very neutral, then the impact of them will be the same for everyone, right?

    Like, it in our hearts that sounds like that is what it should be. But the fact is that Title IX exists, and these policies exist, because they're meant to be in response to inequity, right? So we can't have a neutral response to something that is inequitable because then, when it's applied and interpreted in this neutral fashion, it can't address the inequity, right? And so it positions this issue as separate from its history and relationship with systems of power. And then, again, ultimately doesn't do quite as much as we would hope in terms of actually addressing the inequities and violence that has occurred.


    At the same time, which feels like another side to this coin, is that there is still this presumptive identity within the documents that we read. So, you know, even though we tried to be really neutral there's this like undercurrent of assumptions about who is kind of playing different roles in the kind of positions of like “complainant” or “respondent.” And so one of the things that we really tried to unpack was this language of “complainant,” right. So if you're unfamiliar, the “complainant” is the person who files the report basically who says, “I experienced this violence.” So even calling that person a “complainant” positions them as a complainer, right? And so, right, it just sounds like a really negative thing. So we're already, like, using language that positions us to make a lot of assumptions about the person who just experienced this violence, right? So these negative undertones ultimately influence how we might respond to someone in that position, unfortunately.


    CPG: You state in the article how you hope this research changes policy. Can you talk through some more of what the recommendations would be in light of these findings?


    SH: Yeah, you know this is something that Brenda and I actually went back and forth on in terms of what do we actually hope comes from our research and others who are doing similar research about this particular umbrella of like policies, right? And I think one of the biggest things that we were thinking about is basically that policy alone is not going to save us, unfortunately.


    CPG: Sure.


    SH: So, you know, even in recent years we've seen changes to Title IX. It feels like every day to be honest, but really it's been as our, you know, our federal administrations have flipped parties we've had new policies. And so, you know, it's not as simple as kind of updating or changing elements of Title IX because even as we've had people in these different federal administrations try to make adjustments to it, ultimately the impact is pretty much the same. So even as I said, right, like this particular policy from pre-2020 to post-2020 didn't even change that much, right? And so, what we were kind of finding was still consistent in the impact that it actually has on people.


    So I think for us, it was less about, you know, how we change one particular policy and more about we really need to move away from this criminal justice framework that is shaping all of this, right? This is supposed to be a civil response. This is supposed to be something that allows individuals who experience this type of violence to access support and protections that are separate from the criminal justice system. Because we know that that system already fails survivors. So it just doesn't make sense that then we basically replicate that system in our institutions and then just get stuck in continuing to fail survivors.


    So I'm actually working on another piece that is related to this kind of issue of how do we just move away from this criminal justice thinking, and try to just have better policies from an entirely different perspective.


    CPG: I'm super interested to read that. What's something that surprised you when doing this study?


    SH: Oh, yeah, that's a good question. I think for us, one of the things that did surprise us was in particular this, like, presumptive identity piece. For us it was very interesting on how we can be both neutral and make a ton of a assumptions about who's going through this. And so it kind of took us a little bit to really distinguish those pieces in the findings of like, you know, Here's how the discourse in these policies and procedures attempt to be really neutral.


    And then the same time we are not neutral at all and make a whole bunch of assumptions about who's going through these processes and what that looks like. So that was kind of a surprise in terms of when we were doing our analysis and kind of identifying our findings. How are we doing both of these things at the same time and doing it really poorly?


    CPG: Right, kind of, reading between the lines there with what's not being said.


    SH: Yeah, yeah.


    CPG: Does this study and the results change our thinking at all on Title IX, or what do you think about that?


    SH: Yeah, I think. I think one of the things that this study does, or at least that Brenda and I hope that it does, is it and others have said this, that policy formation is an act of White supremacy and I think that we offer more evidence and example of that. And I think that like externally a lot of folks kind of, like, the everyday person in our country sees Title IX, sees how it changes all the time, sees all these things, might feel like, “Oh, if we just get the right change, it'll fix it. If it just kind of gets the right, if we get the right words or kind of right angle, right, this will be a huge game changer,” and like ultimately we don't think that's the case, right?


    And so I think if it does change our thinking in Title IX, I hope that people learn to not necessarily rely on just Title IX to fix everything. Because even Title IX in and of itself, right, while it does offer lots of positive things, it's still a response. And when it comes to this, like, sexual misconduct piece of it, it's still a response to violence. Title IX really only comes into play for folks when violence has already occurred.


    CPG: Right.


    SH: We don't want violence to occur at all, right? Like, our ultimate goal is to eliminate it entirely, right? And so there's this disconnect between the policies that exist, like Title IX, to decrease the amount of violence, and that's just not its intention, right? It just serves an entirely different purpose. So I hope that people start to kind of remove Title IX from that piece of it of Like, “Okay, this is the thing that it does.” We also need all of these other things. We need to start thinking about primary prevention. We need to figure out how to get all of this at its root. And then If violence still occurs, then we have these other processes to support and respond to it. We need to put more and more effort kind of away and outside of Title IX ultimately.


    CPG: Yeah, and you mentioned in the piece, too, with the critical discourse analysis comparing the commitment in the policy to creating an environment and community that’s inclusive and safe. But yet the rest of the policy is all on response.


    SH: Yeah. Yeah.


    CPG: And talking about that disconnect.


    SH: Yeah, and that's the thing that's frustrating is that the way that these policies are kind of written from the federal government is that like, “Here's this thing, right? It's going to make our campuses safer. It's going to make our communities better. It's going to address these inequities that exist.”  But it just can't, because then the policies and procedures are like, “Here's what to do when violence has occurred.” It's like, well, If violence has already occurred then we don't have, right, a more equitable community. We don't have a safer campus. We don't have all of that. And there, I mean, there are some pieces there in terms of if we hold perpetrators accountable that, in theory, maybe we're teaching perpetrators, you know, they're not being serial perpetrators, they're not kind of perpetuating this over and over again.


    But there's still already violence that has occurred for Title IX to come into play, right? So I think, you know, that disconnect in practice is really kind of frustrating. And I myself, and Brenda, and other folks are really trying to think about through our research of like, “What is it actually mean to make our campuses safer? What do we actually need to do that and how do we stop relying on things that aren't, right?” We know that despite federal policy changes, despite increased requirements, despite adding different staffing positions on campus to do this, there has been no decrease in violence at all, right?


    CPG: Right.


    SH: In terms of rates and prevalence, like that has maintained consistency for decades, right? So we just need to move away from doing all of those things. As an effort to decrease and do a whole bunch of other stuff, right, and there are really awesome researchers again like Brenda and others who that's their focus is, like, what do we actually need to do to make our community safer? How do we center survivor voices in doing that? How do we center those who live at the intersections of oppression who are more likely to experience violence? How do we have an intersectional perspective in making our community safer? What does it mean to have community care? What does it mean to engage in community healing, right? All of the stuff that is more primary prevention, and more rooted away from traditional kind of criminal justice thinking in hopes that that will make the difference.


    CPG: Right on. Is there anything you want to share about this work that I haven't asked you about yet? Anything else you want the folks listening to know?


    SH: Oh, that's a good question. I think one of the things that I hope is it if there's anyone out there listening and wants to do this research, that we need more people to do it. There’s kind of a small community of folks who do this within a Higher Ed perspective, right, which is, you know, very different from the way this gets looked at in other disciplines. And so, you know, I hope that people kind of see that there are ways to do this research in innovative ways, more critical ways, and I hope that people get excited and encouraged to kind of join in on that. Which is actually related to how this article kind of came to be too, is that it's printed in a special issue within this journal that it was specifically for kind of pushing against how sexual violence research in Higher Ed has been done to center more critical perspectives, more critical paradigms and methods. Because there's a whole bunch of research out there that's done in the same ways all the time, asks and answers the same questions that we already know.


    CPG: Right.


    SH: Right? And so this special issue was intended to get us some different questions, get us some different answers. And so I hope people, if you're listening, if this excites you, that you want to do this research, too.


    CPG: Yeah, if we have any prospective students listening who are thinking about Higher Education at DU, some of the work you can come get involved with.


    SH: Yeah, exactly.


    CPG: So my last question, being as you are assistant professor here at DU. For all the other faculty out there listening, if you had to assign your article for class, in what class would you assign this article?


    SH: Okay. Yes. Great question. All of them!


    CPG: Yes!


    SH: Just kidding. [laughing] So, I personally would include this in a class on sexual violence, right? I would include the entire special issue if you have a class on sexual violence. This is a really great special issue to learn about how different types of research studies are done in this area. But I know that DU is one of the few Higher Ed departments that is fortunate to have that type of class.


    So, I think this would be a really great piece to add in classes that are focused on policy, as like different perspective and thinking about kind of interpretation and implementation of federal policies. Like, what does this actually look like in institutions? I think that would be great. I also think that this would be a really good addition to, like, research studies or research methods classes in terms of doing a critical discourse analysis, thinking about policy,  kind of doing different types of research outside of kind of what students might think is the traditional stuff that we do in Higher Ed.


    So those would be the classes that I would encourage people. But if you do assign this in a course and you want to tell me what class you assigned it in I would love to hear that! You know, I would love to know where people are using this and how they might be including the in the teaching they're doing.


    CPG:  Alright folks. So yeah, let us know! Let us know if you use this piece. We want to know the greater impact of this work as well.


    SH: Yeah.


    CPG: So, remind our listeners where they can find this piece and what it's called.


    SH: “Using intersectionality to reimagine Title IX adjudication policy”. And again, it's by Brenda Anderson Wadley and myself, Sarah Hurtado, in the Journal of Women and Gender and Higher Education.


    CPG: All right, we've done our first interview!


    SH: Thanks for joining us in our first episode. I hope that you learned a little bit about this study and get excited to hear more about the research that's coming from our faculty. So our next few episodes will include other faculty from our department, including Dr. Michele Tyson, Dr. Laura Sponsor, and others. And then if you keep following us along in this podcast journey, you’ll also start to hear some alumni stories from our department.


    CPG: Can't wait. I can't wait to talk to everybody! Alright, thanks everyone for listening and we will see you next time on Mile Higher Ed.

  • Understanding women’s leadership programs with Dr. Michele Tyson

    In this episode of Mile Higher Ed, Dr. Michele Tyson joins Sarah and Caitlyn to discuss the legacy of women’s colleges and women’s leadership programs in higher education. Michele recently co-authored a chapter in the newly published book Rooted and Radiant: Women’s Narratives of Leadership.


    About our guest: Dr. Michele Tyson is clinical associate professor in the Higher Education program at the University of Denver and has worked in the field of higher education for 25+ years, with experience in student affairs, enrollment management, and student services. Her professional and research interests fall into two areas.  One is related to the preparation and development of student affairs and higher education leaders. The other is in understanding institutions as organizations and environments in which students make humanizing decisions about engagement with identity and becoming. 


    Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.


    Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

    Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.


    Dr. Michele Tyson
    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Podcast Episode 2













    Sarah Hurtado:  Welcome to another episode of Mile Higher Ed, I am your cohost Dr. Sarah Hurtado, Assistant Professor in the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver, and I'm joined by our co-host...


    Caitlyn Glaser: Hi, I'm Caitlyn Potter Glaser. I am a first-year Ph.D. student in Higher Education here at DU.


    Sarah Hurtado: And today we are featuring Dr. Michele Tyson, who is actually an alumna of our Higher Ed Ed.D. program and serves as a Clinical Associate Professor in our department as well as the Director of Faculty Undergraduate Advising here at DU. So welcome, Michele.


    Michele Tyson: Thank you.


    Sarah Hurtado: So today we are talking about a recent chapter that you wrote. Can you tell us the title of that?


    Michele Tyson: The book is Rooted and Radiant, and it is about women's leadership narratives. And the chapter that I wrote specifically looks at the history of women's leadership programs.


    Sarah Hurtado: Thank you. I'm wondering if you could first just get us started by telling us a little bit about, like, where did this idea for this chapter come from? And kind of, what it looked like to put this together?


    Michele Tyson: Yeah, absolutely. So, the book itself as an idea came about in the summer of 2020, so a couple of years ago now. And honestly, I think it came about because a bunch of people were on Zoom, and we were really bored not knowing what was happening in the summer of 2020, not knowing what we were supposed to be doing, or like, how to move through the world and society. And so, I was on a Zoom call with a colleague who also works here at the University of Denver that ended up being an editor of the book, Dr. Trisha Teig, and she had just said that her and a couple other colleagues she had been working with were similarly bored on a Zoom call one day, and decided that they wanted to put together this book. And so she was looking for other authors who might want to participate in this book idea, and she knew that I had a strong connection with a women's college here at the University of Denver, and that I had done quite a bit with women's leadership education, and just invited me to be a part of the book idea. So that was sort of how I got involved and how the book itself was an idea.


    And my idea for the chapter kind of came about a little bit more as we were all talking. So Trisha’s way of pulling people together was, you know, just literally pulling everybody who had expressed some interest or her invitation to be a part of this together, and we all just kinda talked about what is women's leadership, and what are the nuances, and what are the different ways in which we're affiliated. And I had talked a little bit about how I just really have loved the idea of the environment of women's education, or of single-gender education, and what value could come out of it. And so then it was determined that, before we could move into the value of women's leadership narratives, we needed to understand what has been women's education and how we've educated women about leadership studies up to this point. And I chose to do that through the perspective of just a history of a women's college.


    Caitlyn Glaser: So in your chapter you discuss about concepts of leaders and leadership, as well as women and gender identity, are socially constructed. Can you explain that, as well as some of the definitions you used in this chapter?


    Michele Tyson: Yep, absolutely. So, in general I think many folks perhaps listening to our podcast can agree that gender is socially constructed. And then, when we think specifically about leaders and leadership, I think we've as a society been socialized to think of who our leaders are as being ones who have position and power. Which looking historically, looking at the folks who have position and power, it's been men. And so we've often attributed leadership and leadership positions and leaders to the male identity.


    And some of this has been founded through research, like the Great Man Theory where there was this idea that great leaders are born. They happen to have this sort of innate capacity or characteristic that then becomes this great leader. And this Great Man Theory was attributed to men being these great male leaders. And so I think in general, we've all been socialized to think that way. And we also think of leadership as something that we ascend to. It's like a specific position that we can get to.


    And I don't think we've done a good job to socially construct leadership as something that we all do, and that is a part of our life experience, and that we can then foster to turn into different ways to serve our communities. And so that’s sort of my approach to thinking about leadership and what leadership is. And so to take this idea of this Great Man Theory, and to match that to my own personal ideal of leadership is kind of this, I described it as being socially constructed in the chapter.


    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. You know, thinking about, kind of your thinking about leadership, can you tell us more about how the women's college and its legacy has really shaped leadership at DU, and kind of what that program’s legacy is?


    Michele Tyson: Yes, absolutely. So Colorado Women's College existed as its own standalone college for quite some time, and that was actually my first step into the University of Denver was through Colorado Women's College as a staff member. And it was through that position where I saw the amazing things that women who were the students of our college were doing with our lives. And I was seeing how they had no idea then what they were enacting was leadership. So balancing a full-time career, taking care of children while also taking care of their parents, going to school, trying to serve their communities. The ability to do all of those things is leadership, and the kinds of things that they were doing just to help different people in their community and help, like a food drive, for example, or helping provide transportation and access to different community events. This is just a couple of examples of things that women were doing. And I thought, “That's leadership, and they have no idea that what they're doing has a broader impact.” And so really was this exposure to these women who didn't know that they were leaders that really got me interested in thinking about, How do we consider leadership? How can we deconstruct that? And how can we reconstruct it into a way that is more open and inviting? And again, kind of shifts that idea of socially constructed leadership.


    So through the women's college I think there was an opportunity for women to not only learn leadership, and I think we might talk about this later, not learning leadership, but learning how to enact what they already had the experience and the abilities to do. And I think historically that has been one of the roles of women's colleges. So when we look at the essence of the Colorado Women's College, and that has gone through multiple transitions at the University of Denver, in its most recent iteration is looking at a women's leadership scholars program for traditionally-aged first generation students, which is really how the college has evolved and who is being served now. But that essence of, What is leadership? Where do we learn it? How do we know how to become a leader? And what do we do with it? I think, has been a consistent piece from historically looking at women's colleges, looking at Colorado Women's College at the University of Denver, and then specifically focusing on the what we call the CWC leadership scholars today.


    Caitlyn Glaser: I love that. Kind of going more into learning leadership, you mentioned in the introduction of the chapter that your time at the women's college told you that leadership isn't taught but is shaped. Can you talk more about what you mean by that?


    Michele Tyson: Yeah, I think kind of building off of what I just described in terms of the life experience that these students, that women in general have had, and helping them understand that these are skills that will take them places, and whatever those places might be might look different for each of them. For some, perhaps, it is positional. For others, perhaps it is having a greater span of reach within their communities. But the skills that are required to do those things that are often attributed with leadership are skills that they already have. They just needed to 1) be believed in and be actually, sort of, guided down the path of understanding that those were leadership skills, but then 2) realize that what they're doing for their families and for their communities can be scaled up in a very large, you know, to be have a larger reach within their community pieces. So this idea of, I guess, how we are helping them understand who they are, what they bring to a situation, what they bring to their environment, and how we can shape some environments to help them reach all those different elements of their own understanding are ways that we can sort of shape it. I don't think it's something that is an item that we just teach to somebody. I think it's something that can be so expansive that anybody can be a leader once they understand who they are and what role they play in whatever it is they're trying to aspire to.


    Sarah Hurtado: I really appreciate your thinking about leadership and how we think more expansively about it. It makes being a leader so much more inclusive to all kinds of different identities and experiences. As you mentioned, you started at DU as a staff member in the Colorado Women's College. Now you are a faculty member in our Higher Ed Department.


    And I am wondering if you could share a little bit about how you think about all of these things, these wonderful things that you experienced and learned from the Colorado Women's College. In the chapter you write that it that experience literally changed your life. And so I'm just wondering how it now shapes how you engage with students in the classroom, or how you think about leadership in the classroom, or, you know, how you teach students as a faculty member?


    Michele Tyson: Yeah, absolutely. I think my greatest moment of learning from CWC, or maybe it's not a moment, it's multiple moments that kind of equal up into this, like, season of my life that I had working there, was understanding that we don't have the environment in all of our classrooms that allow students in general, in this case obviously with women, but students in general, they're not always allowed to be their full selves. They're not always allowed to bring their full identity into the classroom spaces. And so I think seeing what magic could happen within a learning space when that was allowed to happen really kind of set a foundation for me wanting to be able to provide that to my students in the classroom.


    So some strategies that I might use, or some ways in which I guess I have that happen, does actually require students to be a little bit vulnerable with themselves, because I do ask that students bring their entire selves in and be willing to share who they are. I really, truly believe that we are going to learn the most we're going to learn from one another, and not from the textbooks, and not from the articles, but from what's happening in our day-to-day experience that we can apply the textbooks and apply the theories and apply the articles to. But what happened to us today, and what does it mean? What sort of environment did I come from, or background did I come from, that others can learn from so that we can all walk away with this shared experience of 1) sharing and 2) learning and being vulnerable with one another, and really being open to listening to who's in the room with us? And why might they think one way? And what has shaped my experience in a different way that shaped their experience that maybe has me thinking in a different way? How can I be a better whatever it is, whether it's a student affairs professional or higher education administrator or faculty member? How can I be better now that I understand a little bit more about the people that I'm with, and have learned this content with?


    And so for me, setting up the environment where those things can naturally happen, and where students can feel comfortable with that style is really important. Setting up class expectations and norms is one strategy for that. But I also think that just being really clear on the front end with this is how I teach classes, and this is how I expect us to learn from one another and what I'm hoping that we learn and just being really clear on that front end, I think, helps with that.

    I also think a benefit of our Higher Ed program is that we have small enough classes where we really can get to know one another quite well. We know what everyone's professions are, and the kind of experience that they're bringing in that very day. We know that the, you know, family demographic of our students and when someone's having a rough day because something didn't go well, we have an idea of what that means and how it might impact us as a learning community for that particular night. So as I have been teaching, because I'm in my seventh year of teaching now, this is not how I approached year one. It was, I think, ideally how I would have liked to approach year one, but it took me a while to learn this. But I think now, really, looking back on how I've gone about it, I focus on the environment to ensure that it's a safe learning space where people can be themselves, and can also be open to learning from one another.


    Caitlyn Glaser: Thank you. I wanna expand a little bit on this idea of the environment and the classroom environment. And I'm wondering more broadly why are identity-focused leadership programs important? Or even specifically women-centered leadership programs, why are they important? You mentioned in the chapter that women currently make, or women-identifying students currently make up over 50% of our college population. I’d just like to know more about the value of these programs and why they are still so important?


    Michele Tyson: Yeah, absolutely. I think ultimately the value of the program is that, while we have more than 50% of our college student population identifying as women, that's not who our colleges were built for. It's not who our structures were built for, it's not who our policies and procedures were built for. Certainly those things have adapted a little bit as we've expanded the populations of who's attending colleges and universities. But at the end of the day higher education was not designed for women, and specifically, I’ll connect this to another project that I'm working on, but specifically not designed for women of color. And so as we think about the importance of having spaces within these larger university contexts where women of color can come together to understand their experience and to understand how their experience isn't necessarily fitting in with the grander expectation of what a university experience is, or what the larger narrative of what the University Administration thinks the college experience is. Having spaces where these students can come together to do that is essential.


    The leadership learning that happens to take place, I think, is just some sort of, like, extra icing on top. I actually don't believe that they need, again, to come to those spaces to learn how to be leaders. They can come to those spaces so that there's an opportunity for leadership conversations to be facilitated, and for students to understand how their role can impact their community again, whether that's their family or the community of education or the communities that they're going back to. So those spaces in those environments are pretty critical.


    Another project that I'm working on that is not necessarily part of this book, but with some of the same people from this book, is a study for Colorado Women's College Leadership Scholars. And one of the findings that has really come out, it's actually multiple findings that have come out, but looking at the purpose and the value of space as being a place to breathe and it's place to just to be away from everybody else. So these students, and this is historical looking at how women have talked about women's colleges historically and specifically here today with these CWC scholars, they need a space where they can speak up and not be talked over. They need a space where they can speak up and not be looked at as though their ideas are completely out of left field. They need a place where what they've said, their voice can be heard and not just heard, but appreciated and valued. A lot of our participants in the study that we just completed talked a little bit about their Imposter Syndrome, and they don't necessarily know that, you know, at 18, 19, they always have the words to call it imposter syndrome, but some of the things that they've talked about in terms of, “I wasn't sure if I fit in here, and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be here.” They’ve come to this space where they can hear that there's 19 other people who feel the same way. And then to identify a little bit, What are those common themes, and why are we feeling this way? How can we help each other and serve as, like, protectors of one another when we leave this safe space and go out into the larger university?


    One of the things that I talked about with one of the young women who was a participant in this program, she would say things like, “I don't know why they think I have the imposter syndrome. I walk into class every day more prepared than any of the students in that classroom. I'm willing to talk about it more than any of the students in that classroom. It is absolutely obvious to me that I'm the one who's supposed to be there, they should be the ones who are the impostors.” And her comment just constantly sits in my head because I think, again, what comes out in these safe spaces is how hard these young women are working to be in the places that they are and how much effort they're putting in. And again, how much balance this requires because of all of their outside community and family commitments, and how that actually is enriching their in their experience, even if it's not valued outside of the space where they get to come together to have those conversations.


    Sarah Hurtado: I want to be friends with that young woman and see what she does in her life, cause I love that. I love that so much.


    Michele, in this conversation I feel like I hear and see you, like, so excited and I mean, I know the people listening can't see but I feel like you're, like, glowing talking about your interactions with the undergrads that you have worked with over time, and who are now participants in your studies now that you're a faculty member.


    So kind of related to that. I know one of the co-authors of this chapter was a student of ours in the Higher Ed program, now alumna of our Ph.D. program. And I just wanted to know if you could share a little bit about, kind of, your experience with writing with doctoral students, or even masters students. What that’s looked like and how you interact with them over research?


    Michele Tyson: Yeah, absolutely. So, yes, one of my co-authors is Dr. Shenhaye Ferguson, Dr. Shenhaye Ferguson because she did recently graduate. And I'll affectionately call her Shen cause that's what she told us we're allowed to do. So Shen started out as a graduate assistant for our program and was assigned to work with Dr. Sponsler and myself, and had indicated really early on that she was interested in doing some writing alongside faculty. And my approach to working with graduate students, and same thing with Dr. Sponsler I'm sure, but my approach when working with graduate students is, what do you want to learn and how can we use this experience to help get you the, you know, professional experiences or the research experiences that you want so you can go do what it is you want to do so. If a student tells me they want to write with me, we will find a way to write. I don't necessarily know that Shen knew she was signing up for a three-year experience, because it was a very lengthy amount of time from point A until publication, because the book just was published this October, although we had completed it a while ago. But still to be on board with this project for several years, I'm not sure she originally knew. I'm not sure that I originally knew actually how long it would take.


    But going back to that original meeting that summer of 2020, when a random group of people had been pulled together, to be quite honest, we realized that we were all White women who were trying to talk about the value of leadership learning for all women and women-identifying students, but particularly students of color. And so there was no, we had no business with the group of us taking this on without finding ways that we can bring in other authors that could offer perspectives and make sure, you know, kind of keep us in check as a group as we are moving forward with this project. And so we, kind of, as an original group thought, what if we all brought in co-authors? And we were very intentional in who we invited to be our co-authors. And so that is one of the many reasons why I invited Shen to co-author this piece with me. And when we started writing it, I'm not really sure that we had a specific plan per se other than to talk about the history and value of women's education. And so I'm not really sure if there's a right way to do collaborative writing. We try and teach this in our program, but I don't know if there's a right way to do it. But I just started on working on one thing, she started working on one thing, we came together, kind of tried to figure out where our different things combined, and where they overlapped. And that was actually then how we outlined our chapter. I think that iterative process was essential because had I gone in with an outline of what I wanted to cover, I would have done exactly what I didn't want it to do, which was ignore the perspective of women of color. So for us to both approach it in this very separate way, and then kind of almost, like, braid it together to see where it fit was our approach for doing that. But really it was her saying, I want to write and I want some experience to work on my research skills. And then having this project sort of like dumped on my lap. But that sounds bad, like this opportunity was presented to me, there we go. Really just kind of was perfect timing for all of that.


    Caitlyn Glaser: That's so interesting to hear. And speaking as a current student and graduate assistant I just want to say it's so wonderful how our faculty here in the Higher Ed program help to make it such a collaborative, unique experience as well based on what the students are wanting. So I love that.


    Sarah Hurtado: So with that, I would love to know what class would you assign either the chapter that you wrote or the entire book?


    Michele Tyson: I like this question. So the chapter itself, I think, it's the history of women's colleges, so looking at a history class, I think, is a very logical connection. I think, in the Higher Ed program and looking at graduate-level work the book itself isn't looking at graduate students, but I think that the book itself touches on a couple of different pieces that graduate students can benefit from. So, for example, college students in their environments, like really understanding that the environment and the contextual pieces of where students learn help them learn different things that they might not learn in a very structured or differently structured, I should say, classroom environment. So I think the classroom, the environments class could be a good place for the book as a whole. And then, I think, just leadership courses in general. We offer a class in the Higher Ed program called Leadership and Supervision where we are helping our masters students learn what leadership in higher education looks like. And to be quite honest, when I'm teaching that class, I tend to approach it more of, like, How can you be supervised? Not necessarily leadership as much as like, how can you be a good supervisor? And how can you also be a good supervisee?


    So I don't necessarily know that the just concept of leadership as a class would fit with this book. But I think if we were to use, How can you help facilitate leadership and growth among undergraduate students? then this would be another place for that book to be used. So those are the different spaces that I was originally thinking about. I also think it could be an interesting research book, just in terms of, like, understanding how narrative research is done, and how it can be analyzed, and then what's an option for, like, disseminating this product?


    Caitlyn Glaser: I hope that I get a chance to read from this book in one of my classes as I get further in my program, I think that'd be a lot of fun. My next question, so we talked about how you're a faculty member here in the Higher Ed program at DU. You're also, as we mentioned earlier, an alumna of the Higher Education program. What would you say to any prospective Higher Ed students listening about how your DU Higher Ed degree has helped you? And why choose University of Denver for Higher Ed?


    Michele Tyson: Yeah, absolutely. So I think the obvious pieces are that, I wanted a doctorate degree. They offered a doctorate degree. I got the degree. Now, I'm gainfully employed. Yeah, that's great. What ultimately this program has done for me, and what I hope it does for others, is that it absolutely helped me see the world in a different way that I can never go back prior to this degree and see the world in the same way. I just, it's impossible. So the way that I think about things has changed, the way that I parent has changed, the way that I show up with my family has changed, like extended family. Probably who I am as a friend has changed quite a bit, absolutely who I am as a community member has changed, things that I pay attention to now because of this program, ways that I have learned how to interact with those who are different from me is absolutely different from this program. And so just having the tools to 1) know how to learn, like, I will always be a lifelong learner, but having the tools to figure out like what's good information, what's maybe not so good information, how do I talk about the information that I believe in, how do I learn about other people and the information they have to share? What do I do with that experience? How do I just show up in the world? All of that is different because of the University of Denver's Higher Education program. Obviously, as a faculty member, like, one of my job tasks is to lecture. But I actually feel like I would be somebody who is constantly talking about these issues, not just the issues we talk about in class, but the way in which I've learned how to understand issues around the world, the way that I show up and talk about those are all really different now that I've had this training as a doctoral student, so much to the point where my kids will ask me a question and then they'll cut me off and say, “I don't want like the lectured answer, I just want a yes or no.” And I'm notorious for saying, “Well, then, I can't give you an answer, because it's not a yes or no. We need to approach it from these different angles, and there's critical thinking that needs to go into it.” And you know I've got three teenagers so the response is usually an eye roll, and then they like, go ask dad or something. But I mean, it truly has changed the way that I show up in the world every single day.


    Sarah Hurtado: That is so awesome to hear. And I mean, teenagers are probably going to eye roll regardless of what you say. So I think you should just give them the whole thing.


    Michele Tyson: Keep lecturing!


    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Well, Michele, thank you so much for taking some time to chat with Caitlyn and I. We're so excited for other people to learn more about you, the wonderful work you've done here at DU, and you know all of the research and writing that you have engaged with. Anything else you'd like to share with us that we haven't already asked about before we go?


    Michele Tyson: I don't think so. This is a fun opportunity to talk about this project. And I will just put in a shameless plug that there's another article coming out soon that talks more specifically about the research I mentioned with the Leadership Scholars. So hopefully, more to come when that is officially published.


    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Maybe we can do an episode Part 2. Yeah, follow up episode. On that piece when it comes out. Well, thank you so much, Michele, and hopefully, people will continue listening and all of the other faculty members we have lined up in future episodes. Thanks everyone.


    Caitlyn Glaser: Thanks!


  • Supporting Non-Tenure-Track Faculty with Dr. Laura Sponsler

    In this episode of Mile Higher Ed, Dr. Laura Sponsler joins Sarah and Caitlyn to discuss issues facing non-tenure-track faculty, workload equity, and how to create more leadership roles for non-tenure-track faculty. Laura’s article “Expanding Leadership Roles for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: What Institutional Leaders Should Consider” was recently published in Academic Leader.


    About our guest: Dr. Laura Sponsler is a Clinical Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Denver, as well as the Resident Scholar for Teaching and Professional Faculty in the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. Her work broadly examines the democratic purposes of higher education, in particular how institutions provide space for voice, participation, and inclusive practices, and how these ideals are institutionalized. Dr. Sponsler’s research agenda focuses on the following areas: civic engagement; inclusive teaching, learning, and assessment; organizational change, organizational learning, and faculty development; and the experiences of non-tenure track faculty and their participation in higher education.


    Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.


    Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

    Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.


    Dr. Sponsler
    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Episode 3







    Sarah Hurtado: Hi everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Mile Higher Ed. I am one of your cohosts Dr. Sarah Hurtado, Assistant Professor in the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. And I am joined by our other cohost…


    Caitlyn Glaser: Hi, I’m Caitlyn Potter Glaser. I’m a first-year PhD student in Higher Education here at DU.


    Sarah Hurtado: And today we have the pleasure of talking with Dr. Laura Sponsler who is a clinical associate professor in the Higher Education Department, as well as the Resident Scholar for Teaching and Professional Faculty at the University of Denver. And we are talking about a piece that was recently published in Academic Leader titled “Expanding Leadership Roles for Non-Tenure Track Faculty Members: What Institutional Leaders Should Consider.” So welcome, Laura.


    Laura Sponsler: Thank you so much for having me.


    Sarah Hurtado: So just to get started would you mind sharing with us where this idea for this piece came from?


    Laura Sponsler: So I have been serving as the Resident Scholar for Teaching and professional faculty over the past 3 years and it’s a role that is charged with leading institutional change efforts for faculty off the tenure track as well as providing mentoring and additional support for what we call Teaching and Professional Faculty and those are folks with full-time non-tenure track appointments. And so as a non-tenure track faculty leader I was approached by the editor to write this piece and to really think about what would I want, if I could wave my magic wand what would I want our administrative leaders to know and do to think about expanding leadership opportunities for faculty.


    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome thank you.


    Caitlyn Glaser: Some folks who are listening to our podcast today might not be familiar with the distinction between tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty lines, especially if they themselves aren’t faculty. Would you just offer a quick description of each?


    Laura Sponsler: So tenure-track and tenured faculty have historically been the majority of faculty in higher education. and what tenure is, is a, it’s a process by which faculty go through about typically about a six year review period focused a lot on their research teaching and service contributions to the typically the university, the college, their disciplinary field and then are awarded what’s called tenure, which is essentially lifetime employment. It’s also part of our system ensured, to ensure academic freedom so that faculty can research what they would like to pursue without undue influence from either state, or political, or any other actor. So in short it’s been the historical way that faculty work has been organized, but since the 1970s we’ve seen quite a dramatic shift in the makeup of the faculty in that faculty have been up to now there’s been 70% of all faculty in higher education have been faculty off the tenure track, meaning they do not have the opportunity to earn tenure, that lifetime employment and job security and affordances and so most faculty work on short contracts whether that be by the quarter, semester or year they tend to have more teaching responsibilities than research and there tends to be inequity around pay and some other kinds of issues which I’m sure we’ll get into in the podcast but that’s a brief kind of overview of each.


    Sarah Hurtado: And historically, from your experience and understanding of these roles, non-tenure track faculty have largely not participated in or been included in opportunities to participate in shared governance, which is something you talk about in this piece.  Can you share a little bit more about why it’s important that they do?


    Laura Sponsler: Yeah, I think with the changing makeup of the faculty if we only allowed tenured faculty which make a very small, about one third of the faculty population now, we’d be systematically excluding many of the people who are teaching researching and working on our campuses and so to me it really becomes an equity issue and thinking about what are the ways in which our institutions are perpetuating a systematic inequity towards a particular group of folks that are doing largely and sometimes very similar work to the tenured faculty


    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah.


    Laura Sponsler: You know, and I think we’re missing out on some diverse voices. And then also the labor. It’s a lot of work, and so I think we also need to think about expanding the pool so that there’s more equitable labor for faculty in thinking about the leadership opportunities on campus.


    Caitlyn Glaser: Jumping off from this idea of the inequities between tenure and tenure-track versus non-tenure track faculty, in your piece you talk about perceived hierarchy of tenure and tenure track faculty over the non-tenure track faculty where do you think this comes from?


    Laura Sponsler: Yeah, well I think, there’s very real pay differentials between tenure track and non-tenure track faculty so that’s at the personal level, and then there’s also this perception that tenure track faculty are somehow qualitatively, and perhaps quantitatively, better than non-tenure track faculty. I think in part this stems from historical focus on research over teaching and so the folks in more teaching academic roles that might be looked down upon but also could be rooted in our systemic patriarchy and right so that more non-tenure track faculty are women, more non-tenure track faculty are people of color, so there’s also like systemic inequities built into the system so I think that’s part of the perceived hierarchy but it’s interesting I read a study a couple years ago that the only people who that matters to is tenured and tenure track faculty. the public doesn’t know the difference, students most likely don’t know the difference, so that’s where that comes from.


    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, I mean I think that’s right. Like, even thinking about our own students, like higher ed students, graduate students, I doubt they know the difference or really understand any or perceive any difference between what you and I do. They see us both as a faculty in the classroom, doing some sort of research, right? Like, to them we are the same, right? Which is true, we just happen to have slightly different percentages when it comes to where we focus our time in terms of our roles.


    Laura Sponsler: Exactly.


    Sarah Hurtado: So you, as I mentioned at the beginning, hold an additional role on campus as the Resident Scholar for Teaching and Professional Faculty here at DU. I’m wondering if you can just share a little bit about what you do in that role and how you have worked to improve the culture for non-tenure track faculty here.


    So this has been a great joy and a challenge for me being a faculty member here at DU. I was hired into the role about…goodness it’s going to be four years in January. You know, right in 2020, but I was originally charged with understating what’s happening for our non-tenure track faculty at DU in 2015 is when our new APT, which is Advancement, Promotion, and Tenure guidelines (which are the guidelines that support all faculty promotion and tenure), were adopted and changed to create these fulltime non-tenure track lines, and there had been a review committee in 2017 that I had been a part of but there hadn’t been kind of a systematic understanding of how we were doing five years into this new kind of faculty work. So I was hired to think through what’s going on with our faculty and so it was the beginning of the pandemic so my quest to create to collect all new data was squashed pretty quickly and so I ended up working with existing data and I used a framework from Gappa et al., their book is Rethinking Faculty Work, and they had a framework around equity. And it was designed for all types of faculty, including adjuncts, non-tenure track, and tenure track faculty, and had been used by Adrianna Kezar. So I just applied the framework to the data we had here, and I worked very collaboratively with our colleagues, the deans, vice provosts, provost, associate deans, faculty members, kind of using what we had to understand where we were. And so that culminated in the writing of what’s now called the White Paper, but it was a white paper for teaching and professional faculty, which is actually a term that I coined. I was sick and tired of being called “non-tenure” So non-woman, right like, “non-man”.


    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, yeah


    Laura Sponsler: You know, ugh, I just…so I changed the term. And then faculty senate actually changed the term about a year later, voted to change the term to be more inclusive of what we actually do rather than what we are not. So I wrote the paper and did a series of talk backs. So I presented it widely and then invited critique and input, and what happened was people felt engaged with the work and I had like, six or seven drafts, and that’s really I think a testament to sharing it with the community, and getting feedback, and feeling like we can do some good work. So in years since faculty senate has changed the name, they’ve adopted some new APT modifications to include non-tenure track faculty, our TPF, with the COVID policies and different supports allowing people to extend their clocks for promotion. I’ve done a lot of work with all the different units on campus to think about how we can support people through promotion, I’ve mentored people, I’ve run four faculty learning communities, about 65 faculty I’ve mentored and supported through this journey. And then in 2022 we were awarded the Delphi from the University of Southern California’s Pullias Center, which recognizes the most outstanding institutions for their support for non-tenure track faculty. So it was, it’s been a great ride, but cultural change takes ideological change, how do we talk, how do we think, and our values and those sorts for things, but it also take structural change. And so it’s fun to be a part of thinking about what are the policies and procedures, and how can they be more inclusive for all faculty.


    Sarah Hurtado: That’s amazing. And I just want to remind our listeners that this is a small side gig that you do in addition to being a faculty member, and you just listed off all of these really incredible things you did or have done and continue to work on here at DU. So, you know, congrats to you, friend.


    Laura Sponsler: Thanks, Sarah, thank you.


    Caitlyn Glaser: This is so great. I’m so glad you shared, because when I saw your title Resident Scholar for Teaching and Professional Faculty I remember thinking, “Oh that’s such a great name for this group of faculty folks,” and to know that you coined the term, it just makes me happy. What you call in your piece is non-tenure track faculty, but what we’re referring to as Teaching and Professional Faculty, what advice do you have for any teaching and professional faculty who might be listening to this podcast about how to navigate this structure or this hierarchy, and some of the cultural challenges especially for those who aren’t here at DU benefitting from your work firsthand?


    Laura Sponsler: Um, call me? I’m kind of kidding but not kidding. I’m happy to speak with campuses about our work here, and what I’ve done, and my role, which is pretty unique. I don’t know of anyone who has the same kind of role that isn’t actually a vice provost or have a more formal title. I think it’s interesting to have a lead role and have one role still in the faculty. I think that gives me a different perspective. So yeah, call me. We can put my email in the show notes. I’d be happy to talk about it.


    Other advice would be to start to read about non-tenure track faculty, and just get a sense of the experiences. When I’m leading faculty learning communities actually for tenure track, tenured, or non-tenure track faculty I think people aren’t always aware of the research and good work that’s out there about these particular populations. And I think when people start reading they feel more seen and less alone, that they’re not the only ones on their campus who are experiencing, you know, not collegiality based upon their line, or not the only ones who feel role confusion as being a faculty member but not having the same research expectations or those sorts of things. So I think, and I’d be happy to share with our listeners some resources and some books I’ve used that would be helpful to folks. And the other thing would be to find other colleagues at your institution who have similar roles, maybe not always in your department but around the college or university, to start to understand kind of the similarities and differences based on particular disciplinary differences or those sorts of things, and to build that community here. You know, I walked into kind of a lot of this work had been happening long before I got here. I feel privileged that I was able to build on the work of the community of Teaching and Professional Faculty here moving this work forward.


    Sarah Hurtado: Similar question--as you’ve mentioned part of the work of culture change is really kind of getting some structural changes, which also requires folks in these more positions with power and influence of the institution. So, what advice do you have for provosts or other administrators who might be listening as well?


    Laura Sponsler: Yeah, I think one of the recommendations I make in the piece is that I would like institution leaders, department chairs, deans, provosts to think about expanding the leadership roles. I talk about in the article, I list off people I know here at DU who were superintendents, World Health Organization experts, government officials, international aid, right, superintendents, these people had leadership roles, non-profit business leaders, et cetera et cetera. These folks who’ve had real life leadership experience that I think could enrich the conversations that leaders are having, and I think systematically excluding someone because of their title, ignoring their experience, really is a missed opportunity when higher ed has some serious challenges that our non-tenure track faculty, our Teaching and Professional faculty, might be able to contribute to and help with. I also think institutional leaders consider how those different perspectives actually strengthen our shared governance and strengthen our institutional models when we have people who have outside experience from different than academia that can bring in different perspectives and different voices.


    Caitlyn Glaser: All right so we’re talking a lot about faculty, so for you and for faculty who might be listening, if you were to assign your article as reading in a course, which course would you assign it and why?


    Laura Sponsler: I would assign it in my own seminar for faculty, which I will hopefully be teaching again in the future. I think one of the things we talk about in that class is kind of how different roles, different lines, affect the faculty experience, so I would assign it in that class. I also think it could be useful in organization and governance classes as a more succinct piece to think about implications with non-tenure track faculty. I think there’s great work around understanding the landscape, and also kind of bemoaning the fact that we’re a 70% non-tenured faculty, kind of, very deficit lens, and so I do feel like this piece offers a more asset-based view of this particular population and how they might contribute to perhaps an organization and governance or leadership course, um yeah.


    Caitlyn Glaser: I will say we just took, I just took Organizational Theory this past quarter and we did talk about faculty workload equity, and I would have loved to have your piece at that point to share in Dr. Tyson’s class. So I think that’s a great recommendation.


    Laura Sponsler: Thanks, Caitlyn!


    Sarah Hurtado: Okay, so, I actually have one more question for you if you don’t mind. I’m thinking about students who might be in our doctoral program, who might be in other doctoral programs, who often times get socialized to think of tenured jobs or tenure-track jobs as the goal. Like, you’re in this PhD program to get a tenure-track job, and I am wondering if you have any advice for those folks who might be listening.


    Laura Sponsler: I would say I was probably one of those students as well. I think I was socialized in my own program, but yet also supported by my advisor to pursue alternate paths that worked for me and my life. And my advisor was incredibly supportive and encouraging, and helped me push back against some of those long-held beliefs that if you don’t get a tenure-track job then you’re not a successful graduate or an alum of the program. So I think you probably have to start with yourself, you know, man in the mirror you know what kind of work would work best for you what kind of role would best support your interests and pursuits and you know for me this clinical role where I have responsibilities for some research a large proportion on teaching and then university, community, and disciplinary service works the best for me because I’m able to apply my learning and that’s the kind of scholar that I aspire to be so for me it’s actually the best role and the best opportunity that I’ve had to really integrate teaching research and service to the greater good and I but I do think that norm is there, right? That the tenure track is the best track and now would I like job security forever? Yes, absolutely. Right, there are inequities that are systemic but at the end of the day also I’m really proud of the work I get to do and the faculty that I get to work with.


    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome thanks for sharing. Well, those are all of the questions that we have today. We really appreciate you taking some time to chat with us. We know you’ve got a lot going on, clearly, from the things that you’ve shared in this episode, so we are very appreciative. And to all of our listeners, tune in next time for Mile Higher Ed.



  • Applying Critical Race Theory to Civic Engagement with Dr. D-L Stewart

    In this episode of Mile Higher Ed, Dr. D-L Stewart joins Sarah and Caitlyn to talk about his new article Civic Engagement and Resisting ‘Docile Bodies’ in Postsecondary Education published in Teachers College Report. We discuss the importance of civic engagement in racially minoritized communities, why a critically-oriented curriculum is necessary in higher education, and how we must go beyond voting to increase engagement with, and participation in, our democracy.


    A few of the things we talk about:


    About our guest: Dr. D-L Stewart is Professor and Chair of the Higher Education Department in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. His scholarship has focused most intently on the history and philosophy of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, as well as the institutional systems and structures that affect the experiences, growth, development, and success of racially minoritized and queer and trans* students in settler colonial historically white postsecondary institutions.



    Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.


    Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

    Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.


    Dr. D-L Stewart
    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Podcast Episode 4









    Sarah Hurtado: Welcome back to another episode of Mile Higher Ed, the podcast where we talk about current higher ed happenings in research and practice coming from the DU Higher Education faculty, students, and alumni. I'm one of your co-hosts, Dr. Sarah Hurtado, Assistant Professor in the department. And as usual, I'm joined by…

    Caitlyn Glaser: Hi, I'm Caitlyn Potter Glaser. I am a PhD student in the higher ed department here at DU.

    Sarah Hurtado: And today we are super excited to be joined by Dr. D-L Stewart, who is the Chair and Professor of the DU Higher Education department. So welcome Dr. Stewart!

    D-L Stewart: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here with you both.

    Sarah Hurtado: Thanks. Alright, so let's jump right in.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Alright, Dr. Stewart, I'm going to ask the first question. We always start by asking our guests where their idea for their research or their work came from. And we do this because in our Structural Foundations of Research class you taught last fall, you had us read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada, which I love, and then you even read it to us. But part of that book is about where your ideas come from. And you asked us about where our ideas come from. Why us? Why now? Why this idea? So, I would like to know if you would share with us where your idea for this article came from.

    D-L Stewart: Great, turnabout is fair play.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Absolutely!

    D-L Stewart: No, I believe in never asking my students to do anything that I'm not willing to do myself, so I appreciate the opportunity to answer this question.

    So, my idea for this article actually had the interesting origin story as it were. I was invited by a team of scholars, several of whom are based at Penn State, to be involved with a special issue of Teachers College Record, where this article is contained and where it's published, that would show the ways that Critical Race Theory can be translatable to policy. Because you know, there's this presumption that Critical Race Theory is not practical, it's not applicable, or it can't be applied, right, rather I should say, it can't be applied, and particularly to policy. So, I said yes, hestitant, with hesitation. I was like, really? I don't, I don't necessarily consider myself a policy scholar. And like…what? We wanted to do what? Which this article is actually paired with a what they call the Fact Sheet, which is what we had to construct to actually present to legislators, we actually did present this to Congress, Congressional staffers… when was that? This is 2024…Summer of 2023 I think? Or 2022? Something like that.

    And so, that was the invitation that started this. I started to think, I don't know. And went through and thought about publications I've done recently and was like, wait a minute there's a way that this other piece that wrote, “Resisting Docile Bodies” that was in the QSE, the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education in 2017, in a special issue that was responding to the election of Donald Trump. And I thought to myself, I think this article actually can work to, like, and as a foundational idea, right, for thinking about, okay, what is the practical application of this concept that colleges and universities that are not simply for job training, right? Postsecondary education is not just, should not just be about job training, but that it also should be about preparing people to live and participate as members of a radical democracy.

    And so, I was like, okay, what, what does that mean? Well, civic engagement. And so that's how we got to this, this companion piece for the Fact Sheet. And actually, the fact sheet got written first, and then I went back and wrote the conceptual piece that that we're talking about today.

    So that's kind of where the idea came from, and it was it was an interesting process because  like I said I don't consider myself a policy scholar, although I've taught policy, I am very interested, particularly institutional policies and practices, and I've written about federal policy related to LGBTQ+ folks, but…and so I said about 15 things that are related to policy [everyone laughs] but I don't consider myself a policy scholar. So, it was an interesting exercise. It was a really interesting exercise and I really appreciate the opportunity I was a really interesting expert and I really appreciated the opportunity to be able to this work in this way in company with folks who I think are policy scholars. You know in some ways there are several of us who are involved in the special issue who are like, this is not what we do in a regular basis. But it was a really great exercise that stretched my thinking in terms of, because I've been doing a lot of conceptual scholarship in the last several years, to think about, okay, how could I translate this to a policy audience of legislators, right? So really not other higher ed scholars who do policy, but the folks who are involved in state legislatures, who are federal legislators and thinking about how do we engage in the context of this piece of democracy and preparation for democracy, and civic engagement as part of that, and the roles of colleges and universities in holding that, right?  And a time when college and university, and the education they provide, are under attack, right? And so there's this continuing series of assaults on the value, you know, the purpose of higher education, postsecondary education.

    So I'll stop there so I don't get too far ahead of what you want to ask me about. [everyone laughs] But yeah, so that's where the idea came from.

    Sarah Hurtado: Thank you for that. You know, I appreciate hearing you kind of think about like, I don't consider myself a policy scholar, or like someone who does this, because I think, you know, a lot of people, you know, see you or read your work and you know, think that you like know it all, you do it all, you’re D-L Stewart, right? And, you know, there's opportunities for all of us to continue to grow and shift and expand our thinking in different ways in our scholarship and it's really cool to see that example. So, thank you.

    D-L Stewart: Absolutely. You’re always growing, right? I mean, I think that's part of, you know, being in education. Being a scholar for me is always been continuing to push myself into new terrain, right? And how can I expand my thinking, refine my thinking, clarify my thinking by putting it with a different kinds of context.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, well, especially as, you know, things are shifting around us, right? Like because of all of these attacks on this type of work or this type of thinking, right, that it pushes us as scholars to have to do different and go into different areas and do all of that, and be responsive to so yeah thank you for that.

    I realize that I didn't share the title of this piece in the intro that I did, but this piece that we're talking about is titled “Civic Engagement and Resisting ‘Docile Bodies’ in Postsecondary Education.” So, I'm wondering if you, and you shared that you've written about this concept in a couple of different pieces, but I'm wondering if you can explain a little bit about what you mean when you talk about “docile bodies.”

    D-L Stewart: Sure! This I, you know, docility, right, and thinking about the meaning of the word, to be “docile.” Really it's about being passive, not pushing back. Being sort of meek, and quiet, and not challenging things. So these are all things that come to my mind when I think about the word docile, and what it means to be docile. And so docile bodies, you know, thinking about the ways that neoliberalism and corporatization has crept into the higher ed space over the last decade or more, you know, really like… yeah, decade, 15 years or so. That leans on efficiency, and metrics of assessment  that are about quantitative metrics that are financially driven, right? That are focused on budgetary impact. And in the midst of that what is happening to how we're thinking about the education of students?

    And so, as I mentioned earlier this attack on the value and the purpose of higher education and have really typically been rooted in sort of two, two arguments. One about the economic return on investment, whether or not it's there, whether or not higher ed is “worth it” from that perspective. And then two, the attack that you mentioned, Dr. Hurtado, DEI, DEIJ, Issues of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging even, et cetera. And so for me as I looked at that, and it connects back actually to research that has been done by folks like Paul Willis, and others whose names of course are escaping me as I want to talk about them right now,  were…who have talked about the ways that, particularly in the K-12 space, how are we educating children to take up certain kinds of roles? Thinking about the purpose of tracking, and tracking students into certain kinds of ability categories, and those who are considered to and you can even take the back all the way to the arguments within Black education, you know, post-enslavement, post-Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction movement of industrial education versus a classic liberal education, right? And the idea the some touted that industrial education was “good enough” for Black people because they're only going to be domestics, domestic servants and, you know, manual physical laborers anyway, right? Or they're gonna be teachers and they should be teaching people to prepare them for careers or jobs as domestics, and farm workers and you know industrial people working in the industrial realm. And so, and it, and it's about an education as we go back there to the early twentieth century, late 1800s-early 1900s, we go into this idea of urban schools and urban education, and what happens with working class students across race, you know, but particularly we think about Students of Color in these spaces, how they tend to be overrepresented in the lower tracks, lower ability categories, of this idea, right?

    And guidance counselors, you know, the literature, the scholarship around the ways that Students of Color are often dissuaded, right, from pursuing any kind of postsecondary education, or they're considered should just go into vocational, just vocational career tech education and not worry about a liberal arts education in a different kind of, different portion of the higher sector. That community college should be doing liberal education, liberal arts education, right? So that there's this, this historical path right that comes up over and over and over again of using education to, for certain groups, to prepare them to be just workers in a capitalist economy.

    We can think about the idea of racialized capitalism, hopefully you have to put in the show notes, racial capitalism and scholar whose name is right on the tip of my tongue but is not coming forward.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Just a note to listeners: here we are talking about Cedric Robinson, who coined the term “racial capitalism” in his book Black Marxism.

    D-L Stewart: to only to only be workers Right, for a capitalistic economy. For producing or instilling docility, meekness, not gonna challenge, I'm-just-gonna-put-my-head-down-and-work. And work for wages that are inadequate to survive on, work for benefits but are inadequate to actually take care of self and family, or, you know, if you have caregiving responsibilities for not just children, but also elders. In some ways cooling out even voter participation. You know, grassroots engagement and community activism, like who has time for that when you are, like, head down trying to work all the time in order to survive, like live? So that’s, when I think about docile bodies, that’s what was influencing Those were all the ideas that came into my mind that were influencing using that terminology. Um. yeah.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Thank you for that explanation. I also appreciate you talking more about the purpose of higher education and where it's kind of going in our neoliberal, capitalist society, but in that historical context.

    In this piece you talk about the purpose of higher education. One purpose should be to promote civic engagement, and you say specifically for racially minorized communities, “civic engagement offers the essential tools for making change.” But you talk about civic engagement promotion, as opposed to simply focusing on increasing voter turnout or voter participation. And I'm wondering if you could talk more about that distinction and why it's more than just that kind of voting action.

    D-L Stewart: Yeah, absolutely. And this came up, I was, I was, privileged to be part of the conversation hosted by our Provost, Mary Clark, here at DU just this past Friday, actually. About the role and value of higher education in a democracy was the theme of that conversation. I was I was privileged to be able to be one of the panelists, you could call it, that kicked off that conversation, and in my opening comments I talked about, I talked about this issue that you're asking me about now, Caitlyn. And there we were riffing off of to greater or lesser extent, a book by Ronald Daniels, who was a former chancellor or president at an institution I can't think of, of course. But rather in the institution the book was about What Universities Owe (to) Democracy. In one early, in the text he talks about data, research data that shows that voter participation is lower amongst basically minoritized communities, particularly racially/ethnically minoritized communities. And like universities need to do, you know, everything they can to increase voter participation amongst those groups so that their voices can be heard in, you know, in the political arena.

    And that argument and that claim really rubs me the wrong way, for one thing, in part because there's also contrasting data that show that participation in community, other forms of community engagement, are higher amongst racially/ ethnically minoritized folks than they are amongst White, particularly White middle class people. And we think about being more being what scholar DeLeon Gray talks about hyperlocal, that if we really think about what's going on right in the communities that people live in there’s a great need for involvement and engagement within those communities where the impacts of what's happening, you know, at higher levels are actually felt. Right. And so we think about civic engagement, it's more than just voter, it's more than just voting. And particularly in a time and we have to talk about civic engagement as more than just voting, particularly at a time when young people are increasingly frustrated with the political process, and the ways that it seems to not make a difference who you vote for and whether you vote. Because the same kinds of policies are going to continue to be advocated regardless which side of the aisle is in power in terms of policy that actually, what impact they had on the vulnerable In our society, right?

    So, as an example, you know, there was all of this push to vote for our current president and, and so I'm gonna wade into the dangerous waters of politics here, but to vote for our current president as opposed to our previous president, who I mentioned earlier because this president was going to, as he campaigned, was going to do something so radically different. And I'm thinking particularly about immigration policy. What ended up happening though, in reality, was that our current president continued policies and practices that were created and put in place by the previous administration that was of a different party, right? That continues to result in violence and harm against those who are immigrating to this country, and those who are here already who live in undocumented status of one level, one time type or another. As so we have young people who are very savvy, who are highly intelligent, who are looking at, you know, who are instead of saying intelligent because that has ableist connotations to it, but who are very thoughtful. In contrast to how people, adults, older adults often talk about young people and youth. They’re actually very thoughtful, very savvy, and they look at this and they go, what the hell? You know, but why did I put all this effort into voting for this party when they're actually not any substantively different? And so you end up depressing folks from wanting to go into high political action in the form of simply voting.

    And when we think about civic engagement more broadly, we can recognize the ways that people are already engaged in civic activity to support communities, right? So doing, volunteering for different civic agencies that are local to their community, being involved in grassroots activism, engaged in mutual aid works and whatnot. All of that is civic engagement from as far as I’m concerned. And those things actually impact people's daily lives on the ground, right, and are responsive to the things that are happening at federal levels, at state levels, right?

    And the only other thing I'll say about the importance of thinking about civic engagement from a more, from a broader perspective than just voter turnout is that it opens up and recognize the civic engagement of people who are non-citizens. Right. Because we have folks who, as I mentioned, are not citizens in, for in any kinds of status, right? So they're not necessarily undocumented, but they are permanent residents but still don't have you know, voting rights in this country. We have this range of people who are, who don't have access to the vote, right, but do have access to other means of engaging in community action, right? We need to recognize that instead of this citizenship bias that it's really at the center, or me, at the root, it's at the center and at the root of this focus on political participation and political participation as the act of voting. Right.

    Oh, I'll say one more thing. The other the other piece I think in that is the recognition that those other kinds of civic engagement can lead potentially to engagement in the political process. So, as I think about Ferguson, Missouri. Right? And in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown there was high levels of grassroots activism, right? That took place that were led predominantly by Black women, and eventually one of those leaders became, went on to city council for Ferguson. Right. And then somebody else went, you know, so you saw this transformation of Ferguson City Council as a result of and coming out of the grassroots community activism, right, that was spurred and got you know increased life you might say because of the murder of Michael Brown. Right. So we can even think about, so how do we get people to engage the political process? Well, that often happens at its root, particularly for minoritized communities, in community-based, you know, first grassroots community, hyper-local engagement. Particularly when a political process seems inherently…not seems, as far as I'm concerned, is inherently anti-Black, right, is inherently white supremacist, is inherently settler colonialist. And so, you know, people are asking the question, well, why should I rely on them?

    This is not me saying no one should ever vote. [everyone laughs] Not me saying that. But voting is not the end-all and be-all of community action and change producing, change in communities. It's one piece of a very big puzzle that gets over-emphasized, as far as I’m concerned.

    Sarah Hurtado: Funny enough for our listeners, we are recording this just a couple days after Super Tuesday. I also just want to note that, you know, I have the privilege of working with Dr. Stewart as a colleague in our department, and I'm sitting here thinking about how jealous I am of the students who get to take courses with you.

    Caitlyn Glaser: It's pretty great!

    Sarah Hurtado: So I’m like wow, I don't know if our listeners were ready for all the lessons we are going to get today. So thank you for all of that.

    So speaking of courses, a question related to coursework: So you talk about the need for equity-focused coursework and the connection between equity-focused coursework in fostering civic engagement. And as we've mentioned this is, you know, being attacked in several states, removed in several states, both coursework in the classroom and things outside of the classroom being removed. And so, I'm wondering if you can just talk a little bit about that relationship to civic engagement and any thoughts you have on how we resist that, those attacks.

    D-L Stewart: Oy! [laughs] And you know, when I wrote this, when I was working on this article it was before this current sort of heightened, like attack, assault on DEI. So, I think that's important context for listeners, that I wrote this prior to what's been going on over the last, you know, particularly, 12-15 months. I focus on equity, or put a particular emphasis on equity-focused coursework, which by that I’m meaning coursework that comes from and utilizes an equity-minded perspective, if I could borrow the term from Estela Bensimon of equity mindedness. There's certain, I think, kinds of courses…well, certain courses that you find in certain places within universities, particularly think about Critical Ethnic, Critical Race and Ethnic studies programs sometimes, often Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies programs or departments. It's some sociology coursework. You may find this equity-minded lens are in a critical theoretical framework. And in those, and sometimes those courses are also part of General Education curriculum, part of courses that qualify for distributional requirements, whatever they might be called.

    And so those courses and, and I focused on them where I was going, I focused on them from that thinking about Critical Race Theory lens and critical theoretical lenses, right, of where you may find that in the curriculum. Right. Because one of the things, you know, and, and I come out of this Student Affairs background and so the focus on the co-curricular and the co-curriculum is a partner with the classroom curriculum, the curriculum that's promoted in classroom. And yet here's the thing: particularly depending on the kind of or the type, sector of higher you're in, there may not be a robust co-curriculum. And it may not be particularly robust, not because the institution doesn't value it, but because it's students are more commuter students, they are students who are working full-time, they're students who have elder care, childcare, other dependent care responsibilities and cannot stick around campus for co-curricular engagement. Where they have to be within the classroom. Right, so we think about captive audience, you know, where they have to be if they're in any kind of college or university setting, they are in class. Okay. So how can we do where they are, where we know they have to be? Right. As, engines for promoting civic engagement, and for promoting the kind of critical thinking necessary to effectively engage in a democracy. Well, the so-called democracy, right? I think we are still inspiring actually to be a democracy in this country. But, and I, I think that that's why. That kind of course work is important, right.

    Whoo! Now, Dr. Hurtado, You asked the second part of your question is about.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah. I threw that in. I didn't prep you for that question.

    D-L Stewart: No, how do we push back, how do we contest the anti-DEI movement is that, is that it, through those courses?

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah.

    D-L Stewart: Well it’s becoming increasingly difficult, right? And so where much of the state legislative focus has been, has been in the arena of the co-curriculum. So if we look at much of it, and there are exceptions, right? But when we look at much of the legislation that is moved has been introduced in state legislative bodies and/or has been passed and signed into law, most of the focus is on the co-curriculum. Most of the focus is on administrators, often student affairs-related administrators, and the work that is being done around DEI, DEIJ, in colleges and universities, right? So let's get rid of those folks.

    You know, so we look at the University of Florida. Their response to the State of Florida's new law that bans DEI in public colleges and universities. But the University of Florida's response to that was to fire and eliminate all the positions that were related, that were said to be related, by Florida law to DEI education, right, and activities. But at least for right now in the state of Florida as an example, and I'll use a counter example after this, we're not seeing in that legislation, and the University of Florida's response to that legislation did not include it to this point, has not included it going through the academic curriculum and canceling courses.

    Right. So again. There's an opportunity to use the classroom as a space. Now, counterpoint. The State of Alabama, right. There's legislation that has not yet been passed, but is moving through and likely will pass through the Senate as well the State… Senate as well as the House, rather, in the state legislature of Alabama that does focus on faculty. And has like what I would call a McCarthy-era ideological test right, as part of promotion and tenure review, instituting post-tenure review, to check for whether faculty are truly encouraging intellectual diversity in their in their teaching and  research.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yikes!

    D-L Stewart: Yeah, yikes, exactly, right. And that is, you know, so do we do have this example that could become law, is not yet but could become law, in Alabama that would attack the and put focus, not just co-curriculum, but also in the curriculum. The State of the Indiana has some similar legislation that is also moving in that direction to focus on what faculty are doing in the classroom. But for the most part, the majority of the tension, particularly in the public media attention have been on the co-curriculum. So, to the extent that academic freedom is allowed to continue across the country, particularly…and the thing is we can talk about sort of the geography of the anti-DEI movement, right? And where it is happening, where it is not happening. And what that means for creating national safe spaces versus not safe spaces for this work. But, and I'm losing the threat of the question that I go off on 15 million tangents here.

    But the, I think that for as long as we are yet able, right, to do in the curriculum, to talk about in the curriculum, Issues of and raise issues related to equity. As long as we continue, we can continue to do that in the classroom. Again, we have an audience of students who have to be in class, right. And can we do equity-focused coursework in more than just a couple of the places I mentioned earlier, right? Because not all institutions of higher ed have a Critical Race and Ethnic Studies department or program, not all of them have Women and Gender/Sexuality studies departments and programs, and so, not all sociology departments are necessarily focused and have coursework that common and address issues of marginalization and minoritization from an equity lens, an equity-minded lens. And so, we need to be thinking about this more broadly across the curriculum. How can we encourage a curriculum that supports critical thinking, the recognition of historical fact as part of critical thinking, that's willing to talk about history. Right? Also, you know, history departments become really, really important here. And I can't remember what institution it was. I remember, was it in Wisconsin? An institution of Wisconsin that a few years ago, eliminated its history department? Right. So, and I may have the institution wrong, so please check that and put, you know, fact check me in the show notes. But like, there's…here are certain parts of our curriculum, certain disciplines that are absolutely essential. Right, to this conversation around how do we prepare people to be effective participants in what we claim to want as a democracy, you know, small “d” democracy, and extending that to broadly. So there's also this aspect of this question and the equity-focused coursework and this kind of coursework is not needed in certain sectors of higher ed. Those that focus may be on career technical education, those that are focused on vocational, more vocationally oriented institutions, for-profit institutions, even community colleges. Right. There's this rhetoric that that kind of  focus is not needed in those places and they, you know. And even folks who are like on the progressive end of the spectrum sometimes get into this, you know, this rhetoric. That this stuff they're only thinking about four-year institutions. Right? Research institutions, local large institutions, and that's the only thing they're thinking about. Right. And my argument is that this kind of education is necessary and important regardless of where and a student enters the postsecondary system. Right.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Absolutely.

    D-L Stewart: So particularly when the majority of folks of are racially minoritized, working-class, first-gen students enter postsecondary systems through these other doors. Right. And so if we say that those types of institutions don't need this education, what are… again, we're consigning certain people, certain portions of the population, to being trained to be docile bodies. Right, to loop back around to that point.

    Alright, I'm gonna stop cause like we have like, five minutes left in the hour we're supposed to record.

    [everyone laughs]

    Caitlyn Glaser: Oh, so good. No, this, this is just. Super interesting and very valuable and I know these conversations were ongoing across the country right now and… yes, I just appreciate you elaborating. It's, it's just so helpful.

    We talked earlier about how great it is to take a course that you teach. I can vouch for that. If you were to assign this piece in a course to be taught to students, which course would you assign it and why.

    D-L Stewart: Hmmm…

    Caitlyn Glaser: What can I look forward to taking from you next?

    [everyone laughs]

    D-L Stewart: Well, you know, if, Hmm. Of course on history and philosophy of higher ed is the first thing that comes to my mind, right? Which is the course that I've taught here at DU, I have taught at other institutions as well. I think this is becomes a natural fit. Right, as we think about what is the value and the purpose of higher education as an entity, as a social institution. This, article in the arguments here, I think, fit naturally in that kind of a course.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. I have one last hopefully fun question for you.

    D-L Stewart: Okay!

    Sarah Hurtado: So as I mentioned earlier, you are the Chair of the Higher Education department here at Morgridge at DU. So, for any perspective higher ed masters or doctoral students who might be listening: What is one reason they should choose us?

    D-L Stewart:  Oh, just one! All right, one reason. All right. Hmm. Well, I would say, you know, really what comes to my mind, Dr. Hurtado, is this kind of conversation is not unique to a podcast episode, right? That we have these kinds of critically-oriented conversations across the curriculum. And so, you get to engage with fellow students and faculty in really needy substantial critically-oriented conversations in whatever class you're in. And regardless of the topic, right? So, from Student Development Theory, which you teach, Dr. Hurtado, into Access and Retention, which Dr. Michele Tyson teaches, into thinking about Structural Foundations of Research, right, which Caitlyn took with me last quarter. So across the curriculum and in spaces where you would perhaps not presume to find it, like Structural Foundations of Research in the Social Sciences, we're still having these same kinds of really rich critically-oriented conversations, that push our thinking and all of our thinking, so not just students, but faculty as well. And, if you want that kind of rich engagement across the curriculum, Higher Ed at DU is the place to come.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Very true.

    Sarah Hurtado: Well said!

    D-L Stewart: My most succinct answer the entire podcast!

    [everyone laughs]

    Sarah Hurtado: Well, I mean, because it's true! It's, it is a very true thing. I think we have a unique group of folks here who make for really great learning together.

    D-L Stewart: Absolutely.

    Sarah Hurtado: So, well, thank you so much, Dr. Stewart, a pleasure to have you here on our podcast and to learn along with you in this conversation. And I hope whoever is listening continues to join us for future episodes. So thanks everyone.

    D-L Stewart: Absolutely. Thank you.


  • Rural-Serving Institutions and Regional Colleges with Dr. Cecilia Orphan

    In this episode of Mile Higher Ed, Dr. Cecilia Orphan joins Sarah and Caitlyn to talk about her work with ARRC, or the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges. ARRC recently released its work creating a designation for rural-serving institutions of higher education (RSIs). We discuss the role RSIs play in higher education, and why more research is needed to support this sector.


    You can read more about this work on ARRC’s website,


    About our guest: Dr. Cecilia M. Orphan is a working class, first-generation college graduate who received maximum Pell grants to attend college. As a child, she experienced homelessness and was a welfare recipient. She is personally familiar with the transformative nature of need based financial aid and colleges designed to expand access after attending Linn Benton Community College, a Rural-Serving Institution (RSI), and Portland State University, a Regional Public University (RPU). Simply put, attending these colleges changed her life. She has devoted my career to expanding understanding of and appreciation for RPUs and RSIs so that other students might enjoy the same opportunities she had, and so that higher education’s contributions to equity and democracy are strengthened.  Dr. Orphan is committed to bringing broader exposure and understanding to RPUs and RSIs and improve research, funding, policy, and media coverage of these sectors.


    Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.


    Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

    Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.


    Dr. Cecilia Orphan


    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Podcast Episode 5









    Sarah Hurtado: Welcome back to another episode of Mile Higher Ed, the podcast where we talk about current higher end happenings in research and practice coming from the DU higher education faculty, students, and alumni. I'm one of your co-hosts, Dr. Sarah Hurtado, assistant professor in the department. And as usual, I'm joined by…

    Caitlyn Glaser: I am Caitlyn Potter Glaser. I am a PhD student here at DU.

    Sarah Hurtado: And today is the first of two episodes where we will be learning more about the work of the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges, otherwise known as ARRC, and their work on rural-serving institutions. We’ll learn more about ARRC's work with rural-serving institutions in Colorado in next week's episode with current masters student Anna Dodson.

    But today we are joined by Dr. Cecilia Orphan, associate professor in the Higher Education department who also serves as the ARRC Director of Partnerships. Welcome, Dr. Orphan!

    Cecilia Orphan: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm so excited for our conversation.

    Sarah Hurtado: Can you start by just telling us a little bit about yourself, how long you've been at DU, broad interests, research focus, and anything else you want to share with our listeners?

    Cecilia Orphan: Sure, so this is my ninth year at DU, and this makes me and Dr. Laura Sponsler the most senior faculty in the department, which is very strange because I still feel very junior, but I guess I am associate now. I have tenure so I need to claim that title. [everyone laughs] But I always, whenever I introduce myself in academic settings, I always start by saying that I'm a first-generation college student. My mother had probably a fourth-grade education and my father was a mechanic, and so a lot of my childhood was spent in pretty deep poverty.

    I experienced homelessness. I was on the receiving end of probably every social program there is including Women, Infants, and Children, SNAP benefits, HUD, Pell grants, state grants, all of it. And so I often feel like I'm straddling two different worlds because now I have a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle, I'm an academic, and my family almost entirely still is working class, and that is very much how I identify culturally still even though I have added a new identity to that.

    So that kind of perspective on being first generation and the pathways I took to go to college and the support I did and did not receive informs a lot of my research. And even though my family was working class, is working class, very low income, we were very civically engaged ,so I remember my parents pulling me out of school to go vote before Oregon switched mail-in ballots. And then when Oregon switched the mail-in ballots, which I'm pretty sure this is maybe election fraud, but they made a deal with me that if I did my chores and I researched the ballot initiatives I'd get to vote on their behalf before I was old enough to vote.

    And so that kind of civic engagement and like concern for democracy was very much a part of my family. And so now as a professor my research agenda broadly interrogates the question: what is the role of higher education in a democratic society? And it's very much informed by those early experiences with being involved in democracy. And so, within that broad question I have a largely institutional focus in that I research regional public universities and rural-serving institutions.

    And these are two sectors that for a very long time have been largely ignored by researchers and the media and in many cases policymakers, but they play an absolutely indispensable role in educating Students of Color, Pell recipients like I was, adult learners, nontraditional students, immigrants, undocumented students, veterans, among many other populations that are often marginalized in other types of colleges and universities.

    And when I was a graduate student, there was almost no discussion about regional colleges. And this was strange to me because prior to being a PhD student, I had directed the American Association of State Colleges and University's American Democracy Project, which was, and AASCU is an association of the presidents of regional colleges, and that project was focused on their role in supporting democracy. So there's this throughline for my early childhood experiences throughout my professional life.

    And I was just stunned to be in a higher education program and have no literature about regionals assigned in the curriculum, and the one time they were talked about, I won't name this person, but this is a fairly big name in our field, I had asked a question in a history class about them, and this person said, “Well, they all just basically want to be Harvard.”

    Sarah Hurtado: Oh, geez.

    Cecilia Orphan: And I was like, Wow! Okay, so this is kind of the level of awareness that is operating in one of the highest-ranked higher education programs in the country. Not that rank tells us anything about quality necessarily, but it is a program that sets a lot of the norms for our discipline because of its standing.

    And so, I got really frustrated with that and I realized, okay, this is what I want my research to be about, because when regionals were talked about it was usually in very deficit-based ways (if they were talked about at all) and most of what was known was kind of conjecture or theorizations or conceptualizations rather than actual empirical research.

    And so, I largely examine how regional public universities, and then into 2016 I got, err, in 2018 I got very interested in rural-serving institutions. But I look at how they serve their communities and students while navigating policy, legitimacy, and funding challenges that I believe threaten their vital mission, their status in the field and in society and often really challenge their financial solvency, which affects their ability to serve their students.

    And again, these students are students who have often faced a number of challenges and barriers when navigating educational settings due to other types of systemic inequities. And then they arrive at these regional colleges, many of them are Minority-Serving Institutions, and these institutions are not well enough resource to support their success, I believe. And yet they still generate more upward mobility than any other sector in higher education. So, it's kind of incredible what they're able to do despite the challenges that these institutions face.

    Another kind of part of my research, which I won't talk about too much today, but I look at policy discourses that are captured in policy texts. So, for example, policymaker speeches, or policy documents, or laws, or draft bills, and I look at how these policy discourses shape the purposes of higher education and how, if at all, which usually they don't, but if they engage with higher education's purpose in a democratic society. So that is a little bit about me.

    Caitlyn Glaser:  Thank you so much for sharing not only your background, but also how it's motivated and informed the work in the research that you do. It's really helpful, and I think also sets the stage for the remainder of our conversation about the ARRC, the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges. Can you tell us more about what kind of work it does, and how it came to be?

    Cecilia Orphan: Our origin story is kind of a funny one, but ARRC as you noted is the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges, it took us a long time to figure out what our name was going to be. And we are a research collaborative involving four different directors at four different institutions. Or sorry, five directors, excuse me. Three of the institutions are regional publics, one is also an HSI, one is a rural-serving institution. And then we have a colleague at the University of Oklahoma, and then I'm the odd duck at a private institution. [laughing] But our mission is to conduct high-quality empirical research and then also serve as a resource hub that increases the appreciation for an understanding of regional colleges broadly defined. So my research I specifically look at regional public universities, so these are largely bachelor's degree-granting, master's degree-granting, and in many cases doctoral degree-granting institutions that are public, and then rural-serving institutions.

    But we also acknowledge that there are a number of regional private colleges and universities that have a very similar mission.

    And when we talk about the regional college mission, I conceptualize it as being in a tripartite mission to foster post-secondary access and equity and upward mobility, to facilitate regional stewardship, and so these are institutions that are they're not ivory towers, they're very much embedded in the life of their communities, they support economic and workforce development, they align their degree programs with the needs of the local community so that people who attend those institutions, they can stay in their communities if they want to and continue working. And then they're also highly student-centered. So when we look at like faculty evaluation criteria, these faculty are they're largely evaluated on their teaching and their mentoring of students. You see students as central to strategic planning efforts, you'll see all of these really interesting differences in how the institutions create student-facing programming depending on the unique students that they serve. So there's, for example, Latino graduation ceremonies at the regional publics that are HSIs. In rural settings a lot of these institutions will involve families very closely in everything that they're students do because they know that family is so important in rural communities… and it's important for many other types of students. There are a few campuses that are completely are handicapped accessible because they serve a large number of veterans or other folks who have physical disabilities. And so you'll see this kind of very close tailoring the campus to the needs of the students. I was just on the Western Carolina University campus and this is a rural-serving regional public, and they were telling me that their facilities will follow around students to see where they're walking and then they build pathways behind them. So, they don't design the campus in a way that they where they want the students to go, which is kind of how DU approaches it, I think. Instead, they see where the students go and then they build behind them.

    So, that's kind of regional colleges but under our mission we largely do a lot of quantitative research but we publish qualitative research as well and it's all under the large goal of broadening understanding of regional colleges, of all those different types that I mentioned, because so much of what people think they know is based on assumptions and when we get into the data we find, for example, like one of the big narratives is that all regional colleges are threatened and they're going to close or they're gonna be merged but when you actually look at the data and their financial wellbeing even though they're largely under resourced they're very well managed, they're very efficiently managed.

    And so, you know, when COVID happened that this was the scare that a lot of these regional colleges were going to close. A few merged, but it's in the order of like three or five, it's not like this large die off that a lot of media were predicting. And we don't publish a lot in scholarly venues, actually. This is probably a benefit of having all the directors have tenure and so that's not as pressing for us, and we do that in intentionally because we want to publish really easy-to-use, interactive tools that policymakers, media, students can use all of our data sets, and we give them away for free, because we really want more people to do research on the sectors and to create policy that serves them. And we believe that really high-quality empirical research is the way that we can do that. And we also emerge, try really hard to identify emerging scholars like Anna Dodson in our program, and we've had a number of students work with ARRC in our programs. And we, like to provide publishing opportunities for them through the ARRC website. And so, I'm really excited. I can't wait to see her paper with the ARRC logo on it and on the website.

    And then just a quick note about our origin story. So in 2020 in I think it was early April, right when the pandemic was, it was becoming very clear that this was a very serious kind of life-altering event for individuals, communities, and higher education, Sameer Gadkaree, who was at the Joyce Foundation is now president of TICAS, approached my colleague Kevin McClure because he was really worried about rural regional public universities and how they were going to navigate the pandemic. And he said, you know, we've got some funding if you want to do some research on this, it'd be ideally quantitative, but just give us a sense of like what's happening in the sector, what they need so we can get some guidance out to policy makers. And he made it clear he wanted this to be a policy-driven project.

    So, Kevin approached myself, Alisa Hicklin Fryar, who's at University of Oklahoma, and Andrew Koricich, and then later we brought on Vanessa Sansone, because we were folks who either looked at regional publics or rural higher education. And we did this study, we identified I think it was 101 regional, rural public institutions. We looked at how they were serving their communities, and then their funding, and just some of the challenges we faced. And so we're done and we're like, okay, we, Sameer, we've got the report ready to go. And he's like, “Well, we can't publish it.” And we'll be like, okay, so we'll shop it around.

    We approached all these different policy organizations, and this was right before the Biden administration was going to take over. And they're like, this sounds really interesting, but frankly, we don't have any capacity to take this on because we want to get our priorities in front of the new administration. And so we're like, okay, I guess. We don't know where we're gonna publish it. Again, we don't wanna do a scholarly journal article. It's gonna take too long and we want to get this into the conversation as soon as possible.

    So we're like, okay, I guess we'll just self-publish. it and then we're like, I guess we have to come up with a name for ourselves to solve publish it under and Sameer is like, “Okay here's another $5,000, I think he gave us come up with like a very basic website and a logo and then publish it. And so we did it and then suddenly like the media was like, “Oh, the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges are we’re like, Well, there's no there there. We just did this research and publish a report. But I think it's been very much like working in a startup where you identify a need that isn't being met in the field and it just blew up. And so the media, they recognized us as experts, they started asking us all these questions and consulting us. We had policy makers reaching out. We had so many presidents in the sector reaching out saying, thank you so much we need this research, we need this exposure. And so then the Ascendium Education Group was beginning to build a rural, more of a rural focus in its funding portfolio and they reached out to my colleague Andrew and said, you know, if you want to propose funding then we would like to fund some work that you're doing. And so he said, well, I've always wanted to know how we might identify rural-serving institutions and I'll talk about how we did that. And they said, okay, submit a proposal, and then we got this big grant to do it and that was a year of work and then we were really careful about our rollout, tried to make it again super public, interactive, we hosted a number of webinars, gave the data away for free, and then we just kept getting these inquiries and people interested.

    And at that same time, the developmental education center at Appalachian State, where Andrew is a professor, their director was retiring, and they didn't have anyone to take it over but they had like a small pot of funding and offices. And Andrew pitched to the Dean, could I make this the home of ARRC? And it was perfect because it's a rural-serving institution, it's a regional public, and so then now where we have like an institutional home, we have offices with like a logo on the door, and it's just wild because it's not at all what we anticipated.

    We just got this little grant, like little in the sense of like a lot of other grants are much larger, and then it just like exploded into this whole thing. And it's been so fun and so wonderful and I want to go back to that professor that I had in graduate school and say, see, I've got data to show you that not all regionals want to be Harvard.

    Caitlyn Glaser: That's amazing.

    Sarah Hurtado: I love that story, that is really funny. I also appreciate hearing more about like how you do your work because it sounds like you even operate like regional colleges do. Like, and the way that you share things or think about, you know, practice and audience and all of that and in a different way. So that is really cool to hear.

    Cecilia Orphan: I appreciate you saying that. We do try and take our lead from folks in the sector, and I feel very sometimes uncomfortable with my role of being a professor at a private institution, so I try really hard to leverage all the privilege I have as part of that role and take my lead from them. So I hope that comes through to them.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, yeah. So you talked a little bit about rural-serving institutions, and I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about them?

    Cecilia Orphan: One of the really important things that we wanted to do because obviously, you know, “rural-serving” it references other types of designations like, Minority-Serving Institutions, but it's not the same because it is about serving students, but it's also about serving students, it is about serving students, but it's also about geography.

    And so, one of the most important things that we wanted to tackle was to differentiate what it means to be rural located. So you just happen to be in a rural community, but you're not really doing anything to serve that community. And so we can think of, like, extremely elite, highly exclusionary, usually liberal arts colleges. They may be in a rural community, but are they really serving that community? Probably not. So ,we wanted our metric to be able to differentiate and to really look at that idea of serving. And the way that we did that is we used factor analysis and we looked at multiple different metrics of rurality, because the funny thing is the federal government doesn't even agree with itself on what counts as rural.

    Sarah Hurtado: Oh, interesting.

    Cecilia Orphan: So USDA has like one metric, the Department of Education has another one, census has another one. And so we looked at all of the different metrics and we came up with almost like a composite metric to be able to build on all of that to really understand geography like this is a truly rural place.

    The other thing that we were challenged, I mean, if we had really good student-level data, we'd be able to track where students are coming from. That would be the dream but we're not able to do that because the data just doesn't exist for that. It does in some states, but not nationally and we wanted to do a national analysis. And so what we did instead is we looked at, are there certain degrees that rural serving institutions tend to offer that others don't? And what we found is that, yes, there were three primary degree areas that rural-serving institutions tended to offer that other types of institutions didn't, especially those kind of like very elite, highly-rejective colleges that may be located in rural communities. So one is Agriculture, the other is Natural Resources and Natural Resource Management, and then the third was Parks and Recreation. And these map on to the major employment and workforce and economic areas in many rural communities.

    And so that's how we did it. And we identified 1,087 institutions; they're public, private, four-year, two-year, they span Carnegie classifications. They're just a very diverse group of institutions, but they have that kind of similar set of traits where they're very rural, and they have these degrees that respond to rural needs.

    Caitlyn Glaser:  And then can you tell us a little bit about what these institutions are not? Maybe some of the preconceived notions of what a rural-serving institution is?

    Cecilia Orphan: Oh yeah. Yes, so this is, I feel like my career is mostly about looking at higher education's role in democracy, but more than anything it's about busting myths and one of the major myths that exists about rual as that means “White”. And this couldn't be further from the truth. Rural communities are highly diverse. We know, for example, that in Colorado there is a rural community, Greeley, Colorado, which is a major resettlement region for refugees. We also have ,most indigenous communities, tribal nations, are located in rural communities. In the South, in the American South, many, many rural communities are proudly Black or African-American. And so when we identified the rural-serving institutions that came through in the data. So, we identified a third of Historically Black Colleges and Universities are rural-serving institutions. Around 18% of Hispanic-Serving Institutions re rural-serving. And then the really striking data was around Tribal Colleges and Universities and high Native-enrolling which often have the Native, non-Tribal Serving designation. 93% of tribal colleges, I think it was all about one, are located in rural communities and we designate as rural-serving institutions, and 94% of high Native enrolling that probably have that non-Native, or non-Tribal native serving institution designation are rural-serving institutions and so I think it's really important that we not gloss over that kind of diversity.

    And then we don't have the data to be able to know this, but I know this anecdotally from our research, that many rural-serving institutions serve a high number of undocumented students, because many undocumented people live in rural communities due to the nature of agricultural work. And many of these institutions work really hard to try and do outreach to these students to support them. And a lot of times that can that comes into play with having like admissions officers that speak multiple languages, and campus materials and multiple languages. But then also being highly affordable. And that was I think another really important thing I forgot to mention earlier is that rural-serving institutions, when compared to non-rural-serving institutions, are way more affordable for students.

    And they're also much less well-funded than non-rural serving institutions. And so again, just kind of similar to the story of regional colleges, it's pretty remarkable what they're able to do and just so important, the communities that they serve.

    Sarah Hurtado: Thank you for that mythbusting. I hope that people listen and take that seriously because I think you're right that there's lots of kind of stereotypes of about what rural communities are, what rural institutions are, and that doesn't really help us serve those students through those communities.

    I'm wondering, so you talked a little bit about how ARRC has kind of defined and identified RSIs and this designation. And I'm wondering if you could talk to us about why do you think it's important to have this designation and to use this designation?

    Cecilia Orphan: Yeah, it's such a good question. So there are multiple uses that we've already seen. So, we published the RSI report in 2022, so about a year and a half ago, and it's already had 24 citations. We know a number of PhD students that are using our data in their dissertations. A number of funders are using the dataset to identify institutions to target for funding. Policymakers and states are using our designation to understand the rural-serving institutions in their state. And so that I think is the most important use is those uses that garner that these institutions that again are largely ignored and are very under resourced, more attention from researchers and scholars, but more importantly from policymakers and funders and donors who have resources that can support this important mission. So, it's really about just making this group of schools visible, but also making it visible kind of some of the disparities they face. So they have lower revenue sources along a number of lines, so they have smaller endowments, smaller state appropriations if they're public, they receive less funding from federal grants and contracts. I think that has a lot to do with stereotypes about what a rural college can do, and so the federal government tends to continue funding very well-resourced institutions, which is something we've been looking and trying to figure out how we might get some data to show kind of the disparities. There's actually invited by the National Science Board which oversees the National Science Foundation, which is a major funder in higher education, I was invited to speak to their board about rural-serving institutions and regional publics and just talk about what it means that these institutions don't receive federal funding from an agency like NSF because it's not just funding to do research and often that research is highly applied, it's in service to the community. One other myth that exists is that regional public or rural colleges don't do research, but that that's not true they do. They just often do it at the request of community members and to serve local needs. And so I talked about the fact that when they are not receiving these large grants, $5, $10 million grants they don't get the indirect costs that DU gets, for example, I think our indirect cost rate is around 40 or 50% for federal grants, so DU just takes like $10 million grant, DU takes 4 million of that and they get to use that. That is completely off limits to many rural serving institutions because the federal government just doesn't look at them as viable fundees. And so then it creates this kind of like vicious cycle where they don't receive that funding. they don't have the indirect cost to build out their research infrastructure on campus to be able to competitive for other funding. Fortunately it's something that the National Science Board and other federal agencies have been talking with us about and are interested in changing, I hope it does change.

    But it really takes having that list and being able to say, here are the institutions, here's their funding base and to be able to make that very visible so they can't deny it. And if they want to, they can change.

    The other, I think, really important use that we've seen is that institutional researchers they can use the list to identify peers that are very similar to them, so by Carnegie so they have the list of RSIs and then on our map you can sort by Carnegie classification, student demographics, regional characteristics, and then you can come up with a list of five or ten institutions that are very similar to you so you can learn from those other institutions. So that was a that was a hoped thing, a hoped-for thing that we hope people would use it for and we're finding that they are using it for that.

    Sarah Hurtado: That is, super helpful because, you know, then they actually are comparing to true peers and not trying to be Harvard.

    Cecilia Orphan: Exactly, yeah, exactly.

    Caitlyn Glaser: What would you say is the big picture goal with ARRC?

    Cecilia Orphan: So the main thing is we are really interested in continuing to build that awareness about regional colleges and rural-serving institutions. But it's, this is kind of like ever-evolving target because we again we just started as a little research project and somehow just kind of like spun out of that original vision, and so we actually have a retreat this summer we're gonna get together and start thinking about like, Okay what comes next? One thing I think we would like to do is to figure out a way that we can go from not always chasing grants, but to think about how do we create kind of financial sustainability so that we can do this work, support emerging scholars, maybe bring on some post- or pre-doctoral fellows. We have hired a number of student researchers, but kind of taking it to the next level.

    And I think we…another thing that we just submitted a grant for would be to focus on Appalachia specifically in all the myths that exist about rural also exist about Appalachian even worse. There's so many deficit-based ways that that region is understood. And so the grant we submitted would create a rural pathways program for Appalachian students starting in high school and it would create an ambassador program. It'd just be really cool program. It's kind of a long shot. It's a big piece of funding, but that could be the next phase of our work.

    And then I think we're just, we want to start thinking about how can we just catalyze more people doing research in this sector and in particular emerging scholars. And thinking about just better data, more empirical research. So like there's so many questions that still we don't have answers to. One, for example is, our colleague, Caitlyn, in class, Christopher, he's interesting Greek life at regional publics. There's absolutely nothing that's been done on that and there's so many topics like that. And so it's about continuing to make the sector visible.

    One of the little facts I always like to give is the main like history book for higher education, A History of American Higher Education by John Thelin. He's very nice we've talked and I've shared this fact with him and he's acknowledged. Yes, this, this is not good.  But if you look at the index of a History of American Higher Education for regional colleges, there are ten pages in which they're mentioned, but they're really, it's focused on the CUNY, the SUNY schools, and the California State University system and really focused on the Master Plan.

    And so when I, when you look up Harvard University, one institution in the Ivy League, there are 44 separate index mentions of that one university.

    Sarah Hurtado: Wow.

    Cecilia Orphan: And so that tells me like we still have our work cut out to do. It's fine for us to do this really what I think is rigorous empirical research, but how do we get it into more and more people's hands? So that they can't ignore these schools anymore because to me it's not just about ignoring the institutions, you're ignoring the students that they serve.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah.

    Cecilia Orphan: And these are the students that many of us are trying really hard to support and break down the barriers that they face, and these institutions are absolutely indispensable to that.

    Sarah Hurtado: Thank you so much for sharing that. That is, I mean, that's a text that we like all read in graduate programs, so if that's framing our thinking about higher education, that's a huge deal, right?

    And actually your last point about getting this information into the hands leads right into our last question. If you were to assign work from ARRC in a course, which course would you assign it in and why?

    Cecilia Orphan: So, there are so many courses, so we have, I think we have three maps, interactive maps at this point and datasets. One project I worked on is to create a list of regional public colleges and universities because surprisingly no list exists and so I think the data on its own could be interesting to play with in a statistics course. There's a ton of policy implications to our research, so across the policy emphasis I assign our reports and our data tools, so students in Intro to Policy, Educational Policy Analysis and Legal Issues have seen it. I think Financing Higher Ed could look at it just looking at the funding disparities. There are a lot of organizational implications too, so thinking about administration and leadership, so Organization and Governance, or Organizational Change.

    And then also I think all of our inclusive excellence courses could consider how regional colleges try to, and maybe don't always get it right because we know that the same kind of gaps that exist between White and Asian-American students, and Latinx and Black and Indigenous students exist among regional colleges. So it’s not, I don't want to ever paint them as like this perfect sector because they're not, they have a lot of issues too and they could really benefit from inclusive excellence and that kind of diversity, equity, inclusion examinations. And then there could be things that could be learned from how they try and create programming to serve their unique students.

    One thing else I also wanted to mention was that Colorado has 13 rural-serving institutions, including our state’s first HSI, the first Hispanic-Serving Institution, Adams State University. Colorado Mountain College is one and that's where many of our doctoral students come from. Fort Lewis College, which is a Native non-tribal serving institution they just have incredible retention and graduation rates for Indigenous students. Colorado State University-Pueblo, which is another HIS, and then a number of community and junior colleges including Lamar Community College, Morgan, Northeastern Junior, Pueblo Community College and Trinidad State Junior College. And so we're, we have RSIs in our state, too.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Thank you so much. This has been such a wonderful conversation. I feel like I've learned a ton about regional and rural-serving institutions and we will learn even more about rural-serving institutions in Colorado next week with current masters student Anna Dodson, who will also talk to us a little bit about the Colorado Paradox.

    But I just want to say thank you to you, Dr. Orphan. Thanks for your time and all of your work in this area. I know our students love learning from you about regional and rural institutions in their classrooms. So thank you so much.

    Caitlyn Glaser: For sure.

    Cecilia Orphan: And I want to thank you all for inviting me to talk about them, you're part of that mission to create more visibility for the sector. So this podcast matters and it's part of that larger project. So thank you for your time and attention on these vital schools.

    Sarah Hurtado: Thank you so much and thanks to our listeners. Make sure you go and check out ARRC’s website and their resources and continue during this work as well.

    Thanks everyone.

  • Report on the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges with Anna Dodson

    About our guest: Anna Dodson was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and attended her undergraduate education at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, graduating with a BA in Psychology. She moved to Denver in 2019, volunteering with AmeriCorps through City Year in a Kindergarten classroom and learning valuable knowledge about the K-12 education system in Denver. She has continued to study education through the higher education lens in 2022, choosing the University of Denver to complete her MA in Higher Education because of their strong graduate assistantship program and interest in the higher education faculty’s areas of study. In the program, she has specifically enjoyed learning and researching about higher education policy and organizational change. She will graduate in June 2024.


    Anna Dodson



    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Episode 6







    Sarah Hurtado: Hi everyone! Welcome back to Mile Higher Ed, the podcast from DU Higher Ed where we are highlighting the really great work, research, and practice from our students, faculty, and alumni. I am one of your co-hosts, Sarah Hurtado, assistant professor in the department, and I'm joined by…

    Caitlyn Glaser: Hi I’m Caitlyn Potter Glaser. I am a current PhD student in higher education here at DU.

    Sarah Hurtado: So last week we learned about ARRC.

    Caitlyn Glaser: That's the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges.

    Sarah Hurtado: …and Rural-Serving Institutions from Dr. Orphan and this week we're going to jump in to learn more about a report that's coming out from ARRC on rural-serving institutions specifically in Colorado, and that report is written by current masters student Anna Dodson who's here with us today. Welcome Anna.

    Anna Dodson: Thank you so much for having me.

    Sarah Hurtado: So, Anna, why don't you start by just telling us a little bit about yourself, how long you've been at DU, your current role, and anything else you want to share with our listeners?

    Anna Dodson: Yeah, so I started at DU and the higher education master’s program in the fall of 2022. I'm a full-time student, which means that I take two classes a quarter, and I also have a graduate assistantship working with the Living and Learning Communities. Specifically, I work with the Environmental Sustainability Living and Learning Community and the Students Organizing Against Racism Living and Learning Community. And I have taken a variety of classes. Again, I take two classes per quarter, so I take an elective and then a core class per quarter and I've really loved a lot of the classes that I've taken. And I'm graduating in June of this year so I'm excited to see what comes next for me.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Woo woo!

    Sarah Hurtado: That's awesome.

    Caitlyn Glaser: So, let's talk about this report you're putting together for ARRC. You've been working on this report that’s focused on rural-serving institutions in Colorado. Can you tell us more about where the idea for this work came from?

    Anna Dodson: Yeah, definitely. So I came into the Higher Ed Master’s program really interested in community engagement. I attended Gonzaga University in undergrad and was really involved with their Center for Community Engagement during my time there. So when I started in this program, I kind of thought I wanted to do something along the lines of working in administration relating to community engagement, but I wasn't exactly sure what type of role that I wanted or what I wanted that to look like in the future.

    So, fast forward a couple quarters: in the spring of 2023, I took Dr. Orphan’s seminar on regional public universities, and we spent a week talking about how regional public universities can be anchor institutions for communities, and that idea really caught my interest.

    So, for those listening who may not know anchor institutions are institutions that have economic and community significance, and can also provide important infrastructure in communities. So they're often colleges, but they can also be other institutions like hospitals or museums. And I think in hindsight when thinking about this, I didn't realize this at the time when I was learning about anchor institutions, but I think in hindsight I really appreciated this concept so much, because it feels like anchor institutions are a way that universities can kind of sustainably and reciprocally relate to their surrounding communities. So like in the anchor institution framework colleges, they engage in community engagement but kind of in a more holistic sense rather than just, for example, sending their students out into the community to volunteer something it's a little bit more intentional and holistic.

    So anyways, this idea really resonated with me. And I felt like I kind of found a form of community engagement in this anchor institution framework that I really appreciated and wanted to dive into further. So, in that class, in the RPU seminar, we had to write a literature review on a topic of our choice, so it could have kind of been anything but it had to relate to regional public universities, and so I chose to focus my paper specifically on how rural-serving institutions can be anchor institutions for the communities in their environment and their region. And I chose rural-serving institutions because I honestly just didn't know very much about them and I wanted to learn more.

    And so, completing this lit review, it definitely just gave me a broad sense of what had been studied about rural serving institutions in general, and kind of how they differ from urban regional public universities that can also be anchor institutions. And I also feel like I really got a strong sense of the literature overall, because there really isn't a lot written about rural-serving institutions or regional public universities. So, I really got to dive into what was out there and kind of see what was out there.

    So then fast forward again a quarter, and I took Introduction to Public Policy in Higher Education again with Dr. Orphan, and in that class we were tasked with writing a policy report. And honestly, I just really enjoyed researching anchor institutions and thinking about how institutions and communities can build each other up and serve each other and so I wanted to keep writing about that, and so I chose to write the policy report that this podcast is based around, which is specifically how Colorado as a state can support and promote the creation of rural serving institutions as anchor institutions.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. What a cool story of thinking about how this started in a specific course, and then continued in another course, and now will ultimately be published and shared through ARRC. So very cool experience and a great example of the way our students can really engage in helpful stuff, right? Like it's not just writing for class but writing for a, you know, greater audience so thanks Anna.

    One of the things that you talk about in the report is the Colorado Paradox. Can you explain what that is and why it matters?

    Anna Dodson: Yeah, definitely, I'd love to. I think the Colorado Paradox is really interesting, and everyone that I've talked to about it outside of Colorado is like, “Oh my gosh, that's such an interesting concept, but like I totally see but wouldn't have made that connection on my own.” So, the Colorado paradox is the fact that although Colorado is one of the most highly educated states in the United States, those who are born and raised in Colorado actually have relatively low educational attainment. So, it's really this idea that those who are from places other than Colorado, they move here, and they are typically really highly educated and so it looks like Colorado as a whole is really highly educated, but those who are born and raised in Colorado actually have pretty low educational attainment. And so… actually Colorado has recently become listed as the most highly educated state in the country. It surpassed Massachusetts, which was number one up until I think a few weeks ago. So that kind of shows that this disparity is even more heightened. We are listed as the most highly educated state in the country, but like those who are raised here aren't necessarily being able to access that high level of education.

    So, it exists for a variety of reasons, but in my opinion, I think it exists because Colorado doesn't necessarily always focus on educating their own residents. And then additionally, many highly educated people move to Colorado, and many students move to Colorado to attend their higher education and then they stay here.

    So, I won't get too much into the numbers, but I think they're really interesting. I mean, I like have done a deep dive into this and so I kind of like to nerd out with the numbers a little bit, but overall in Colorado 42.8% of people hold a bachelor's degree or higher, and 71.7% of people have completed some sort of college. So that doesn't necessarily mean they've completed a credential or have a degree, but they've taken at least like a college class.

    However, when you look at this data a bit more closely it becomes clear that a large portion of the highly educated residents in Colorado are actually not from Colorado, and rather they move to Colorado from out of state. So if you break down the data a little bit more, 22% of people who are born and raised in Colorado have a bachelor's degree and then 9.8% have a graduate or professional degree. And then in comparison 30% of people who are born outside of Colorado but have moved here have a bachelor's degree, and 19.1% have a graduate or professional degree.

    So those numbers are definitely pretty different, and that's what's going into that overall 42% of people who have a bachelor's degree or higher, but really it's the people who hav moved here from out of state are, like, skewing that data to look like our educational attainment as an overall state is higher than it is for the people who are from here.

    So, ultimately this matters because Colorado isn't doing a good job in my opinion of educating their own residents necessarily. And, as I argue in this paper, rural-serving institutions in Colorado are doing the work to educate in-state residents, people who are born and raised here, and are really bridging that gap. And they have the potential to educate many more in-state residents if they're supported properly.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, this is super fascinating and something I didn't realize until reading this report and having this conversation with you, right? And that is as someone who moved from out of state to Colorado with, you know, a doctoral degree. Yeah, I mean, those numbers are drastically different, and it you know, something for us to think about as people who are now here doing higher ed work, you know, what is our role in supporting the state in educating folks. So, thanks for sharing that.  

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, I appreciate how you talk about why this matters, this Colorado Paradox and how rural-serving institutions help solve it. And I know we heard from Dr. Orphan more about why rural-serving institutions are important in the higher ed space. One thing you reference in this report is the link between rural-serving institutions and health care. Can you talk more about that?

    Anna Dodson: Yeah, definitely. So, I actually didn't get super into this connection between rural-serving institutions and health care in my policy report, but I did review a lot of the literature on this when writing my original lit review about rural-serving institutions as anchor institutions, and some of that is in my policy report but I didn't get super in depth about it. But essentially there are a variety of ways that rural-serving institutions and health care are linked.

    For one, rural-serving institutions often educate many health care workers. And so those who are educated by the institution tend to stay in the community after graduating, which then leads to better health care access for residents. And that's kind of something that's been shown in rural-serving institutions is that they pull people who are from the community and those people then tend to stay in the community afterward so it kind of creates this spiral of people being educated in the health care field and then serving their fellow residents afterwards.

    And then secondly, research shows that rural-serving institutions are often in areas with low health rankings, which creates the opportunities for institutions to be heavily involved in educating healthcare workers and promoting initiatives that encourage greater health for the region that they're in. And I mean, there's definitely some research on it because I reviewed most of it, but they're definitely could be more.

    But just like a few of the kind of key studies, Koricich and Fryer in 2021 found that many rural counties are actually designated as medically underserved, and they also lack mental health care. And then another study by McClure found that in recent years, since COVID actually, rural-serving institutions have been essential in creating healthcare infrastructure and managing COVID in communities. So they're definitely doing important work in regards to healthcare in the communities and the environments that they're in.

    And then finally, if properly supported, rural-serving institutions can create health care infrastructure or partner with local hospitals to promote better health outcomes for residents in their region. So, they definitely can play a role in creating healthier communities in areas that may not have strong health care access in the first place.

    So, it's interesting when you look specifically at Colorado there are some programs that support increased rural health care through partnerships with rural-serving institutions, probably because almost all of the health professional shortage areas in Colorado are rural counties.

    So, some supportive policies for rural-serving institutions include that the state recently passed a law allowing colleges to create rural-serving healthcare tracks that includes scholarships for students who are willing to serve in rural areas, and that's meant to incentivize health care professionals to practice in rural areas. And then also there's the Colorado Health Service Corps Provider Loan Repayment Program, which is a mouthful of a name to say, but that provides loan forgiveness for healthcare workers who practice in a health professional shortage area of Colorado, which as I mentioned before is mostly rural counties in Colorado.

    So, these programs and policies, they're definitely working in the right direction. But there is more that Colorado policy could be doing within the higher ed realm to support rural health in relation to rural-serving institutions because they can be such anchors for the community, they can promote health care access, and just kind of health initiatives in general. And especially if they're able to collaborate with hospitals through internships or clinical placements, that could be beneficial for rural areas.

    But yeah, these are all recommendations that ARRC makes at a federal level, and then I just looked specifically at in regards to these recommendations to see kind of what Colorado at a state level is doing. And yeah, there's definitely a lot of room for growth in the healthcare rural-serving institution kind of connection.

    Sarah Hurtado: Gotcha. Yeah, this is an important reminder about, you know, the connections between higher ed, healthcare, other systems, right? Like when we think about our communities, like, all of this is interconnected, which is why it's so important for us to really think about how we support, you know, all of this for rural communities in particular.

    So, you share this started as a late review for one class and then move to like a policy report for another class and now you're you know finishing this report. And I'm wondering if you can just talk about the process of writing it and maybe kind of the style of writing this type of report versus something else?

    Anna Dodson: Yeah, definitely. So, I feel like when I was writing this paper, both the lit review and this policy report, I thought that the content was super interesting, so I feel like I didn't struggle with, like, motivating myself, for example, like for a project that I may be like not quite as interested in. But that being said, this was like not an easy paper for me to write by any means. I've never written a policy report before, so I didn't even know where to begin. Again, we were in an Intro to Policy class, so me and all my classmates, we're like, “Wow, we have to write a policy report, like, how do we do that?” That feels so foreign to me. But I kind of just ended up doing a lot of research about Colorado, which is kind of how I write in general. Like I just, I just kind of read everything that I feel like is relevant or that I can. And then I remember being super unsure in this paper how I was going to pull it all together and turn it into sort of, any sort of cohesive narrative. But something that was really helpful to me when writing this paper was that Dr. Orphan recommended that we start writing the policy report by fleshing out our recommendations first and then writing the rest of the paper with those recommendations in mind.

    So, kind of making sure that all of the content pre-recommendations in the paper directly related to the recommendations and this definitely helped me narrow down the scope of the paper which was helpful.

    And additionally, for the original assignment we were limited to ten pages, so that also just forced us to kind of, you know, consolidate all of the content and information that we were learning throughout the quarter, but I definitely ended up editing it a lot, and I did a lot of research and took a lot of notes on sources that I just didn't end up using because they just didn't feel quite as relevant or didn't quite fit the way that I wanted to.

    But overall I got a lot of guidance from Dr. Orphan and did a lot of reading which was really helpful, and yeah kind of the writing style is definitely different in this paper it wasn't anything that I struggled with a ton. But I don't know, I feel like maybe I just kind of write like that a little bit in general. It wasn’t super, like super difficult for me, but it definitely is a little bit more academic, and your audience like my audience for this policy report was state higher ed policymakers, which feels like a different audience than for example, a paper in our curriculum development class that's like an internal document for a department. It definitely is more of an external-facing document. So, we also were very specific, and Dr. Orphan brought this up, like not to use jargon in the paper, make sure that someone could read the executive summary and have an idea of what you're talking about without having to read the whole dense ten-page paper. So, kind of stuff like that I tried to keep in mind as well.

    Caitlyn Glaser: That's so cool! I just love hearing that this came out of your class work, right? And now it's existing as a policy report for ARRC that will move forward and hopefully be read and understood by, like you said folks at the state level and those policy makers.

    So how can the state of Colorado support its rural-serving institutions, and can you just talk a little bit about the policy recommendations you put forward in the report?

    Anna Dodson: So, I think that Colorado has the potential to do a lot to support their rural-serving institutions and, more specifically, to support their rural-serving institutions to become anchor institutions. In the report, I specifically recommend that state policy makers review the audit that I created that's in, it's the first recommendation in the report, and that relates to role serving institutions and Colorado, and the audit is based on federal policy recommendations from ARRC. So, they have their own policy report that is at the federal level about how to support rural-serving anchor institutions, and so I took their recommendations and then again looked at state policy in Colorado. But these recommendations establish areas of alignment between federal recommendations and Colorado policy, and then identify state action items to support the growth of rural anchor institutions in Colorado.

    So, they focus on kind of a variety of areas including public health, economic development, workforce development, educational attainment, and infrastructure growth. And so these various areas are obviously all very different, but I think that they really highlight how rural-serving institutions in Colorado are already doing so much, and it's not focused on solely one aspect of education. Clearly these institutions have a very holistic view of education and are doing a variety of things within the community and for their students, and so the policy should reflect that as well and that they're being holistically supported. So that's one recommendation that I have in my paper.

    And then secondly, I recommend that policy makers adopt the rural-serving institution designation, which is created by ARRC, and that they adopt it specifically in the state of Colorado. And this designation with allow for rural-serving institutions to be easily identified and promoted in Colorado. There, all of the rural-serving institutions in the country are already identified on ARRC’s website. So Colorado can look at the map, see which ones are in Colorado, and then put them on their own higher ed website and create a formal designation for them, for these colleges in Colorado. And then this allows states to then create grants that colleges could receive to support rural students and/or rural communities. So that's kind of a more specific recommendation. But there's definitely a ton of recommendations that are kind of woven through out there that are kind of encompassed in the overall audit.

    Specifically, Colorado has a lot to improve upon in the realm of educational access, which is especially relevant considering that this directly relates to the Colorado Paradox in that those born and raised in Colorado don't necessarily have high educational attainment.

    And so these rural-serving institutions are really already doing a lot to support those who may not typically access higher education if there were only options in urban cities, but they, these rural-serving institutions could definitely be more supported by the state to do this work.

    So, I would definitely encourage state policymakers to look at the audit and to make some more changes to just create more supportive policy overall.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Well, I know that we have learned a lot about ARRC from last week and rural-serving institutions, and more about what that looks like in Colorado.

    And like I said, they were, I now live here and work in higher ed and there were some things that I didn’t know so this has been a really cool learning opportunity for me, too. And as I said, Anna, this is like such a good example of exactly the types of experiences that we want our students to have. And pulling from, you know, a course, and a course assignment and continuing on, and continue with the work in this way. So congratulations!

    And I just have one last little question. So, given that you are nearing the end of your time in our master's program, can you share a little bit about maybe your favorite class to take or your favorite class assignment?

    Anna Dodson: Yes, this is such a fun question. I feel like I really loved a lot of the classes that I've taken, so this is honestly kind of hard for me to narrow down to like one or two. But I specifically like the policy classes, obviously, and then I've also taken that classes that have focused on organizational change and I've really liked those as well. I loved assessment with Dr. Sponsor, I took that my winter quarter of my first year in the program and I just found it really empowering to learn how to make change in departments within higher education, and also learned really valuable information about how to assess programs or classes in higher education. So I've definitely used to that class a lot throughout my time, both working in my graduate assistantship at DU and in subsequent classes.

    And then I also just really loved the regional public universities seminar with Dr. Orphan. We had a really small class which I personally really like, and I went into that class really not knowing much at all about regional public universities. I just kind of picked it and thought it sounded interesting and left feeling like I had a really strong content knowledge of that sector of institutions.

    So that's been really cool. And a lot of my later assignments in subsequent classes have focused on regional public universities so I feel like I've really utilized the content that I learned from that class a lot.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Well, for people who are less familiar with our program, Anna listed out several of our elective courses and, as she mentioned, the seminar, so a little bit about our structure here is that our students take, our master's students take one core class and one elective every quarter and those electives could be a seminar that's taught about a current issue or topic by our faculty. They get to choose those every year.

    So yeah, I feel like you have had a great experience in our program.

    Anna Dodson: Yeah, I have!

    Sarah Hurtado: You know, awesome for us to hear and exciting for us to hear that all these different courses have served you in different ways. So, thank you for that feedback.

    So that is the end of our episode. Anna, thank you so much for your time today.

    Anna Dodson: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

    Sarah Hurtado: And thanks for everything that you've taught me and all of our listeners.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, and just a note to our listeners, we are entering spring break here at DU. So that means we'll take this week off and we won't have a new episode next week. This is a good chance to go back and catch up on any episodes you may have missed, and then we will be back in two weeks.

    Sarah Hurtado: Hopefully you continue to learn lots of good things from our podcast. Thanks everyone!

  • Supporting Transfer Students with Caitlyn Potter Glaser


    Episode 7- Supporting Transfer Students with Caitlyn Potter Glaser


    In this episode of Mile Higher Ed, Sarah interviews Caitlyn about her recent work with the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students. We discuss the gap between transfer aspiration and bachelor’s degree attainment, challenges for community college students, and how practitioners can work together to understand and support students in the transfer process.


    Here are links to some of the things we talked about:


    The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students-

    Transfer Nation-

    “Tracking Transfer” report from the Aspen Institute and Community College Research Center


    About our guest: Caitlyn Potter Glaser is a Ph.D. student and Graduate Research Assistant in the Higher Education Department at the University of Denver. Her research interests include college access and equity for those on a less traditional path, including transfer students, post-traditional/adult students, and international students. Before coming to DU Caitlyn worked in Enrollment Management at a four-year university where she supported transfer students in the admissions process, as well as Articulation Specialist developing transfer pathways with partner community colleges.


    Caitlyn holds a Master of Education in Adult Education and Development from Strayer University, a graduate certificate in Transfer Leadership and Practice from the University of North Georgia, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.


    Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.


    Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

    Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.

    Caitlyn Glaser


    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Podcast Episode 7






    Sarah Hurtado: Welcome back to Mile Higher Ed, the podcast where we talk about current Higher Ed happenings in research and practice with our DU Higher Ed faculty, students, and alumni. I'm your co-host, Sarah Hurtado, assistant professor in the department. And as usual, I'm joined by Caitlyn Potter Glaser, who is typically our other co-host, but today is actually our guest. So welcome, Caitlyn.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yay, I'm so happy to be on this side of the mic.

    Sarah Hurtado: So thanks for joining us. First off, I feel like, why don't we just have you share a little bit about yourself and who you are and how you got to DU?

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, so as I've told our listeners before, I am a PhD student in higher education here at DU. I am in my first year, getting started on my third quarter. It's super exciting. I am new to Denver. We just moved here in September, I'm originally from Nebraska. I work currently as a graduate research assistant in the department, which has been a really exciting project to get involved with. I've been really enjoying that.

    My research interests include transfer and other so-called “nontraditional” students. I'm particularly interested in the experience of community college students, international students, adult students, and those who have a different experience than that student who enters in university right after high school.

    I’m also involved in an organization called Transfer Nation. Transfer Nation is an open access community of folks in higher ed who work with educate recruit, support transfer students and the transfer process in higher education. We are a digital community. We have a Facebook group, a LinkedIn page, Instagram account, and the work we do is to connect transfer professionals for support as well as offer resources. I'm really excited to be involved in that group, especially doing social media.

    So my background before DU: I have spent nearly ten years in enrollment management and admissions. I worked as an admissions counselor at a liberal arts college. The majority of my admissions career was working with transfer students entering our four-year bachelor granting institution. I've also worked in transfer articulation, so partnering with our community college partners to create guided pathways so students could move seamlessly from their associate degree program into a bachelor's program with minimal credit loss and just a very clear seamless pack.

    I think it's important to acknowledge that while I've worked with transfer students and I'm interested in the transfer experience, I myself was not a transfer student. I had a very traditional quote-unquote college experience, but I worked with these students, I've witnessed kind of the institutional barriers that pop up, the challenges, the differences in the process. I also have family members who were transfer students so I'm here at DU. To pivot from practice to research so I can provide information and resources to the folks working with students to support students who transfer. So a little bit about me.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. We are super glad that you are here with us in our program at DU and already I feel like I've learned a lot from you and your focus on transfer students.

    So you were recently part of the planning committee for the NISTS conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what NISTS is and how you were involved?

    Caitlyn Glaser: Sure. NISTS is the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students. It is an organization that supports those who work with transfer students. So NISTS offers a great website at with a knowledge center with a lot of tools and resources for folks who work with transfer students and institutions to support in their work. They offer a graduate certificate in cooperation with the University of North Georgia in Transfer Leadership and Practice, which that's how I kickstarted my doctoral journey, actually, was that certificate program. They sponsor National Transfer Student Week every October, and they offer their conference every February. And I've been fortunate not only to attend this conference but to serve on the planning committee the past few years.

    So what I love about the NISTS conference is we are very intentional in creating this conference not only from a conference curriculum standpoint, putting together the presentations, and the poster sessions, and the facilitated conversations, but especially with the work I did on my committee, we're very intentional about connecting people within the broader transfer landscape. So for a lot of us who work with transfer students at institutions, we might be 1, 2, 3 people who work with transfers, a very small group compared to the larger institution who might be more oriented toward that more traditional student.

    So NISTS and the conference is a great way of connecting folks who work with transfer students from across the country, all different institutional types, all sorts of sectors. We have practitioners, we have admissions counselors, we have transfer students themselves who come as part of the transfer student ambassador program. We have researchers who present their findings, and I can talk a little bit more about that, but it's, it's the professional organization and the conference focused exclusively on the transfer student experience and their needs. And so through this conference and the planning committee, I'm able to meet folks from all over all different, like I said, institution types, which can really guide my research questions and the work that we do going forward.

    So it's a good time. And it's in February every year if folks are interested and want to check it out. NISTS will be in Portland next year, so… a little Plug!

    Sarah Hurtado: Very cool. Yeah, it's great that you've been able to be engaged in this conference and in this organization with different folks and continue to use it to help referring what will ultimately be a dissertation for you. Exploration phase, a little bit of research topic. Yeah, I think it's a great way for you to think about how to stay very current and thinking about your particular focus. So awesome.

    You mentioned to me that the keynote spoke about the “transfer gap” at this conference. Can you tell us what, what is the transfer gap?

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, so if you have a class with me, or if you worked with me, or you know if I end up talking you about what I do, I always talk about this transfer gap. And like you said the keynote session at Yes, this past conference It was the presentation of a report called Tracking Transfer. Tracking Transfer is a joint research project between the Community College Research Center and the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program.

    And what they did is they looked at data from the National Student Clearinghouse over the past seven years because they wanted to understand students who we called vertical transfers, so the ones who begin at a two-year associate community college and transfer to a four-year bachelor's granting university.

    What they found was 80% of students who entered community college for the first time said that it was their goal to eventually transfer and earn a bachelor's degree when in reality only 33% of those students did transfer. And 16% of students actually graduated with the bachelor's degree. So, 80% of students say that this is their goal, 33% of them transfer 16% of them graduate within 6 years of that bachelor's degree. So that's the transfer gap between the students who aspire to transfer and complete that bachelor's degree and the students who are successful in this.

    So something is happening within the community college context that's keeping students from transferring. Something is happening after they transfer to their four-year school that's keeping them from graduating.

    What's also alarming that they presented CCRC in Aspen is when you look at this data and you disaggregate it the numbers are even more stark so you know 16% of students graduate who transfer. 13% of Hispanic students graduate with that bachelor's degree. 9% of Black students from community colleges graduate with the bachelor's degree. So. There's increased disparity with this transfer gap when you account for race and ethnicity.

    11% of low-income community college transfer students graduate with their bachelor's degree. 6% of older students, so those students who are outside of that traditional age range. So while 16% certainly isn't good for a graduation rate, it's even different for students from marginalized backgrounds and often underrepresented areas.

    So and one reason why this transfer gap is so significant is when you look at community colleges more than half of all Native American, Latinx, and Black undergraduates enroll in community colleges. There's another data analysis done by Taylor and Jain that says White students are 71% more likely to transfer than students of color. So there are some real issues here in equity and access to higher education that is incased in this transfer gap.

    So it's just I felt like these numbers just kind of hung over us at the conference. But the thing is it's not new information. Those of us who work with transfer students, the transfer gap has been studied for several years and what they presented in this keynote showed that the that 16% has been pretty stagnant since even 2007, so it's just really disheartening to know that this transfer function just isn't working for a huge group of students, and that we're really not moving the needle when it comes to transfer success and degree attainment. That was one of the big takeaways. And I'll just kind of fuel the work we want to do is like, what can we do to fix this? What can we do to help more students transfer, help more students achieve that degree? Yeah.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah. And I know this is, as we've mentioned, ultimately the focus of your research, your research agenda here. But I wonder if you already have an understanding of some of the reasons that this happens or why we haven't been able to change those numbers for years.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, so transfer… it's just it's really complex because every institution has different requirements for their degrees. And it's, you know, your community college might require one set of courses for these. Institution across towns, the public school might require this set of requirements for their degree. The small private liberal arts college on the other side of town might require these, and so there's just not a lot of alignment even if schools have an articulation agreement in place, so an agreement for how a 4-year school will accept credits from the 2-year college, that might not always help because you know a course might transfer to the college, the university, but it might not apply to a student specific degree program. So not only do we have all these different institutional variables, we also have program variables, too.

    So it's just a complex system. That's what reason advising is so important. But one of the stats they shared at the CCRC and Aspen shared in this keynote was that half of transfer students work with an advisor. That means the other half are not and they're self-advising and in this complex system. It's just such a challenge for students sometimes to know what they need to do and as a result a lot of transfer students end up taking way more credits that are even necessary.

    One of the statistics was, so if you think about a bachelor's degree, most bachelor's degree programs require about 120 credits and that's on a semester system, DU is on a quarter but if you look at a semester it'd be about 120 credits. These community college transfer students graduate having earned a 147 credits. Low-income students, we found that they were earning 155 total credits. That's you know a year, a year and a half more in course work.

    Sarah Hurtado: A lot of money!

    Caitlyn Glaser: Money, time, and just think of how discouraging it would be for a student who's already completed a bunch of credits earned a degree at their next institution. They find they have to retake courses because something wasn't accepted or the requirements are so different that they need to pick up some additional courses and they just have to pay more, take more time, that degree attainments delayed. It's just it's not good for the students.

    We talked about a little bit about degree requirements, and another session I went to at the conference. It was a session of data presented by the RP group led by Dr. Darla Cooper. They had conducted a study of Black community college students in California, and what they found was there is a strong correlation between students transferring from the community college to the 4-year after completing an associate’s degree, correlation with transfer and having completed their math requirements and their English requirements.

    And Dr. Cooper talked about how math could be such a barrier for students, community colleges and other schools often require placement tests through medial coursework that does a transfer prerequisites that can really sometimes prevent students from being able to move forward. Dr. Cooper also talked about a correlation they discovered with these black students. There's a correlation between students who had experienced microaggressions on their campus and the likelihood that they would not pass their math class on the first try. So, like, racism is preventing students from being able to complete the courses and complete the experience as well, which I think shows up in that that 9% bachelor's degree attainment.

    So. So many just different issues with course requirements and students understanding the requirements in the environments that they're in. And the attitudes they're encountering, it's just, it can be a really tricky situation for a lot of these students.

    You know, we talk a lot about how our higher ed institutions, when they were created, our higher ed system was created for a very specific student, you know, the white student, the male student, the student with means to pay, the young student who just finished their secondary education. We talk a lot about how our colleges weren't set up for the students they serve now. And I think that's especially true when you look at students who are transferring between institutions. If an institution is set up with that kind of traditional student in mind, you know, a lot of times these transfer students just encounter all these additional barriers and then we're seeing that in the numbers and in the degree attainment rates. You know, there's many more reasons, but these are a few that really stood out.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, wow, those numbers are very telling about, some bigger structural systemic issues for sure. Do you have any suggestions either from your own experience doing some of this work or suggestions that people shared at this conference on what we can do, how can we support transfer students that are?

    Caitlyn Glaser: So I think first and foremost it's a mindset shift. I think that there are a lot of assumptions out there about transfer students, why they transfer. You know, there's some myths that students transfer because they were not successful somewhere, which is not true. Students transfer for a host of reasons and that doesn't necessarily say anything about their experience of their performance. I think when it comes to community colleges in particular, there's a real stigma around the community college education, the coursework, why students started the community college or transfer to a community college if they’re a reverse transfer student. And I think a lot of folks when they see that transfer gap number, they think, oh, well, those students just aren't prepared or the college or the university system and that that's a very deficit-minded thinking, often very racist thinking, that there's something about these students that makes them not prepared. What we should be asking ourselves, and what they challenged us in this keynote, was instead of asking “What can we do to ensure transfer students are prepared?” we should be asking, “What can we do to ensure our institutions are prepared for transfer students and their needs?” So big mindset shift of understanding who these students are, what their experience is like, and understanding that there is no deficit, there's no lack of cultural capital here. It's our institutions were not built to support these students and we need to change that.

    I also think this includes a very holistic view of retention and persistence with students. So, I'm really excited I'm taking persistence and retention this quarter with Dr. Michele Tyson, and she posed the question to us in class, “Can students persist if they are not retained by their institution?” and I said, absolutely, transfer students do it all the time. They transfer because, you know, they're ready for the next level from community college, they finished their associates degree or ready to transfer, or they need a different experience, they want to be closer to home, they have a new athletic opportunity, they've changed their major and now they need a different program. Students change for a number of reasons, but they can still persist even if they change institutions. Transferring is not a failure.

    So that mindset shift, and more of a holistic view of the student experience, I think, is really important. And also I think just collaboration is key. So, I talked about Transfer Nation, that's an organization of transfer professionals who work together and are available on social media. Anybody can be a member of Transfer Nation, so if you're looking for collaboration or, “Hey, how do other institutions support these students?” it's a great place to start. And NISTS as I mentioned is very intentional about connecting folks from across all sectors of higher education. But then there are a lot of other regional transfer organizations, conferences, professional development opportunities and other groups who are oriented toward students as well as some of the identities transfer students hold. You know, lot transfer students might be first generation students might be low income students, might be international students, or have other different identities and there's different groups to support them.

    So those are just a few big picture things we can do. But I think, like I said, working with others and changing our mindset can do a lot to help us support these students and make sure our institutions are prepared for them.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, yeah, thank you for that. Bringing it back to being a PhD student now and engaging in coursework and different learning, and you mentioned one class that you are currently taking related to your interest in this, and I'm just wondering if you've been able to incorporate your interest and your work into other coursework here, and kind of what that's look like here at DU Higher End.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, absolutely. I really appreciate that this program encourages us, and in some ways forces us, to bring in our own research and find ways to incorporate it into the work we do. I have been able to take two different research methods courses where I've started putting together research proposals for qualitative research I can do to study the transfer student experience, and just learning what goes into creating a study, sampling, data analysis, all of that I know is gonna help me when it's my turn to do this research.

    Last quarter I took Critical Higher Education where we had a lot of the theoretical framework and really explored different lenses and different viewpoints to examine some of these issues. And I found it so easy to apply these different theoretical frameworks to the transfer student experience, like cultural capital. In fact, one of the sessions at the NISTS conference was Cal Polly presenting a support and mentoring program for their students that is rooted in Tara Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth model. And so I was just like, “Theory in the wild, there it is!” which was exciting. So there's lots of different ways we can, that I can bring this interest in here to you and really look at our courses from a transfer lens, which will also help me prepare my research and prepare for my dissertation. So I'm really, really thankful for that.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Caitlyn, for joining us today as a guest and sharing with us about your research interests and the work that you've done and different ways to be involved with supporting transfer students.

    We really appreciate that and yeah, you'll be back next time, but as a co-host, right. You engage with other GDU higher ed community members. So thanks.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, this is fun. Thanks so much for having me as a guest!

    Sarah Hurtado: No problem. Thanks, everyone.

  • Keeping Malawian Girls in School with Alice Kanyama

    In this episode of Mile Higher Ed, Sarah and Caitlyn interview Ph.D. student Alice Kanyama about her recent work in Malawi, where she provided menstruation products to girls and young women through a grant from DU’s Center for Community Engagement to Advance Scholarship and Learning. We talk about the educational landscape in Malawi, how reusable sanitary pads improve education outcomes, and why secondary schooling is a critical foundation for university access.


    Here are links to some of the things we talked about:


    Seeds of Promise, a non-profit organization committed to supporting Malawian youth.

    Seeds of Promise’s Facebook post with photos from the day the pads were distributed.

    Alice’s extended interview with 21st Century Generation, a broadcast from Zodiak Malawi.


    About our guest: Alice Kanyama is a Higher Education PhD Student at University of Denver expected to graduate in 2027. She has 17 years of work experience in Higher Education Management gained in Malawi. She also has over ten years of experience as an instructor and lecturer in the Mass Communication Department at Africa Bible College, Malawi.  She has been a Board Member for Seeds of Promise Ministry since 2017.



    Mile Higher Ed is a production of the Higher Education Department at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.


    Follow MCE on Instagram: @mceatdu

    Interested in the Higher Education program at DU? Request information here.


    Alice Kanyama


    Audio file
    Mile Higher Ed Ep 8








    Sarah Hurtado: Hi everyone, welcome back to another episode of Mile Higher Ed, the podcast from DU Higher Ed where we showcase current research and practice from our faculty, students, and alumni. I am one of your co-hosts, Dr. Sarah Hurtado, assistant professor in the department, and as usual I'm joined by…

    Caitlyn Glaser: Hi, I'm Caitlyn Potter Glaser and I am a PhD student in Higher Education here at DU.

    Sarah Hurtado: And today we are very excited to chat with current PhD student Alice Kanyama. So welcome Alice.

    Alice Kanyama: Thank you so much, Dr. Hurtado and Caitlyn.

    Sarah Hurtado: Alice, can you actually just start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to DU?

    Alice Kanyama: Uh huh, thank you so much. Actually I am Alice Kanyama, as she's already said. So I'm from Malawi, and I applied for the PhD in higher education as I have worked in the higher education for a lot more years, education as I have worked in the higher education for a lot more years, like 17 years, before coming into this program. So like the issues I have seen like back home in Malawi, I just felt, there are some gaps in the higher education in Malawi that I can learn more and then even make a difference. As someone else with a higher education administer. The need and the ambition to make a difference really that's what really brought me to DU the past year.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Well, we are very glad that you're here.

    Alice Kanyama: Thank you.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah. And speaking of making a difference, what really got our attention for our podcast was that you were recently awarded a grant that helped you fund a project supporting girls and young women in Malawi. Can you tell us more about what this project was about?

    Alice Kanyama: Oh yes, so this project was more about keeping girls in school. The past year, it's been hard for Malawi economically. In past November Malawi had a devolution of about 44%, so economically it's been hard. And this has affected the social economic lives of so many Malawians, but then as well as being an educator it drew my interest as well to seeing how girls welfare is in the schools. So so many girls would actually not go to school because of lucking sanitary products. So when I saw the opportunity that DU is providing through [Center for Community] engagement for scholarship and learning I took, I encouraged two of my friends to apply for the grant so that we can help the girls in Malawi. So this is what we did, to apply for the grant, to assist the girls, and to keep them in school.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah, and when you say “sanitary products”, can you talk more about what this funded?

    Alice Kanyama: Uh huh. So, like for so many girls in Malawi, they would not have the privilege of using like sanitary products, or sanitary pads, and throw away, like, just the one-time usage. So they would use, like, clothes and stuff and usually they are not really hygienic. So like what we did in our project was to identify reusable sanitary pads that they can use for four years. There so these are the ones that we give to the girls and we knew that those who are like in primary school, they can use like for four years and they would not worry not to go to school. So many girls would not actually, would actually stop going to school when it's time for them to have like their menses, So like those days they would miss school. So just imagining like every month you're missing like 5-7 days because you can't really take care of yourself. So, so many girls, you find them that they're lagging behind in comparison to boys. So, like giving them the reusable sanitary pads, like for those who are like in From 1, like high school like in Malawian system we have our high school is from Form 1 to Form 4, to give them like in Form 1, you would know that they would actually go through up until the From 4 actually really make a difference to keeping them in school.

    Sarah Hurtado: Hmm. So you applied for this grants through the Center for Community Engagement, and I am wondering if you can just talk a little bit more about like where this idea came from and how you thought to pursue this grant?

    Alice Kanyama: Uh huh, so actually, our idea came from also, like I call myself an “insider because I have been there, I know like being a Malawian young woman growing up in the Malawian context I know the challenges that you, that entails. So all this coming in to saying, “Okay, I can actually make a difference. I can actually reach out to a girl and keep them in school.” And also I know, higher education, like what I am actually pursuing and studying, it actually stems from having a good foundation as well. So if the students and learning like we all like here as you call it, K-11 and even going on, to coming to college and getting on to higher education, like all this can't be possible if the foundation is not good. So, assisting the girls and keeping them in school and making sure that they actually learn and we know that they can we can actually have students as well in the higher education. So, it's a collaborative work as I look at it, like the whole education system, it's actually interconnected.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah, I appreciate that reminder of how higher is connected to all these other systems, right? And supporting students in this particular place, these girls in Malawi throughout their education actually presents them with more opportunities in higher education down the line. Very cool.

    Caitlyn Glaser: That's it's an amazing project, and I imagine a lot of our listeners haven't probably visited Malawi so may not be familiar as much with the context there. Can you just tell us a little bit more about what education is like for girls and young women, and why these products are so crucial for them? and just you were just recently interviewed on Zodiak Malawi, which is a local program, and you talked a lot also about kind of the bullying that young girls and young women experience so can you just kind of give us a little bit more context to help our listeners understand this work?

    Alice Kanyama: Yeah, oh sure. Actually like, an issue of sanitary hygiene is a great issue, or it's a big issue, in the Malawian educational system because like the girls like in school if they spot themselves like definitely it will it doesn't go on well and then, like they would actually miss school, like, for several days just to sure that it cools down, so all these it just takes the girl out of school. And then just also encouraging the community leaders, and the boys, and educating all the other participants surrounding the girls and the girls’ education, like just to being supportive to the girl, especially as they are in school and creating a conducive environment for them so that girls can actually also have a space in the education space, that they are free to go to school and that they are encouraged and everyone else is taking a part in encouraging.

    So even in the project that we did, we had so many community leaders who attended. So, we partnered with Seeds of Promise, a ministry that's working with young people. So through Seeds of Promise we got all the leaders together, parents, and just encouraging everyone to take part in improving the education sector. Yes, there's so many issues that affect girls, but then we knew that if even if we can go on ahead in assisting them using reusable sanitary pads we can actually keep the girls in school. Yes.

    Sarah Hurtado: Can you share with us a little bit about the process of applying for the grant? Like kind of what that looks like, what that entailed, and are you doing anything now after? After you've been there, spent a few weeks there doing this project, any sort of like writing or follow-up that comes after?

    Alice Kanyama: Yes, so applying for this grant, you should have a creative idea that you would want to improve or another engagement that as a student would want to have. Any other community And then, it also requires to have a mentor, a professor mentor, a mental teacher who would walk along with you throughout the way as you implement the project, and to have the community partner. So before submitting the application, one is supposed to have like as I’ve said the mentor and the teacher-mentor and also to have the community partner.

    So you share your idea, like whatever you would want to do in the community with the mentor and also the community partner. There should be an agreement that all of you you’re moving together and then you submit your application. Upon submitting the application you wait for an evaluation by the grants, and then as they give you the feedback like in two to three weeks. If it's something else that, the Community Engagement Center that feel like they can sponsor and then they can be able to give the grant, and if they feel like it's not something else that it's in line with what they sponsor and then, they also give the feedback, and that sense. So basically, that's the process for the application. Sure.

    Sarah Hurtado: And are you, are you writing about this experience? Are you doing anything, now that you've returned?

    Alice Kanyama: Oh yes, so we are writing a report about what we did with the girls, the whole experience working as a team and working with the community. It's been a great learning experience for us. Collaborating with the community and just applying the things and the basic things that we have been learning in our classes and as well, we had a component in our project also doing research, checking the welfare of girls and how they are fairing right now in the economic crisis and the interventions that can be or that can be effective. Because sometimes we go into a community and we feel like this is how we can help but then, maybe that's not how the girls want to be helped.

    So we took this opportunity as well just to do the qualitative research of finding out the welfare of the girls in as well as how they feel with the interventions that they come that they receive and how best they would feel to be assisted. So, we are still writing, we are still doing the research as for now, and also doing the reporting for what we did in Malawi.

    Sarah Hurtado: Awesome. Thank you for sharing.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Yeah. That's so cool. Okay. In addition to your work at DU you are on the board of the organization Seeds of Promise, which you mentioned earlier. Can you tell us more about that organization and the kind of work that they do?

    Alice Kanyama: Uh huh, thank you, Caitlyn. So, Seeds of Promise, its mandate is to help to empower the youth and women in the community. So they are doing this through teaching, entrepreneurship, doing farming, supporting students in school so that they have some students who are in secondary school, some students who are in college, whom they are supporting like financially, like paying their tuition. So, like during their holidays they invite them like to the farm, they have a farm where they're growing like bananas and different things, they're doing fish farming, so all these just to support and to help the youths that they can have a positive thinking in their lives and also like in the community. So, I resonated a lot more with what they are doing. Also like as an education, a higher education leader, I have seen some of the students who have actually been assisted by, who have been assisted by Seeds of Promise. So, like the impact that Seeds of Promise has been doing, like it's been great and just to be a part and working along with them. And as a board member working alongside Seeds of Promise from inception up until now. I'm really happy and excited to see what has been happening through Seeds of Promise in the community. Yes.

    Sarah Hurtado: Very cool. From our conversation, Alice, it's very clear that you have this passion for supporting youth in education, increasing access to education across, you know, all levels from primary to post-secondary, right? So, I'm wondering if you can share now that you are wrapping up your first year as a PhD student here, share how you've been able to explore these research interests of yours and this kind of advocacy work of yours in in our higher ed program?

    Alice Kanyama: Yes, thank you so much, Dr. Sarah. So, like for my journey starting my PhD from the last fall up until now, like finishing through the first year, it's been a great journey of learning a lot of things, and opening up to so many things and that at times it's just like, okay, I can just do all these things! But then, like in my mind, what has been really there, like working at the Head of Admissions at African Bible college, really I see that Malawi’s place that we can, please like to increase the access of education.

    So more of my interest is looking at how technology can be utilized to increase access for many students who qualify for higher education. So like in Malawi, it's just 1% that's in college, that makes it to college. So it's a small, small, small number. So it shows like just how much higher education space has been limited to just a few. So there are so many things that contributes towards to access to higher education, but I have felt like technology, the advancement of technology, like right now can be one of the things that can actually help in opening up the higher education spaces. So learning through like the research  course I have gone through, learning through about organization leadership in higher education management, I feel I’m at a place I would really want to see how best we can see, we can explore the different areas of increasing access for higher education especially in the Malawian spaces, yes.

    Sarah Hurtado: Very cool. Well, it is really great that you have been able to, kind of think through these opportunities here, and take advantage of things so early in your program. I don't think we mentioned this, but you spent your spring break doing this project.

    Alice Kanyama: Yes.

    Sarah Hurtado: Very cool. And, as we shared you just, you're not “just” but you're only in your first year so I can't wait to see what else comes from your time in our program over the next few years. So thank you, Alice, for spending some time with us today.

    Alice Kanyama: Thank you so much for having me. It was really great. Thank you.

    Caitlyn Potter Glaser: And for our listeners who’d like to learn more about this project and Alice’s work. as well as the group Seeds of Promise, we will include links in our episode show notes for you to check it out.

    Sarah Hurtado: Yeah. And to our listeners, thanks for listening and tune in next time for another new episode of Mile Higher Ed. Thanks everyone.

    Caitlyn Glaser: Thanks!

    Alice Kanyama: Thank you, yeah.