Training a new generation of education researchers

IPR faculty co-hosts IES-sponsored workshops

MSI workshop

Participants and organizers at the Research Design Workshop for Faculty from Minority-Serving Institutions.

This summer, IPR and Northwestern co-hosted two workshops aimed at developing current researchers’ methodological research skills, including a new workshop specifically designed to boost the grant-seeking capacity of faculty from institutions that have historically served minority students.

“Minority-serving institutions [MSIs] tend to be rather under-resourced institutions, but they have had a historic role in providing opportunities for minority students,” said IPR education researcher and statistician Larry Hedges, who co-organized the workshops.

With continued support from grants through the National Center for Education Research (NCER) in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)—the research wing of the U.S. Department of Education—Hedges co-led both the MSI workshop and the eighth annual cluster-randomized trials (CRT) workshop, with Spyros Konstantopoulos of Michigan State University.

Research Design Workshop

Fifteen researchers from institutions such as Queens College, Tuskegee University, and the University of New Mexico arrived in Evanston on July 21 for the first Research Design Workshop. Over two and a half days, the scholars received instruction on the fundamentals of rigorous research design, including threats to validity, regression, and a brief overview of hierarchical linear modeling.

While this year’s MSI workshop was the first of its kind, planning for an MSI-specific workshop has been years in the making.

Katina Stapleton, an IES education program officer who presented at the workshop, said that the idea for the workshop came out of a 2012 White House Federal Summit for Minority Serving Institutions that she attended.

“I asked my colleagues if there were any opportunities for NCER to help build capacity at MSIs to conduct the kind of research we fund,” Stapleton recalled.

Christina Chhin, an IES education research analyst, added, “Given the experience that Michigan State and Northwestern already had with effectively training researchers, we thought they would be able to adapt their current [summer workshops] to MSI researchers.”

Soon after, Hedges began working with IES program officers to create a workshop that would, according to Hedges, “help improve the research methodological skills of faculty from minority-serving institutions, so they could better participate in the world of rigorous research in education science.”

Susan Sepanik of MDRC (l.) and Lyzz Davis,
from the American Institutes for Research,
at the CRT Institute.

Hedges and Konstantopoulos covered a wide variety of topics including growth modeling and external validity. Chris Rhoads, a former IPR graduate research assistant now at the University of Connecticut, and Jessaca Spybrook of Western Michigan University, also led sessions and mentored participants during their group projects.

“The workshop was a wonderful opportunity to review concepts that will help me improve the rigor of the evaluation work that I do,” said participant Denise Carrejo. As assistant director at the Center for Institutional Evaluation, Research, and Planning at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), one part of Carrejo’s job involves helping UTEP faculty members improve students’ educational success. She also works on projects to help improve UTEP students’ career and postgraduate opportunities. 

Carrejo said she decided to apply for a spot because she wanted to learn new ways to help strengthen the evaluation plans in education-research proposals coming from UTEP, and learn more about IES.

“I learned about the different types of projects IES funds, and the resources that they have to help researchers develop their proposals,” Carrejo explained.

The workshop also created a sense of community among the participants that has lasted beyond the initial two and a half days.

“We’ve used emails to inform each other about a recent policy briefing that was bound to impact minority-serving institutions,” Carrejo noted, along with other updates on each other’s research.

Summer Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials

In addition to the MSI workshop, the two-week Summer Research Training Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials (CRTs) took place from July 7–17.

Led by Hedges and Konstantopoulos, the CRT Institute delves into the use of cluster randomization—a methodological tool that helps to account for group effects of teachers and classrooms when measuring an intervention’s effects on individual student achievement.

The CRT Institute is also designed to improve education researchers’ ability to apply for competitive grants, and one hope is that those who participated in the MSI workshop will eventually apply for the CRT Institute as well, Stapleton noted.

Carla Firetto, a postdoctoral researcher at Pennsylvania State University who is currently working on an IES-funded project promoting high-level text comprehension, said she participated in the CRT Institute to improve her grant applications and the level of funding she could apply for.   

“The workshop allowed me to know more about what type of studies [IES] is looking to fund as well as more details about all the components and requirements necessary in order to create a successfully funded proposal,” Firetto said.

For more information about these and future workshops, go to

Interviews with Larry Hedges, Katina Stapleton, and Christina Chhin were conducted by email.

Photo credit: Jim Ziv (top photo), Patricia Reese (lower photo)