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The Reach of Research - 2017

THEORY TO PRACTICE, ISSUE NO. 9, FALL '17

Education in America is at a crossroads. Lehigh’s commitment to innovative research and focus on applying research to practice allows College of Education faculty to help shape education and social policy across the nation and beyond. 

United States

Allentown, Pa.

How is zoning determined in the City of Allentown, Pa? Where are the best places to create green spaces? How do transportation routes contribute to climate change?

Using GPS-enabled iPads, ninth-grade students in the Allentown School District’s Building 21 high school are investigating socio-environmental issues—while building STEM-related skills—as part of an innovative, geospatial curriculum developed by Lehigh education researchers, earth and environmental scientists, and social scientists.

Now in its second year, the three-year ITEST Strategies Project is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Led by Alec Bodzin, professor of Instructional Technology and Teacher Education, the team collaborates with teachers to design, implement and test the investigations that students conduct as part of their studies. The projects are designed to prepare students for both college and careers. 

“Geospatial literacy is important in developing skills,” said Bodzin. “If you go into city planning, if you do environmental planning, if you work in civil engineering—there are just a lot of industries that use GIS (geographic information system) now.”

Co-investigators are Thomas C. Hammond, associate dean of the College of Education; Breena Holland, associate professor of Political Science; David Anastasio, chair of the  Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, and STEM educator Kate Popejoy. Senior personnel include Dork Sahagian, professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences; Joan Fu, professor of practice in Education and Human Services, and Scott Rutzmoser, senior geospatial specialist, Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Mentors are a critical component of the project. Partners include Allentown's city planning bureau and parks department, and PPL Electric Utilities. Through hands-on activities that include gathering heat data and identifying trees and vegetation, the students are learning to think spatially and make proposals to improve the community.

“The students have been really engaged,” said Bodzin. And in school districts such as Allentown, where attrition rates are a concern, “school has to be meaningful and relevant to them….They have to see that, ‘yes, I can do these types of things.’”

El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Julia Lechuga, assistant professor of Education and Health, Medicine and Society, is leading a five-year, $2.1 million study and intervention program along the U.S.-Mexico border that aims to help drug users reduce risky behaviors and help curtail the spread of infectious diseases.

Project Encuentro, now in its second year and funded by the National Institutes of Health, targets drug users in El Paso, Texas, and neighboring Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where heroin and crack use is prevalent. Lechuga is working with two community groups to build their capacity to tackle the public health problem.

“Without the resources and these approaches,” she says, “we could be at the brink of an HIV epidemic in this area.”

Project Encuentro began in San Salvador, where Lechuga and other public health advocates saw promising preliminary results: Participating high-risk drug users became better at protecting themselves against HIV (condom use improved, and those with multiple sex partners increasingly used condoms during sex), and HIV testing rates increased. Given those gains, Lechuga felt the intervention could be adapted for the border towns. 

Skill-building sessions to help substance users enact harm-reduction approaches is a key component, she says. 

Around the World

Azerbaijan

Jill Sperandio, emeritus professor of Educational Leadership, received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach and conduct research for her book, Advocates and Entrepreneurs: Pioneering Education for Girls Across the Globe 1760-1904. The book will focus on efforts to establish an educational system for girls’ in Azerbaijan at a time when girls were prevented from receiving an education.

Kuwait

Lehigh’s Office of Global Distance Programs is partnering with the Fawzia Sultan Rehabilitation Institute in Kuwait to provide courses leading to a certificate in international counseling psychology. Arnold Spokane, professor of Counseling Psychology, will lead two of the four courses that emphasize counseling and career development. Offerings began in fall 2017. The program aims to train new counselors in providing mental health care.

India

Arpana Inman, professor of Counseling Psychology, and Bridget Dever, associate professor of School Psychology, are engaged in program evaluation through evidence-based research to support curriculum developed by the nonprofit organization Going to School, which teaches entrepreneurial skills to Bihar’s poorest students. They give feedback on training models and develop tools to assess the effectiveness of interventions that allow GTS to provide students with a better education to reduce dropout rates and increase employability.

Germany

As part of the University of Tübingen-Lehigh International Partnership, Alexander W. Wiseman, professor of Comparative and International Education, led a workshop on how national education systems adjust curriculum and make policies to link degrees to career opportunities. He continued research collaboration with Tübingen professors related to how policymakers view education globally and how that impacts policies. He also presented on Algorithmization of National Educational Assessment and Policymaking.