Doctoral Student Kathryn Rende Wins People’s Champion Prize in Shark Tank-style Competition at AERA Conference for Equity-focused Research Proposal

Wolf statue and the Park Alumni Center.

Growing up in a rural, industrialized area of Pennsylvania, NC State College of Education doctoral student Kathryn Rende frequently witnessed high tensions between industry and environmentalists. When Rende moved to North Carolina in the late 1990s, they witnessed the same tensions in the region where they lived and worked.

These experiences inspired Rende to focus their dissertation research on justice-centered climate education, with the goal of working with teachers who are interested in creating supportive classroom environments and a curriculum for students to explore climate justice and activism and understand the impact climate change can have on their own lived experiences.

A proposal related to this research recently earned Rende the People’s Choice award at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division C “Shark Tank: Graduate Students Pitch Equity and Inclusion Research Designs” session, which was created, in part, by College of Education Associate Professor of Educational Psychology DeLeon Gray, Ph.D.

In a similar format to the popular Shark Tank television show, graduate students presented a five-minute pitch of their research projects to a panel of judges, including NC State College of Education Assistant Professor of Developmental Sciences Christy Byrd, Ph.D., as well as a live audience who were able to vote on the proposals.

“It was a nerve-wracking and humbling experience to be presenting with five other incredibly

talented students who all brought really unique and exciting ideas for promoting equity and

inclusion to the table,” said Rende, a student in the Ph.D. in Learning and Teaching in STEM in the science education program area of study. “The Sharks kept us on our toes and asked us tough questions, but I am grateful for how it has helped me to think about my research in new ways and is pushing me to be as thoughtful and intentional as I can be about doing justice-focused work.”

The project Rende presented during their Shark Tank pitch aims to examine how engagement in scientific research impacts students’ agencies for using science to address climate injustice through a two-part implementation.

The first part of the proposal involves working with partner teachers from rural North Carolina schools to develop an instructional model that centers climate change as an issue of social justice, focuses on the history of the environmental and climate justice movements and engages students in citizen science projects focused on climate change.

Second, Rende will study students’ experiences in the module and any impacts on their conceptual knowledge of climate change and efficacy beliefs for using science to address issues of climate justice.

“Young people today will increasingly face the dangerous impacts of climate change over the course of their lifetimes but, in the U.S., climate change effects will be most acutely felt by those who experience socioeconomic inequalities, including many communities of color,” Rende said in the proposal. “More than ever, it is imperative to engage in educational initiatives that contextualize climate change as an issue to social justice and to better understand young peoples’ agency for using science within this more broadly positioned socio-political ecology.”

Although their pitch was not selected by the judges, as the People’s Champion winner of the competition, Rende received the popular vote from audience members and was awarded $1,000 in funding for their research. This money, they said, will go directly to the teachers and students in the study to help them address issues of climate injustice in ways that are meaningful to them and their communities.

“I think the biggest win for me was getting feedback from so many experts in the field of equity and inclusion in education research and meeting the other contestants. We have all promised to stay in touch and keep each other motivated and accountable,” Rende said.