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Two College of Education Alumni Win NARST Outstanding Doctoral Research Award

Two recent graduates from the NC State College of Education’s Ph.D. in Learning and Teaching in STEM science education concentration have received the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Outstanding Doctoral Research Award. 

Grace Carroll ’23PHD and Ren Rende ’22PHD both received the award, which is given to doctoral dissertations judged to have the greatest significance in the field of science education. 

The wins marks the first time three students from the same university have won the Outstanding Doctoral Research Award in consecutive years, as Gary Wright ’22PHD received the 2023 award. 

On Grace Carroll’s Research 

Carroll’s award-winning dissertation consisted of two separated but interrelated studies. The first study was a literature review that explored the characteristics of effective, meaningful and equitable science instruction through modeling and highlighted the work needed to support science teachers as they adopt more student-centered approaches. The second study used a mixed-methods approach to investigate the epistemological beliefs that influence teachers’ implementation of model-based instruction. 

Results showed teachers are more likely to enact their beliefs when they support students’ modeling, but contextual factors can inhibit a teacher’s ability to integrate their pedagogical content knowledge into lessons and reduce the extent to which they might adopt and implement approaches like model-based teaching. 

“Model-based science teaching is near to my heart. As a previous high school science teacher of eight years, I participated in an extensive professional development where I learned how to incorporate model-based teaching into my own classroom. It was the most transformative professional development I had ever experienced and reinvigorated my love for teaching science at a time when I felt stagnant,” Carroll said. 

Carroll, now a postdoctoral scholar in the College of Education, said she knew from the moment she entered her Ph.D. program that she wanted her dissertation to focus on model-based teaching, but was unsure how to accomplish her goal. She found her path, however, when she had the opportunity to work as a graduate research assistant on a grant led by Professor Soonhye Park that focused on rural teachers adopting and implementing the same model-based teaching approach Carroll herself learned as a teacher. 

“Receiving the Outstanding Doctoral Research Award is humbling and validating for me. First, I believe it is a testament to the support and guidance I received from my advisor, Dr. Soonhye Park, whom I could not have conceptualized the dissertation study without, as well as my family,” Carroll said. “Achieving this award symbolizes a meaningful contribution to the advancement of knowledge in science teaching and learning, and I see this accolade as an opportunity to leverage my platform to make a positive impact in science education.” 

On Ren Rende’s Research 

Rende’s award-winning dissertation explored the pedagogical practices of transgender science teachers with the goal of learning from their experiences to create a gender-inclusive curriculum. 

The study resulted in the Trans and Research-Informed Approaches for Nonbinary and Gender-Inclusive Science Education (TRANS) Framework, which provides strategic guidance for conceptualizing new curriculum and pedagogy and can be used to guide science educators in making their classrooms more gender-inclusive. 

“This project was significantly important to me as a transgender science educator and researcher. I believe that trans teachers are vital in the advancement of effective gender-inclusive science education and that the TRANS framework signifies a major shift in gender-inclusive educational models,” Rende said. “ Receiving this award means a lot to me personally, but even more so that it represents a hopeful shift towards a more LGBTQ, and specifically trans-affirming, science education movement.” 

Rende, who is now an Assistant Professor of STEM Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, recently published an article based on their dissertation, entitled “A (TRANS)formative approach to gender-inclusive science education” in the Journal of Science Teaching. The article was co-authored by Professor Carla Johnson, who served as Rende’s advisor in the College of Education and nominated them for the award.

They said their time in the NC State College of Education has not only prepared them to advance their research agenda, but to excel in the field. 

“I believe that NC State’s Learning and Teaching STEM program provided me with the opportunities, instruction and support I needed to excel in this field, particularly as an education researcher,” Rende said.