The Ohio Education Research Center is pleased to welcome our new Senior Research Associate, Dr. Jessica Collura
Dr. Collura comes to us from the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University. She will be working with the OERC on a number of projects utilizing her extensive research and facilitation skills. We interviewed Dr. Collura to learn more about her background and what she hopes to accomplish here at the OERC.
1. Could you tell us about your educational background and research interests?
I’m a product of public education. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland and attended our public elementary, middle and high school. For undergrad, I attended Miami University and majored in Psychology and English Literature. I initially planned to pursue graduate studies in clinical psychology, but during my senior year of college I decided I wanted some “real world” experience first. I was particularly interested in service opportunities, but also needed to support myself financially. I applied, and was accepted, to Teach for America. As a corps member I was placed in a charter school in Camden, NJ and taught high school English to 8th – 11th grade students. During that time, I became deeply interested in how the community environment facilitated young people’s growth, development and learning.
Based on my teaching experience and interests, when I started considering graduate school, I sought out applied developmental psychology programs. This led me to the department of Human Development and Family Studies in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I completed my Masters thesis which focused on young people’s participation on local county boards. My experience with my Masters degree fostered an interest in applied research and I decided to pursue a PhD. I was fortunate to work with my advisor to initiate a new doctoral degree program in the School of Human Ecology, entitled Civil Society and Community Research, that essentially merged my two fields of study: developmental and community psychology. My dissertation focused on afterschool programs. It examined the association between youth’s reports of afterschool program quality and the developmental outcomes of school engagement, agency, and empowerment. It also investigated how young people experienced quality in the afterschool context.
My primary research interest is youth civic engagement and examining how young people become active contributors to their communities. The wonderful thing about an interdisciplinary degree is being able to study how your primary interests intersect with other disciplines and fields. This has allowed me to pursue my research interests in a variety of contexts. During my doctoral studies, I was the lead evaluator and researcher for a federally funded initiative that sought to empower young people to make positive decisions about their sexual health and prevent teen pregnancies in the state of Wisconsin. I also worked with an alternative school that was interested in fostering greater youth voice and participation. After graduate school, I worked as an evaluator and content expert on an initiative aimed at expanding youth-led prevention efforts in Ohio.
2. What made you interested in the OERC?
There were several things that appealed to me about the OERC. I really like that the OERC is comprised of a team of multidisciplinary faculty and staff. I think collaborating with people from different disciplines strengthens the work, especially when you’re working on projects that are designed to contribute to the public good. And that’s another thing that appealed to me about the OERC: the goal of the work is to contribute to the common good. That’s always been a huge motivation for me and focus throughout my career; I’m passionate about conducting research to generate knowledge and information that ideally helps to improve the lives of citizens. That’s exactly what the OERC is about too, so it felt like a great fit. Plus, my career and interests were all initially fueled by my work in the classroom, so it feels like a full circle opportunity to be able to focus more explicitly on the field of education.
3. What are you most excited to work on at the OERC?
That’s hard to say because so far, every project I’ve learned about that the center engages in has piqued my interest! I am excited to collaborate with several of the staff members on the Ohio Evidence-Based Clearinghouse work and I’m looking forward to facilitating meetings with stakeholders. I’m also eager to be able to conduct some qualitative research in k – 12 schools. I’m particularly excited to learn with and from others here and finds ways to work together to generate additional research and knowledge.
4. What has been your favorite thing about Columbus so far?
I live in Athens but commute to Columbus a few days a week. My family and I have always enjoyed Columbus and frequently visit the zoo, COSI, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Easton. Since joining the OERC I’ve really been enjoying familiarizing myself with the OSU campus and all its amenities and resources.