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Ogden Honors College Alumnae Appointed Head of NC State University's Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences

Ogden Honors College alumnae and professor of educational psychology Jessica DeCuir-Gunby, Ph.D., was recently appointed the head of NC State University's Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences. This is the first time in over 17 years that a Black woman will serve in this role. 

DeCuir-Gunby’s research interests include race and racial identity development, critical race theory, mixed methods research, and emotions in education. Her work looks at the impact of race and racism on African Americans across the lifespan and in various educational contexts. She has served as co-principal investigator on two National Science Foundation funded grants, totaling over $4.3 million: Nurturing Mathematics Dreamkeepers and Peer Mentoring Summits for Women Engineering Faculty of Color. Both grants explored important issues in diversity and STEM. Her current grant, funded by the Spencer Foundation, is a qualitative exploration of Black essential worker mothers and their experiences with distance learning during COVID-19.

“[As department head] my priorities include supporting schools and communities during and after the COVID-19 crisis, addressing issues of equity and diversity in undergraduate and graduate education. The ultimate goal is to not only produce more educators of color, but culturally relevant educators that are prepared to teach in culturally diverse contexts,” she said.   

DeCuir-Gunby realized that she wanted to be a psychologist after attending career day when she was a freshman in high school, and the Ogden Honors College would help her on her path to becoming an educational psychologist. She was a recipient of the Paul C. Young Outstanding Undergraduate in Psychology Award and was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. She joined the Ogden Honors College as a continuing student her junior year. Double majoring in psychology and Spanish, she participated in the Upper Division Honors program and worked with Dr. Katie Cherry as her mentor and Dr. Janet McDonald as her research advisor on her Honors thesis, Second Language Learning: Lexical Processing and Grammatical Development of University Classroom Learners of Spanish

“The honors thesis allowed her to learn hands-on how to devise an experiment, gather good data, analyze it and write it up in a scientific style. After she successfully completed her thesis, I was very confident in sending her off to the University of Georgia because she had a firm grasp on the tools of psychological research. I am very proud as her honors thesis advisor to see that she has taken these skills forward to her successful career in academia,” said Dr. McDonald. 

I was already a part of the McNair program, so I was familiar with the research process. But when I got into the Honors seminar [with Dr. Cherry], it was really specific. We had in-depth discussions about what should go into our research proposals and how to actually engage in a research study,” she recalls. “Working on my thesis, which was very close to a master's thesis, really helped to prepare me for master's and eventually doctoral work.”

DeCuir-Gunby’s educational experience was bolstered by the relationships she developed with Honors faculty. “I took a graduate level statistics course that Dr. McDonald was teaching. So, I did graduate level statistics for my thesis. I collected all the data. I did the coding for the quantitative program. I recruited all my participants. I mean, I did everything from beginning to the end.” 

Not only that, but the Upper Division Honors program instilled the confidence she needed to be successful in academia. “The program not only provided me with the skills I needed to be a successful graduate student, but it actually helped me with my confidence in terms of thinking that I can do this. Because when you go, particularly as a student of color, and you go off to these graduate programs, a lot of times you're wondering if you’re going to be able to do this. But when I went to graduate school [at the University of Georgia], that thought was never in my mind.”