$1M in Spencer Foundation grants awarded to UIC education scholars

Two education-related researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have received nearly $1 million combined in grants from the Spencer Foundation in support of their work.

The awards, granted through the foundation’s Large Research Grants program, have been presented to Decoteau Irby, UIC associate professor of educational policy studies, for his project exploring school district-level equity leadership and impact, and Amanda Roy, UIC assistant professor of psychology, to support her investigation concerning education and work decisions among low-income, ethnic minority youth.

Decoteau Irby, UIC associate professor of educational policy studies
Decoteau Irby, UIC associate professor of educational policy studies

Irby, who is principal investigator of “Leadership Activity in the Era of the Equity Director: Racial-Historical Contexts, Proliferation, and District Organizational Change,” is backed by a $499,997 grant to examine the impact of administrators, called equity directors, whose primary responsibility is to transform district and school structures and practices to make education more equitable and just for racially, ethnically and linguistically marginalized students.

Working with Ann Ishimaru of the University of Washington and Terrance Green from the University of Texas at Austin, Irby will study three school districts in different regions of the U.S. that expressed a commitment to equity by hiring equity directors and establishing equity offices to organize their district-wide efforts.

Over two academic years, the research partners will collect information through interviews, observations, focus groups and district documents, as well as convene meetings with district staff to collaboratively interpret data, assemble themes and lessons learned, identify key challenges and generate questions for consideration across sites.

“The project will contribute to educational leadership for equity and social justice scholarship by strengthening our understanding of the types of leadership activity systems that are emerging in the era of equity directors,” Irby said. “In particular, the study brings us closer to understanding what equity leadership approaches have the most potential for advancing organizational change that disrupts institutionalized norms of racial and other forms of discrimination.”

Amanda Roy
Amanda Roy, UIC assistant professor of psychology. Photo: Sydney Rinehart

Roy was awarded $485,877 as co-principal investigator of a project to examine the role that social-emotional competencies play in the educational and career goals and choices of under-resourced, racial-ethnic minority young adults in Chicago.  

She is teaming with Christine Li-Grining of Loyola University Chicago for the three-year project titled “Persistence and Resistance: The Role of Social-Emotional Competencies in the Education and Career Paths of Under-resourced, Racial/Ethnic Minority Young Adults.”

Using data from both surveys and in-depth interviews, they will examine associations between dimensions of social-emotional competencies and education and career plans across three time points from late adolescence to early adulthood.

“We’ll expand a commonly used social-emotional competency framework that emphasizes five core abilities — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making — to include experiences and skills that better reflect the lived realities of people of color, such as ethnic-racial identity, critical consciousness and discrimination,” said Roy, who leads the Environment, Development, and Health Research Group at UIC. “This work will advance theoretical and empirical understanding of social-emotional competencies among under-resourced, youth of color and highlight the ways that these skills can be supported to promote education and career pathways.”

The Spencer Foundation was established in 1962 to support education research, fellowship and training programs. The Large Research Grants on Education Program supports education research projects that will contribute to the improvement of education.

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