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Curriculum and Instruction News

Smolarek to receive Outstanding Dissertation Award from AERA special interest group

March 09, 2017

UW-Madison’s Bailey Smolarek will be receiving the 2017 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Educational Research Association's (AERA) Critical Educators for Social Justice Special Interest Group.

Smolarek is an alumna of the School of Education, having earned her Ph.D. from the No. 1-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction in May. She was advised by Professor Maggie Hawkins.

Smolarek’s dissertation is titled, “ ‘Unintended Consequences ‘: Reforms, Race, and the Schooling Experiences of Mexican Emergent Bilinguals in a New Destination High School.” This work was partially funded through a fellowship from UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty.

Smolarek explains how her dissertation research took place during the 2013-14 school year, when she ethnographically investigated the schooling experiences of Mexican and Mexican American English language learners (ELLs) at a high school that had recently experienced a significant increase in its immigrant population. This high school was located in a small, postindustrial Wisconsin town.

The site of this study, Smolarek explains, exemplifies many of the challenges schools in postindustrial communities are facing as it has experienced significant demographic shifts, major state education cuts, and an economic depression from the closing of the city’s assembly plant.

Smolarek says findings from this project indicate that the experiences of Latin@ ELLs, or emergent bilinguals, were marked by xenophobic aggressions, an overemphasis on standardized testing, and a lack of qualified staff, resources, and culturally relevant practices. As social safety nets dismantle, traditional blue-collar employment disappears, and anti-immigrant discourse and policies increase, this work demonstrates that the resentment and racism that came to the forefront during the 2016 presidential election has been brewing for much longer.

She adds that her study is an effort to connect the daily educational experiences of Latin@ emergent bilinguals with larger social structures and systems of power, and add to important conversations on how to better serve this growing population. 

Smolarek is currently a postdoctoral researcher with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), where she is working on Matthew Hora’s EMPOWER STEM project, which is a mixed-method, multisite study funded by the National Science Foundation. This project examines education and workplace development issues in high-demand STEM occupations. 

Smolarek will be recognized April 30 at the 2017 AERA Annual Meeting, which is being held in San Antonio April 27 to May 1.

To read Smolarek’s dissertation, visit this ProQuest web page .

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