• 10.15.19

NCES Data Institute Stimulates Learning, Produces Meaningful Research

  • by AIR


Melinda Whitford and Katie Smith, NCES Data Institute Participants

The NCES Data Institute: Using Federal Datasets to Support Research on Postsecondary Education (Institute) provides an intensive introduction to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) datasets and research methodologies.

Ideal for graduate students, early to mid-career IR professionals, faculty, and staff from state and federal agencies and other higher education organizations, the Institute offers a 5-week online course, 15-week group capstone project, and a 3-day face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C. Sixty-five participants have benefited from this holistic learning experience since 2018. 

But once the groups complete their projects and head back to their respective institutions at the conclusion of the D.C. gathering, the learning, networking, and collaborating often continue. Some research groups stay in touch and continue their research, often presenting their work at conferences around the globe and publishing in top industry journals. 

Melinda Whitford, Research Analyst, Office of the Provost, University at Buffalo, was selected to participate in the 2018 NCES Data Institute. Her group members were all selected from different education-related fields and various institutions, but they shared a common passion for STEM education. During the face-to-face meeting in Washington D.C., Whitford and her teammates had the opportunity to collaborate side-by-side. They began to work together as a research group, as opposed to separate individuals with a common interest. They reported out on the collaborative work titled “Do informal, out-of-school STEM activities influence career choices in STEM majors in college?” that they conducted in a virtual environment prior to arrival. Post-Institute, they decided to extend their project, given the data that became available later that summer.

The team presented initial findings at AERA’s (American Educational Research Association) annual conference and at NARST’s (National Association of Researchers in Science Teaching) annual conference this past year, as well at the AIR Forum in Denver in May of 2019. From additional feedback received at these events, the group was able to complete an academic research paper that was submitted this past summer to the Journal of Research in Science Teaching

“While as researchers, it’s always the focus to publish the work that we do, what I value more from this experience is the friendships that we’ve established,” Whitford said. “We continue to stay in touch. We celebrate each other’s milestones such as completing dissertations and getting first assistant professor positions. And I fully expect that we will continue to work together on future research projects as we continue to grow in our own respective fields.”

Katie Smith, Assistant Professor, Department of Education Leadership, Management & Policy, Seton Hall University, participated in the NCES Data Institute as a Ph.D. student in 2018 and has since completed her degree and entered academia as an assistant professor in higher education. The Institute was instrumental not only in expanding her understanding and use of NCES datasets, but in providing a valuable professional network and an opportunity to create publishable work. With the guidance of a highly encouraging and experienced mentor in the field, her team of six continued to work together after the Institute and successfully published a research brief in Educational Researcher in 2019. Two years after they all first applied to the Institute, her team continues to collaborate, and they are in the midst of wrapping up a second manuscript related to their Institute work.

“The Institute is a fantastic way to make connections across higher education,” Smith said, “allowing you to build a strong network with doctoral students and professionals who share your curiosity and drive for learning about data resources and doing meaningful research in education.”

Visit the NCES Data Institute webpage for more information and to apply for an upcoming Institute.