In September 2022, the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) announced the creation of the Postsecondary Education Research & Implementation Institute (PERI²). PERI² represents an interdisciplinary team of campus leaders, including the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and the UCI School of Education, that have come together to support and conduct research centered around the goal of equitable student access. In addition to serving as the research branch of DTEI, PERI² also prioritizes the application of evidence-based practices and policies to promote educational equality and student success both at UCI and across the higher education system.
For more information on PERI²’s development, its goals, and what’s coming down the pipeline, we spoke with PERI² Senior Research Associate Sabrina Solanki, PhD.
Q: How was PERI² developed?
Sabrina: PERI² evolved from the Provost-funded Education Research Initiative (ERI). Like PERI², ERI was envisioned as a means of bringing together interdisciplinary researchers from across the campus to conduct cutting-edge education research that would then be implemented at UCI and beyond. But what ERI lacked was a direct connection to the faculty professional development space as well as the institutional structures that establish academic programs and policies. By existing under the umbrella of the Office of the Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning, specifically within the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation, we anticipate a much tighter connection between research and practice, which will ultimately lead to greater success for our student community.
Q: What is PERI²’s purpose and main goals?
Sabrina: I would say that PERI²’s purpose is to support and conduct research that fosters equitable student success and to implement this research in college and university settings. In regard to our research mission, we aim to identify and disseminate interventions and instructional practices and policies that have the potential to improve the student experience and postsecondary success. Our implementation mission aims to support and facilitate the application of these interventions, practices, and policies across a variety of postsecondary settings.
To achieve our goals, we prioritize the formation of partnerships with researchers, instructors, professional development staff, administrators, and others within the UCI community and at other postsecondary institutions. The Examining STEM Transfer Pathways Conference we hosted this past July is one recent example of the cross-institutional partnerships PERI² looks to foster.
Q: What is your role within PERI² and what are your main responsibilities?
Sabrina: I am a Senior Research Associate and part of the PERI² leadership team along with Brian Sato (DTEI Associate Dean), Di Xu (PERI² Faculty Director), and Natascha Buswell (PERI² Faculty Director of Education Initiatives).
I wear a number of different hats in this role. First, I pursue a research agenda centered around identifying, implementing, and evaluating evidence-based interventions, instructional practices, and policies across a variety of postsecondary settings to improve college completion and workforce development. I pursue grants to support the research effort and bring folks together to make the research effort a collaborative one. I also develop and lead PERI² programming activities such as our quarterly research seminar and faculty development workshops. These programming activities are meant to bring awareness to the campus community about higher education research and also support staff as they pursue their own education research goals. I also manage our consulting and evaluation services and oversee research staff in this area.
Q: What are some of PERI²’s plans for this year?
Sabrina: We are actively pursuing a research agenda to reach our goals, and I think there are three key projects worth highlighting here. First, we are examining the impacts of teaching-focused faculty across the UC system and identifying means to help these individuals reach their full potential and really serve as drivers of curriculum and pedagogical innovation. Second, we are developing, implementing, and measuring the impacts of a mentoring and skill-building program for second-year STEM students to improve retention, particularly for minoritized populations. Lastly, we are exploring a new research strand that aims to inform how we can build better two- and four-year collaborations to improve the STEM transfer pathway and transfer student success.
For the upcoming academic year, we also have plans to implement activities for the campus’ education research community. First, we will be holding a quarterly research seminar series called Currently in Education Research. Our first seminar is scheduled for Thursday, October 13, 2022, and we have invited Dr. Nicholas Bowman from the University of Iowa to speak. Dr. Bowman will discuss the purpose and implications of academic probation, and his talk will be open to the entire UCI community. Our second activity is a workshop series that will support faculty interested in pursuing education research. This workshop series will begin this winter with a session that will help faculty develop a research question and study plan. Additionally, we will offer sessions introducing faculty to the quantitative and qualitative data analysis tools commonly used in education research. The workshop series will culminate with a poster session in the spring where faculty will share their study and what they have learned from their research.
We also want to bring more awareness to our consulting and evaluation services and let the campus community know that we are a valuable resource that has the capacity and expertise to serve as an external evaluator for education-focused projects, contracts, and research grants. Ultimately, our long-term goal is to grow in terms of projects, people, and impact.