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Villanova Education Professor Named Co-Principal Investigator on $884,077 Gates Foundation Grant

Jerusha Conner

Villanova, Pa. – In an era of increased accountability and measured student outcomes in the field of public K-12 education, “student voice” is a growing movement that seeks to show school administrators productive ways to solicit and enact student input on matters including improving school culture, increasing student engagement and even reducing teacher turnover. It also supports instructional approaches, so that teaching is more responsive to students’ needs and ambitions.

Jerusha Conner, PhD, professor of Education in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been named a co-principal investigator on a two-year, $884,077 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a project, “Student Voice to Student Outcomes,” which will build evidence of the value of student voice practices in improving student outcomes and creating more equitable learning environments for all students.

The co-principal investigators on the project are Samantha Holquist, PhD, research scientist, The Search Institute, and Dana Mitra, PhD, professor of Education, Penn State University College of Education.

“One of our goals is to develop validated student self-report measures to capture students’ experiences,” Dr. Conner says. “These measures—grounded in the lived experiences of Black, Latinx and low-income students—will be designed for use in continuous school improvement efforts.”

The mixed-methods research project will partner with two US middle schools and two US high schools. The team, which includes high school aged youth researchers, will conduct focus groups, interviews and student self-report surveys. The goal is to examine the relationship between student voice practices and student outcomes, including student engagement, match course completion, GPA, and disciplinary reports.

Dr. Conner is director of the graduate programs in Education at Villanova, where she teaches courses in education policy and instructional leadership. Her research focuses on student engagement, student voice, youth activism, youth civic engagement and youth organizing. She is the author of The New Student Activists (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020), which examines the rise of college student activism since 2015. She is also the editor of Contemporary Youth Activism: Advancing Social Justice in the United States (ABC-CLIO, 2016), and Student Voice in American Education Policy (National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook, 2015). She holds a doctorate from Stanford University.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.