Avery Harrison ’19

By the time Avery Harrison graduated with a psychology degree from the University of Richmond in 2015, she knew that grad school would be her next logical step. To prepare, she took time teaching English as a second language in Thailand, then in Spain. These experiences sharpened her focus on education, and led Harrison to WPI, where “the model of theory and practice embodied my goals for conducting meaningful research on student learning and supporting K-12 education,” she said, and thus set her on a path to an MS in LS&T in ’19, and now on a track to a PhD in ’22.

“Simply put, I believe that we can learn about what students do and do not understand in math by studying their actions, gestures, and speech as they solve problems,” she says. Harrison also believes that students can benefit from participating in games and activities that help students ground their understanding of a math concept through tangible experiences. “In general,” she says, “I think it’s worthwhile to consider learning activities that provide fun, engaging alternatives to traditional textbook work.”

The biggest surprise of her PhD journey has been the amount of freedom and support she’s been offered. “Each student who leaves the Learning Sciences & Technologies program cultivates a set of skills and experiences unique to their own interests and goals,” she says. With multiple opportunities for research, leadership roles, public speaking, and outreach, Harrison says she is “incredibly grateful.”

When asked what element of her education she values the most to date, she cites the cross-disciplinary work and research she’s been involved in, as well as the community fostered on campus. “I really appreciate the opportunities to work with so many members of WPI outside my field in an effort to promote STEM education and support women in STEM research,” she says.

Giving back to the community is high on her list, as a recent WIN (Women’s Impact Network) grant confirms. It began when her advisor, Erin Ottmar, had the idea for a Women’s Young Investigator (FYI) Fellowship program, which would allow research labs to facilitate cross-level mentoring among students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty. “Erin headed the original grant proposal, then went on maternity leave just as we began the first year of the program,” she explains. “I quickly realized that helping women in research is one of the most meaningful opportunities I’ve had at WPI. With substantial help from our program committee members, I started leading the program.” Now in its second year of funding, the WYI Fellowship has supported a total of 36 women as they represent WPI at research conferences around the globe.

With an eye toward a faculty position within a learning sciences or educational psychology department at a university, Harrison has sincere hopes to “continue my research, to mentor students, and to seek out opportunities for outreach initiatives targeting women and girls in STEM.”

With her WPI experience solidly supporting her ambitions, future classrooms may be in for a significant boon from the future Dr. Avery Harrison.

Honorable Mentions

• NSF Graduate Research Fellow • Women’s Impact Network Grant Recipient • Graduate Student Council of Arts & Sciences Representative • Learning Sciences Colloquium Series Organizer • Graduate Writing Tutor

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