Education Majors Delve into Issues of Diversity in Teaching – The College Today

Above: Elementary education major Kory Roberts works with students at Stiles Point Elementary School in 2019. (Photo by Heather Moran)


Education is a diverse field that serves students from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. So, it makes sense that finding ways to attract a more diverse pool of teachers to the field of education in the Palmetto State and beyond is critical to supporting students and ensuring equitable methods of learning.

That’s why Tracey Hunter-Doniger, an associate professor in the College of Charleston’s Department of Teacher Education, enlisted six students representing different education majors to serve on a summer research team tasked with studying challenges with teacher shortages, existing teacher education recruitment programs and ways to attract more diverse students to join the teaching field covering gender, race, religion and LGBTQ+ in South Carolina and in the United States. The students on the research team included Isabel “Izzy” Smith, special education; Jay Scott, middle grades education; Hannah Baker, dance and secondary education with a history focus; Dennis Wright, physical education teacher education; Olivia Ladines, secondary education with a social studies focus; and Kinandah Williams, elementary education.

“As a minority student at a PWI (predominantly white institution), as well as a future educator, I am always looking for ways to increase diversity, and this project allowed my peers and me to dive into research, finding the issues within education that are causing the lack of diversity in teaching,” says Williams. “It was interesting to see the statistics behind the education major and the demographics of teachers across the United States and the world. Diversity in teaching isn’t just a problem in the U.S., but rather a global issue. Being able to possibly lend a hand and be a part of the solution was what appealed most to me and why I enjoyed conducting the research.”

Hunter-Doniger’s research team was part of the Center for Partnerships to Improve Education’s (CPIE) Summer Research Employment program, which provides students the opportunity to gain research skills under the mentorship of faculty from the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance (EHHP). To make the opportunity viable for all students, CPIE provides a stipend throughout the program. Since 2017, a total of 64 students have participated in the program. The 2021 summer session proved to be a banner year with 14 faculty/staff mentoring 24 students on 16 research projects.

Because things like culturally responsive pedagogy and critical race theory have been hot topics in the world of education, Hunter-Doniger’s project held particular appeal to some of the students working on the project, says Smith.

“These educational theories highlight the idea that teachers – in order to cultivate strong, independent learners in their classrooms – have to prepare to be as adaptive and receptive to their students’ cultural needs,” she says. “This research was the perfect way to do a deep dive into what those theories mean and how I can use them in my teaching.”

teacher education professor tracey hunter-doniger meets over zoom with student researchers

Teacher education professor Tracey Hunter-Doniger, top center, meets over zoom with student-researchers.

Via Zoom, Hunter-Doniger and the students brainstormed and investigated different terms, theories, histories and statistics. Each student received a weekly topic to research and presented a summary of findings the following week.

“As the project progressed, their confidence increased,” says Hunter-Doniger. “They made connections and chose topics that extended their investigations. They then collaborated in pairs, reading each other’s conclusions, peer reviewing and making revisions.”

The students uncovered some surprising information. Smith was shocked by the extent to which teacher education programs contribute to the poor attitudes and pedagogical methods of teachers. Williams found that many college students choose not to go into education because of a lack of support from families, administrators and communities. She also found many students are not aware of the amazing benefits that come along with being a teacher, such as loan/debt forgiveness, paid holidays and salary raises.

The team compiled their findings and submitted them to the University of South Carolina Center for the Education and Equity of African American Students conference and to a peer-reviewed journal. During the fall 2021 semester, they plan to host a lunch-and-learn event on campus to share their research.

Williams was proud that the team went beyond a standard research project.

“The issue with research seems to be that researchers find issues but do not provide solutions to these issues,” she says. “Our team has included solutions that could potentially increase diversity in teaching. It is our hope that we will be able to share these solutions with the higher-ups in education and that they will be implemented and make a difference in education.”

“Our research will hopefully lay the groundwork for major improvements in teacher education and recruitment,” agrees Smith. “We were able to identify numerous instances in which scholarships, programs and admissions are inherently biased against students of diverse backgrounds – and if there’s one thing we learned, it’s that the best way to ensure diverse teaching strategies are being utilized in schools is to hire diverse teachers. I believe that, with the background knowledge we were able to prove in our project, we can continue that discussion to enact considerable but necessary changes in order to guarantee diversity in education.”

Hunter-Doniger couldn’t be prouder of what her research team accomplished: “These students are true change-makers.”

The other CPIE Summer Research Employment 2021 projects include:

  • Analysis of data collected by the Student Health Survey Team on COVID-19 and student stress led by Christy Kollath-Cattano, Department of Public Health associate professor, with Samantha Petillo
  • Analysis of data collected to assess sociodemographic, health, environmental and societal factors that may have influenced COVID-19 infection and perceived susceptibility to COVID-19 infection led by Leslie Hart, Department of Health and Human Performance associate professor, with Jack Golder
  • Data analysis of the BrainBuilders program led by Anne Gutshall, Department of Education chair, with Joshua McCall
  • The effect of stimulating blood flow on the stiffness and elasticity of aging tendons, specifically in 50+ year-old participants led by Sarah Porto, Department of Health and Human Performance visiting assistant professor, with Cynthia Ruiz
  • Examining the flood trends and composition of flood waters in downtown Charleston led by Brian Bossak, EHHP associate professor, with Julia Hormann
  • Exploring community interactions with the Lowcountry Lowline and identifying activity patterns within Charleston’s green spaces led by Morgan Hughey, Department of Health and Human Performance assistant professor, with Lilli Butterfield
  • Investigating the association of air pollution with increased risk of dying from COVID-19 led by Brian Bossak, with Samantha Andritsch
  • Investigation of issues impacting minority educators who identify as African American men led by Anthony James, director of Minority Education and Outreach, with Kyle Fersner
  • Investigation of the prevalence and availability of behavioral interventions and resources related to physical activity, nutrition and chronic disease self-management programs in long-term care facilities and identification of any potential relationships to the presence of these resources with COVID-19 outcomes in these facilities led by Katie Trejo Tello, Department of Health and Human Performance assistant professor, with Eleanore “Ele” Fish
  • Qualitative data collection and analysis to adapt the messaging for the “Do you want a period campaign” to college populations led by Sarah Maness, Department of Health and Human Performance assistant professor, with Carlisle McCullough and Grace Carulli
  • Quantitative research study examining the relationship between teacher beliefs on free markets and views on immigration and analysis of longitudinal outcomes data for Carolina Autism Transition Study (CATS) led by Will McCorkle, Department of Teacher Education assistant professor, with Jessie Montezuma
  • Relationship between electrolytes found in urine samples versus BMI of test subjects led by JD Adams, Department of Health and Human Performance assistant professor, with Maria File
  • Systematic literature review investigating interventions to improve vulnerable road user safety in Latin America led by Morgan Hughey and Sarah Porto, Department of Health and Human Performance visiting assistant professor, with Molly Hart and Anna Benson
  • The TRX® Suspension Trainer for balance, core strength and stability led by Wes Dudgeon, Department of Health and Human Performance associate professor, with Hallie Hammond
  • Use of Workplace PERMA Profiler as a guide to understand teacher wellbeing in high-needs schools led by Adam Jordan, Department of Teacher Education associate professor, with Jamie Jensen and Emma Chivily