For Dr. Angela M. Locks, understanding how to successfully promote higher education is not just about theory and research. It also means taking into account the experiences of students. This is why the associate professor of educational leadership in the College of Education believes strongly in praxis – the process by which practice, research and theory are interconnected and influence one another.
Since joining the university eight years ago, Locks has been studying how students get to college and what happens to them when they get there. That includes evaluating the success of various college access programs and student retention in universities.
This is where praxis comes in. In doing her research, Locks utilizes something called “me-search,” a term she borrows from Department Chair Dr. Anna Ortiz. Me-search involves taking Locks’ own life experiences into account as starting points for her scholarship. Locks believes this approach is becoming increasingly important in higher education, particularly as diversity among young scholars grows.
“The experiences of scholars of color can provide insight into higher education research and change on campuses that benefit future students of color,” Locks says. Praxis is at the center of her co-authored book, Diversity and Inclusion on Campus: Supporting Racially and Ethnically Underrepresented Students.
During her sophomore year at the University of Michigan, Locks participated in a program called the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), which helped set her on the path to devoting her career to how to increase access, retention and academic performance for minority students.
“My UROP experience had a profound impact on my undergraduate years and my entire career to date,” says Locks. “It was the first opportunity I had to feel truly connected to my campus, and the opportunity to work with a faculty member alongside my peers was invaluable.”
The goal of UROP was, and still is, the increase in retention of students, particularly historically underrepresented minority students, including women in STEM fields. The belief is that incorporating students into the intellectual mission of universities plays a role in student retention.
While finishing her bachelor’s degree, Locks became a UROP peer advisor, and then she worked her way from program assistant to program coordinator. She left as an assistant director before beginning her doctoral studies.
Locks started a UROP program at CSULB, one of several programs funded partially by a $1.6 million grant from the California State University Chancellor’s Office. Through the program, first and second-year students serve as paid research assistants to various faculty members across all colleges. In addition, UROP provides academic support services for participating students through a bi-weekly research seminar and connection to a peer advisor. In this way, Locks is offering students in Long Beach the kind of experience she had as a college student. With “me-search” she hopes to ensure that access is available to students behind her in the education pipeline.
After two years in the program as a research assistant and now about to start her second year as a UROP peer advisor, senior Kassandara Chhay says the program gave her the confidence to decide her academic path.
“My parents did not fully understand what anthropology is or what an anthropologist does, but due to my work experience as an anthropology research assistant, they were more accepting of my choice in obtaining a degree in it,” Chhay says.
In addition to developing friendships with classmates and other research assistants, Chhay has also been gaining experience in advising students on research and college life and been given the opportunity to network with professors.
“UROP has made me appreciate the diversity of Long Beach, the importance of a community, and the value of an education,” Chhay says.
This past summer, Locks was named the inaugural director of the new Office of Undergraduate Research Services launched in fall 2016. The UROP program will be housed within the office.
“This is an exciting time to be at CSULB,” Locks says. “Our campus has a real opportunity to assume individual and collective responsibility for supporting the learning and growth of all of our wonderfully diverse students and I look forward to engaging with others in this important work.”