Campus News

BLOG: New UK College of Education Faculty Bridge Divides for Vulnerable and Underserved Populations

Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Education Julian Vasquez Heilig
Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Education Julian Vasquez Heilig

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 13, 2020) — Below is a blog from the University of Kentucky College of Education’s dean and professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, Julian Vasquez Heilig.

A diverse group of new faculty recruits to the University of Kentucky College of Education is making an impact in areas where needs are among the greatest and resources are often lacking. They will join distinguished researchers and educators who are addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the nation. 

We worked to recruit individuals who bring to the table a breadth of expertise and energy. Not only are they adding to the diverse representation of our college, but they are people who have dedicated their careers to developing knowledge that will uplift vulnerable populations

Their passions will be evident to students in their classrooms and expose students to critical theories on anti-racism, health disparities, and educational equity. They each represent an important voice among our growing body of experts using teaching, research and service efforts to lift our nation from the many divides we are facing.

Meet the New Faculty 

Cheryl E. Matias, Ph.D., professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction 

Cheryl E. Matias’ research focuses on race and ethnic studies in education with a theoretical focus on critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, critical pedagogy and feminism of color. Specifically, she uses a feminist of color approach to deconstruct the emotionality of whiteness in urban teacher education and how it impacts urban education. Her other research interest is on motherscholarship and supporting women of color and motherscholars in the academy. She is a former K-12 teacher in both South Central, Los Angeles Unified School District and Bed-Stuyvesant, New York City Department of Education. Matias was the 2019-2020 Interdisciplinary Institute for the Study of (In)Equality Visiting Professor at the University of Denver and was recently awarded the 2020 American Educational Research Association Mid-Career Award for her work on racial justice in teacher education. She was also an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. 

Philip Rumrill, Ph.D., CRC, professor, Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Counselor Education 

Philip Rumrill’s research interests include aging and disability, issues facing students with disabilities in higher education, assistive technology and reasonable accommodations, chronic illness, the career development implications of disability, workplace discrimination, program evaluation, research design and methodology and self-advocacy strategies for people with disabilities. A nationally Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Rumrill joined the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Counselor Education at UK on July 1. He also serves as director of research and training in the UK Human Development Institute. Rumrill comes from Kent State University where he was a professor and coordinator of the Rehabilitation Counseling Program and founding director of the Center for Disability Studies. 

Gregory Vincent, J.D., Ed.D., professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation 

Gregory Vincent is an acclaimed civil rights attorney and university professor and administrator. He previously served as vice president for diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin where he also was a professor in the School of Law and in the Department of Higher Education Administration, where he held the W. K. Kellogg Professorship in Community College Leadership. Vincent was named the 2016 Educator of the Year by the University of Pennsylvania and received the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Distinguished Service Award in 2012. Vincent serves as the 48th Grand Sire Archon for the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the Boulé. He previously served as the 16th President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, his alma mater. He will oversee research, teaching and service efforts in the areas of educational equity, civil rights and social justice.

Sahar Alameh, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of STEM Education 

Sahar Alameh taught high school science, including chemistry and physics, for seven years before completing her Ph.D. Having witnessed firsthand the difficulties teachers face when teaching science for understanding, her research focuses on improving students’ explanations and understanding of scientific phenomena. She develops philosophically-supported models of scientific explanation, which allow the meaningful assessment of student explanations, and the provision of specific feedback to enable students to reflect on and improve these explanations. Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, she is actively involved in research and outreach activities. She has been an editorial associate at the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, reviewing manuscripts on science teaching strategies, theoretical and empirical studies of effective pedagogies in science and theories related to science learning and teaching. Through overseeing the journal’s Doctoral Student Mentored Review Initiative, Alameh has supervised over 18 doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows in science education from universities around the world. 

Travis S. Andrews, Ph.D., CRC, assistant professor, Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Counselor Education  

Travis S. Andrews’ research interests include rehabilitation education related to recruitment and retention of minority students and rehabilitation counselors, distance education and technology in counseling and minorities with disabilities with a focus on mental health and school to work transition. His educational background includes degrees in sociology (B.A.), rehabilitation counseling (M.S.), and rehabilitation counseling and counselor education (Ph.D.). Andrews has 10 years of experience as a clinical rehabilitation counselor and owned and operated Andrews Counseling and Consulting, PLLC, in North Carolina. He is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), Board Certified TeleMental Health Provider (BC-TMH), and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor (LCMHCS) in North Carolina. 

Kayla Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation 

Kayla Johnson uses student voice, community-engaged, and visual participatory methods to explore issues relating to learning and social justice in international education settings. Her most recent projects explored how postsecondary institutions in Peru can better support first-generation Indigenous students from rural communities, as well as how international service learning programs can be designed to better meet the needs of host community members. Since 2016, she has co-operated a non-governmental organization in the Peruvian Andes that facilitates access to culturally-grounded education for Indigenous children and adults. 

Sarah E. LaCour, Ph.D., J.D., assistant professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation 

Sarah E. LaCour’s current work includes an investigation of the equity in access to educational opportunity under a state-wide school choice initiative. She relies on her years of experience both as a classroom teacher and as a practicing litigator to inform her research. Her research interests lie in policy evaluations using both legal and quasi-experimental analysis. Her recent publications include quasi-experimental analyses of Denver’s professional compensation program and of a detracking initiative in upstate New York. She is also published in both legal handbooks and practitioner periodicals. 

Sharim Hannegan-Martinez, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction 

Sharim Hannegan-Martinez’s teaching-informed research examines the relationship between loving pedagogies, literacy and student wellness, particularly as it relates to students of color. Her most recent study explores the pedagogy of loving relationships — cultivated in part by the literacy practices employed by teachers — as an intervention to traumatic stressors within the context of urban classrooms. This research has been recognized by both the Ford Foundation’s Predoctoral and Dissertation Year fellowships. Before pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, she was a high school English teacher in East Oakland and worked with pre-service teachers in the University of San Francisco’s Urban Education and Social Justice (UESJ) program. She is a founding member of the People’s Education Movement Bay Area and has collaborated with other grassroots education organizations such as the Education for Liberation Network. 

Zitsi Mirakhur, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation 

Zitsi Mirakhur’s research focuses on understanding ways to generate more equitable school experiences and outcomes for all students, particularly students of color and those from economically disadvantaged families. Her most recent work focuses on examining the factors that contribute to inequality for historically underserved New York City students. Trained as a demographer, Mirakhur has experience working closely with qualitative researchers, on program evaluations and in research-practice partnerships with a variety of stakeholders including teachers, program developers and school district staff. Most recently, Mirakhur was a research associate at New York University’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools, where she continues to serve as an affiliated researcher.   

Justin Nichols, Ed.D., assistant professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion 

Justin Nichols’ areas of interest are associated with coaching contract development and sport as an agent of change in social mobility/social justice. He is committed to leadership through promoting diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in positions of centrality in sport/athletics. Other areas of interest include course, curriculum and program design/development. He serves on UK committees/boards at the college and university levels. He also serves as a committee member for Partnerships for Youth Grassroots Grant Campaign, helping local organizations promote activities for under-served youth in the Lexington area. Prior to his time at UK, he was a coach at a variety of levels ranging from elementary to collegiate; assistant athletic director at the high school level; and program/fitness director in the YMCA system. Nichols teaches courses in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion’s Sport Leadership emphasis, specifically in the areas of supervision, theory, and research methods at the graduate level as well as sport management and tests & measurements for the undergraduate level. He currently serves as the director of Life Fitness in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion and director of the graduate certificate in Sport, Fitness and Recreation Management. He serves as chair of the College of Education Undergraduate Recruitment, Retention and Student Success Committee.

Karen Perry, M.A., assistant professor, Department of Educational Leadership Studies 

Karen Perry previously served as the director of Personalized Learning and Innovative Design for Henry County Schools, a large suburban district with 50 schools and 43,000 students, located just south of Atlanta. She led personalized learning work, including strategic planning and district-level work to support the implementation shift to student-centered learning. Perry’s more than 20 years in education include teaching secondary social studies and serving as a graduation coach to support at-risk students in graduating on time. 

Shemeka Thorpe, Ph.D., post-doctoral scholar, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology 

Shemeka Thorpe’s research focuses on the sexual well-being of Black women from adolescence to early adulthood as well as the sexual health and substance use of college students. She is a Lyman T. Johnson postdoctoral fellow under the co-mentorship of Candice Nicole Hargons and Danelle Stevens-Watkins, both faculty members in the Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology. Thorpe earned her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in Community Health Education.