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UW education scholar wins early-career award for new study of college choice

April 29, 2010

The William T. Grant Foundation has appointed a UW–Madison education professor to the 2010 class of William T. Grant Scholars, an elite group of early-career researchers studying ways to improve the lives of youth.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology, is one of four recipients chosen this year in a challenging national competition. Applicants must first garner the nomination of their individual colleges before submitting a rigorous, five-year research and professional development plan designed to expand their knowledge and skills in a new discipline or method.

“The W.T. Grant Scholars Award is highly competitive and prestigious, and we are very proud that professor Goldrick-Rab is among this year’s winners,” says Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER). “Her selection reflects the high quality of her research and the important issues it addresses.”

This year the foundation received 70 applications. Each scholar receives research support through mentorship, interdisciplinary experience and $350,000 distributed over five years.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” says Goldrick-Rab. “I’m grateful to the foundation for recognizing that, after we become professors and researchers, our own education should continue.”

The program will help Goldrick-Rab expand on a landmark, randomized trial of need-based student financial aid, which she co-directs with Douglas Harris, associate professor of educational policy studies and public affairs. In this new project, “Rethinking College Choice in America,” Goldrick-Rab will apply ideas and methods from developmental psychology and behavioral economics to examine how college students’ use of time, emotional experiences and amounts of sleep interact with financial aid and affect chances of earning degrees.

“These factors are not typically considered in studies of higher education policy and will shed new light on whether, how, and why financial aid impacts college completion,” says Goldrick-Rab.

Goldrick-Rab is the fourth UW–Madison faculty member to earn a place in the scholars program, which has appointed 138 scholars in its 27-year history. Previous UW–Madison appointees are Mary L. Schneider, professor of kinesiology and psychology; Laurence Steinberg, now a professor of psychology at Temple University; and Lawrence Wu, now a professor of sociology at New York University.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of the scholars program, Goldrick-Rab holds faculty affiliate appointments at several UW departments and centers, including WCER, the Institute for Research on Poverty, the La Follette School of Public Affairs, the UW Interdisciplinary Training Program for Predoctoral Research in Education Sciences and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. She is also senior scholar at the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

In addition to her program of academic research and teaching, Goldrick-Rab is mother to two young children (ages 3 years and 3 months), an active blogger and frequent policy consultant.

Founded in 1936, the William T. Grant Foundation funds high-quality empirical research, with the ultimate aim of improving the lives of youth ages eight to 25 in the United States, and leverages this work through capacity-building, communication and advocacy activities.