Doctoral graduate from UNT’s College of Education wins national doctoral dissertation award
DENTON (UNT), Texas — Mary Amanda “Mandy” Stewart has earned the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award from PDK International for research that she conducted while earning a doctoral degree in literacy and language studies from the University of North Texas’ College of Education.
Stewart received the doctoral degree in 2012 and is now a postdoctoral research associate for the Morningside Children’s Partnership, an initiative with UNT to improve the academic outcomes of children in Fort Worth’s Morningside community by focusing on young people’s educational, health and emotional needs from conception through college.
Stewart’s research examined how Latino and Latina adolescent immigrants are gaining literacy skills outside of school — through Facebook, after-school jobs and entertainment such as movies, television and music videos.
She will present the details of her research and accept a $5,000 award from Dr. Patricia Williams, PDK’s president-elect, at a reception at 4 p.m. March 22 (Friday) in the Golden Eagle Suite of UNT’s University Union, 1155 Union Circle. In addition to the cash award, a summary of her research will be published in the educational journal, Kappan.
Stewart’s dissertation — titled Social Networking, Workplace, and Entertainment Literacies: The Out-of-School Literate Lives of Newcomer Latina/o Adolescents —focused on four Latino high school students who were new to the U.S. and learning English.
Although struggling in school, they demonstrate through Facebook that they are using multiple languages, Stewart said. They are crossing virtual borders to talk with friends and family in other countries through electronic communication, showing they possess sophisticated transnational skills, she said. And they communicate in multimodal ways – through video and pictures, her research showed.
“They were acquiring English more effectively through these means than in school,” Stewart said. “We need to consider what it means to be literate and to be educated. Most of these students probably will not graduate from high school, because even though they are trying so hard, they need to pass the high-stakes tests by the time they turn 21.”
While they have valuable skills, they are not able to leverage these skills in the current academic setting due to schools' narrow definition of literacy, she said. Stewart suggests that educators modify classroom practices to more effectively teach 21st-century literacy skills.
The four students she studied wanted to be a bilingual teacher, pediatrician, detective and defense attorney, she said.
“In medicine, criminal justice, the legal system and education, we need bilingual people,” she said. “We need people who can cross borders on a daily basis. Our society desperately needs the skills they already possess, but we are not valuing what they have.”
Carol Wickstrom of the UNT faculty chaired Stewart’s dissertation committee, which also included Leslie Patterson of UNT, Nora White of Texas Woman’s University and Samuel Manickam of UNT.
Before earning her doctoral degree, Stewart taught Fort Worth ISD students who had recently arrived in the United States from other countries.
“I knew I could come here to UNT and focus my efforts on these English learners at the secondary level,” she said.
Stewart also recently earned UNT’s College of Education 2012 Dissertation Award, which includes a $1,000 cash prize.
About PDK International
PDK International is a membership association that provides professional development opportunities to K-12 educators.
About UNT’s College of Education
UNT’s College of Education prepares students to contribute to the advancement of education, health and human development. Founded in 1890 as a teacher’s training college, UNT now enrolls more than 4,000 students in the College of Education, which consists of four departments — counseling and higher education; educational psychology; kinesiology, health promotion and recreation; and teacher education and administration. UNT’s College of Education certifies about 1,000 teachers a year — making it the largest producer of new teachers in the north Texas region. Students are also prepared for careers as researchers, counselors, leaders, physical activity and health promotion specialists, child development and family studies specialists and more.