“You can’t ask them to come to you, you’ve got to go to them,” Julie Washington, PhD said pointedly to me. It was the fourth day of a week-long research symposium in the Açores, and Dr. Washington was teaching me a lesson about the importance of ground-level research.
This was my first engagement with the scientific community, and it didn’t seem to be going well. Almost a decade later, and now friends, Julie laughs at that story, but it always makes me reflect on how pivotal my doctoral experience was. Although my expectation was that the journey would support my professional growth, the doctoral program has helped me generate impact in much larger ways.
As a key component of the DBA is the managerial contribution, there is a natural integration of practice and research embedded in the program. That realization caused me to consider how we could develop more opportunities to integrate research and practice within our organization, and how we might consider ways to leverage the knowledge we develop during that process to grow our impact.
In 2019, we launched a new division of our organization called the Southport CoLAB, which has a mission to integrate research, practice, and advocacy to affect positive outcomes for people with learning and attention issues.
Developed with the support of Social Venture Partners, the CoLAB is based on a social entrepreneurship framework where educators and families from low-income communities can access research- and evidence-based instructional strategies, materials, and courses for free.
Following Dr. Washington’s advice, the CoLAB is also embedded within several low-income school communities, providing free training, tutoring, and resources, like at Adam J. Lewis Academy in Bridgeport, CT (see picture).
During the spring of 2020, we developed research-based preschool instructional modules to help support at-home learning so that children in vulnerable communities would not fall even further behind in school.
This past year presented an even larger opportunity for impact when the president of Haskins Laboratories appointed me as director of a new initiative called the Haskins Global Literacy Hub.
Haskins, formally affiliated with the University of Connecticut and Yale University, is an international community of researchers who conduct basic research on spoken and written language. The Hub was launched to create new opportunities for researcher-practitioner partnerships, with an aim of developing scalable and accessible solutions to close the literacy gap, especially in under-resourced communities
around the globe.
Through multiple partnerships, we support the development of multidisciplinary research projects and the distribution of free research- and evidence-based products, services, and resources. For example, in the spring and summer of 2020, we structured an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank and Grapho-Game, an educational technology app developed by Haskins-affiliated researchers, to provide the app for free in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Panamá, Perú, USA, and Venezuela.
Through various initiatives, our work has impacted well over 1 million families across six continents in our inaugural year.
My DBA experience at GEM continues to enrich my professional and personal life, leading me to constantly ask, what will come next? It has afforded me opportunities to lead global projects, engage in multidisciplinary research, and develop new initiatives that would have otherwise been unimaginable.
Most important, as Julie would remind me, the outcomes from all of these efforts provides equitable access to learning opportunities, which leads to generational change.
Dr. Benjamin Powers – DBA 2017 Graduate
Head of The Southport School, Founder and Executive Director of the Southport CoLAB, Director of the Haskins Global Literacy Hub
Photo top: AJ Lewis Academy students, Photo bottom: Patty Lewis, school benefactor.