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Our latest Faculty Chat features
Dr. Valerie Thompson-Ebanks.
Tell us something about the focus of your current research.
I’m really excited about
my research! I have varied interests, most of which
span working with diverse populations. I have conducted research on
students with disabilities, children living in impoverished communities who are
at risk for child abuse and neglect, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Currently, I’m working on two research projects. One is a paper—I’m pulling it
together from data gleaned from my dissertation—that focuses on the
experiences of students with invisible disabilities and factors that contribute to their college withdrawal.
So, you’re interested in why students with disabilities drop out of college?
I like to refrain from using the expression “drop out,” as it tends to have multiple interpretations. It typically reflects the point of view of the institution, rather than the student’s perspective on the issue. For instance, a student may leave one institution, and continue later at another where he/she successfully completes a college degree. In this instance the student would not use the term “drop out” to describe the college experience.
This area of research is of interest to me as the enrollment of students with disabilities over the past years has dramatically increased nationwide, yet graduation rate among this group is lower than their peers. Higher education is charged with not just focusing on providing access to students, but also to facilitate the success of those enrolled. My research provides a voice for this often unheard-from group of students to hopefully inform retention strategies.
Has anyone in higher administrative levels here at UWYO shown some interest in your findings?
Oh, absolutely! Currently, I am conducting a data driven research which is funded by the College of Health Sciences. This study examines factors contributing to voluntary college/university withdrawal of students with disabilities specifically focusing on a frontier college environment. This second project is different from the first paper because the former focuses on findings from my dissertation. My colleagues and folks in administration have particular interest in my area of research as we search for ways to increase college/university completion rates among students with disabilities.
Do you have the opportunity to talk to students about your research in class?
I have! I like to use research as a teaching tool in the classroom, and I was so excited last year when one of my MSW students decided to pursue research examining factors that contributed to Native American students’ withdrawal here at the University of Wyoming. She shared the data with the Multicultural Studies office. They were really thrilled about it and the director asked her if he could share it with the entire staff.
It must be satisfying to see your own research pique the interest of a student in this way!
Oh, yes! We are all pleased when our students engage in ethical research practice and share their findings. Adding to the body of existing knowledge and also being able to have that information to help plan retention strategies is very gratifying, indeed.
Do you think that the University of Wyoming is a good place for students with disabilities?
It’s difficult to really assess that at this point, yet I know that the folks at Disability, Support Services (DSS) here have been trying to re-tool and remain informed about the needs of students with disabilities and faculty members. That’s one of the reasons the research I’m engaged in is so relevant and timely. As social work practitioners, we subscribe to the model of hearing from our clientele. We at the University may think we are doing a great job, but that is no substitute for hearing the actual voices of this group of students. Whatever we’re doing well, we may need to magnify that, or we may identify gaps that we need to fill. I’m really not sure what we’ll find—it’s part of the process of exploration!
It’s important to me to work closely with students and be a mentor to Social Work undergraduates and graduate students regarding engaging in research to inform their future practice and practice using interventions informed by research evidence.