MERG Spotlight: DanikaPosted: November 1, 2013
We’re so glad to have another member join MERG. Here’s a spotlight on Danika, our latest graduate student member!
Hometown: Brandon, FL
Favorite Food: Avocados
Favorite Movie/TV Show: Groundhog Day
Q. How did you decide to come to UT Austin for graduate school?
A. My first positive experience with UT Austin happened at AERA’s 2012 conference in Vancouver, when I was befriended by a handful of cheerful MERG members. I later discovered that UT’s School Psychology program has an excellent reputation, and on my interview day I was impressed by the warmth of the students and faculty and the quality and breadth of the training. I’m really interested in how to apply self-determination theory to classroom practice, so Erika Patall’s research is a great match for me. And I was charmed by Austin itself, not least by the interview-day breakfast tacos.
Q. What do you like best about the educational psychology program?
A. Everything is new to me right now, so my answer to this question will likely change over time. Right now I’m thrilled by the opportunity to be a part of the school psychology program and the MERG lab simultaneously. I want to eventually become a school psychologist who conducts research or program evaluation in schools, so it’s exciting that my training already involves a mixture of practical skills and research.
Q. How did you decide on your current research interests?
A. As a teacher, I was always drawn to students who didn’t like school or who shied away from difficult tasks. I’ve always believed that every student could connect with school and embrace challenge if teachers created motivating environments. In my teaching, I became particularly fascinated by issues surrounding autonomy-support and growth-mindset thinking—how could my curriculum balance freedom with high standards, and how could I encourage students to focus on improvement instead of performance? Once I started my Master’s program I was delighted to discover the rich body of research on these topics, and I want to become a school psychologist who helps put classroom research into practice—one teacher, school, or district at a time.
Q. Name one thing you have always wanted to do but have not yet had the chance.
A. Write a book.
Q. Do you have any interesting or unusual hobbies?
A. I love collage and bookmaking, and actually taught a paper crafts elective when I was a middle school teacher.
Q. What’s something a lot of your colleagues don’t know about you?
A. I have a black belt in karate.
Q. What was your proudest moment or greatest accomplishment?
A. My last year as a middle school English teacher, one of my primary goals was to promote growth-mindset thinking and an emphasis on process instead of product. On the last day of school, I ended class with a compliment circle, and almost every compliment the students offered focused on a peer’s effort or specific improvements—“I know you didn’t like reading very much last year but this year you worked really hard and got better at it,” or “You really added a lot of similes to your poems this year and that was neat.” That was a proud moment.