From First-Gen to Grad-School Ready
For those looking for an intensive summer Field Work Term (FWT) experience, the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, hosted by the Research Institute in Sociology and Social Inequality at Texas A&M University, literally turns up the heat.
“I think it reached 115 degrees at one point!” said Kelsey Broadfield ’20, who attended REU over the summer to further her studies in sociology and public action, conduct research under the guidance of a mentor, and explore graduate school options.
In addition to taking a research methods class, Broadfield conducted new research, studying the test scores of Latinx students who have settled in new immigration destinations. These areas within the South, Northeast, and Midwest are those which are experiencing a new influx of immigrants, as compared to traditional border state destinations.
Broadfield’s research examined the standardized test scores of third- through eighth-grade students.
“Interestingly enough, all the past research focused mostly on English standardized testing scores, and there’s no difference in English skills around those in new versus traditional destinations,” said Broadfield. “However, there’s a statistically significant difference between math scores. So Latinx children in new destinations are struggling more in math than students in traditional destinations.”
Broadfield and her mentor, sociologist Dr. Pat Rubio Goldsmith, hope to publish a paper on these findings. Additionally, Broadfield will present her research at the Southwestern Social Science Association Conference in Orlando, FL, this October.
Broadfield prepared for her upcoming talk through weekly research presentations during REU. Through these sessions, she overcame her nervousness about public speaking.
“Every week, I stood up to present what I was working on, including a professional conference-ready presentation and a 15-minute Q&A,” said Broadfield.
Preparing to answer questions or accept feedback or criticism about your work makes you feel vulnerable, but it ended up being an awesome skill.
Kelsey Broadfield '20
Though Bennington’s seven-week FWT takes place during January and February, students have the option to apply for a deferral to take advantage of specific educational or professional opportunities that occur exclusively over the summer, such as an REU program.
The summer timing of the program, said Broadfield, also allowed for an extended experience. With this year’s requirement already under her belt, Broadfield intends to double down on her work during the winter.
“I still think I’m going to do something for FWT, find a project that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” said Broadfield.
Her REU experience at Texas A&M also furthered her commitment to studying social inequality.
“Last fall, I took my first sociology class with Debbie Warnock and fell in love with it,” said Broadfield.
Broadfield spent her first FWT in India working for the women’s empowerment social enterprise EcoFemme, which promotes healthy, dignified, affordable, and eco-positive menstrual practices. She followed that experience with a FWT at Boston-based Haley House, a nonprofit that operates a soup kitchen in addition to managing a social enterprise that employes previously incarcerated individuals in their cafe and bakery.
“All of my FWT experiences have explored different social inequalities and ways to mediate them,” Broadfield said. “Through sociology, I found that I could actually study and write about and research inequality, which is what I think I was looking for.”
Her experience at Texas A&M, said Broadfield, introduced her to the potential of applying her interests to a graduate school career.
“It all worked out nicely, to have two exploratory FWTs followed by this focused, research-based example of what I’d be doing if I continued with sociology, which I think I will,” said Broadfield.
Broadfield is a first-generation college student from a working-class background and is actively involved with FLoW, Bennington’s group that provides a network, resources, and support for first-gen, low-income, and working-class students on campus.
Though Broadfield hadn’t previously considered grad school, her experience with REU presented that option as a good path through which to continue researching social inequity in an academic setting.
“When I do go to graduate school, I think my focus will be on rural and working-class communities, as well as the experiences of first-gen and low-income college students,” said Broadfield. “I want to help explore how they get there, and how they get through.”
This academic year, Broadfield intends to diversify her skill set, taking classes on statistics and computer science to round out her resume for grad school.
“I learned that those hard skills can help me get into grad school, set me apart from other applicants, and help me succeed,” said Broadfield. “This summer, I did a lot of sociology, statistics, and research methods, so I’m working now on other tools that will help me.”
Though Broadfield is currently focusing on refining her path to grad school, she believes that her Bennington education has well prepared her for this process.
“When I was with the other members of my program at Texas A&M, I felt how Bennington prepared me in a way that I think is unique,” said Broadfield. “We had small classes, and that mimics what graduate school would be like—small classes, intense discussions, close student-advisor relationships—and we have all that at Bennington. I felt prepared.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer