Brian Burt will soon be among an elite group of scholars considered the strongest education researchers in the field.
Burt, an assistant professor in the Iowa State University School of Education, is a recipient of the 2016 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, which supports early-career scholars working in critical areas of education research.
“Receiving the Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Academy of Education is truly a significant achievement for any faculty member,” said Pamela White, dean and Dean’s Chair of the College of Human Sciences.
“We are very proud of Brian for being successful in this competitive environment,” White said. “The experience will allow him to excel in his research and establish a remarkable reputation from the beginning of his career.”
Burt is the third faculty member from Iowa State to receive the postdoctoral fellowship, which funds proposals that make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education. The first Iowa State recipient was Susan Cross, a professor of psychology, in 1992. The second was Amy Bix, a professor of history, in 2000.
Black male participation in STEM
The fellowship means Burt, who was among 41 new employees who joined the College of Human Sciences in the fall of 2014, will take a one-year leave from teaching at Iowa State.
He’ll spend the 2016-2017 academic year focusing on his research of what leads black men to continue their participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
His project, “Exploring learning and theorizing engineering identity: The key to sustaining STEM participation for black men," will collect interview data from 20 black men from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
"This theory-generating study seeks to better understand engineering identity and its role in long-term participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” Burt said.
Burt’s Spencer project is an extension of research that Burt is working on called, "Black male engineers in Iowa: Identifying barriers and improving practices to broaden participation in colleges of engineering."
That project, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Iowa Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), similarly includes interviews with 20 black male graduate students in engineering attending Iowa State University and the University of Iowa.
Burt’s early findings showed that black men earning their doctorate in engineering changed their outlook on their career path, and how they identified with their program, based on what they learned and how they interacted with advisers and other students.
“Those who had positive relationships with their adviser and lab mates felt attached to their institution and program,” he said. “Those who had negative relationships felt inadequate at their institution and questioned their decision to remain in their program and in some cases, the field of engineering.”
Burt said together, the two research studies will generate a new theory on engineering identity to expand existing understandings of the complexities of STEM participation for black men.
New ideas about education to improve students’ lives
Burt was among 30 selected for the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship this year from a pool of 176 applicants. He will receive a $70,000 award for salary replacement and research expenses in the upcoming school year.
“Now in its 30th year, the fellowship program has nearly 800 alumni who include many of the strongest education researchers in the field today,” said Jack Busbee, a senior program officer with the National Academy of Education.
The fellowships are administered by the National Academy of Education, an honorary educational society, and funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, which believes that cultivating knowledge and new ideas about education will ultimately improve students’ lives and enrich society. The Spencer Foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $500 million since 1971.
“The academy believes the fellowships enhance the future of education research by developing new talent in the many disciplines and fields represented by the scholars selected,” Busbee said. “These fellowships are the oldest source of support for education research, nationally and internationally, for recent recipients of the doctorate.”