Educational Research and Policy Analysis Students Receive Dissertation of the Year Awards

Current and former Ph.D. students in NC State’s Educational Research and Policy Analysis-Higher Education Policy program have had a big year earning awards, specifically awards recognizing the excellence of their dissertations. These Dissertation of the Year awards recognize innovative methodology, advancement of knowledge, integration of research and theory, insightful implications for policy and practice, and generating or extending theory in the higher education field.

According to Dr. Audrey Jaeger, Associate Professor in Educational Research and Policy Analysis – Higher Education Policy at NC State, Dissertation of the Year awards are “the highest recognition for a student in [her] academic discipline.” Having had three of her advisees receive this highly distinguished award during the last year, she says “brings great visibility to NC State. “Personally,” Dr. Jaeger reports, “having three of my advisees win national awards for their dissertation research means I work with the best students in the country. I believe effective mentoring and guidance in the research process is extremely important to the disposition of early career researchers. I take immense pride in their accomplishments!"

Darris Means

Darris Means, one advisee of Dr. Jaeger who defended his dissertation this past December and is slated to receive his doctoral degree this May, was granted the first-place American Association for Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE) Dissertation Award. Means’s dissertation explored the spiritual journeys and spaces of Black gay male college students. His research explores topics related to educational equity and social justice, including topics related to college access and persistence for underrepresented and underserved students and the collegiate experiences of LGBTQ college students of color. With graduation soon approaching, Means has accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services and the College Student Affairs Administration Programs at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Krispin Barr, another former advisee of Dr. Jaeger was likewise recognized for her dissertation. Barr received the Dissertation of the Year Award from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in its higher education division for her dissertation entitled “The Historical Legacy of a Secret Society at Duke University (1913–1971).” Barr’s dissertation explored a collegiate secret society active at Duke University (Trinity College prior to 1924) from 1913 to 1971. Barr reports, “Researching the inner workings of an early-20th century collegiate secret society was fascinating. It revealed much about the cultural hegemony that was prevalent on many campuses during that time—reflecting a period in higher education’s past when the hegemony of the white male prevailed in student culture and fostered the composite ideal of the ‘Big Man on Campus,’ the handsome athlete, fraternity man, and club president destined for success in American public life.”

Krispin Barr

During her nearly 30 years of working in student affairs at colleges and universities in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast, Barr has “experienced firsthand the diversification and globalization of higher education in this country,” and she continues to be “intrigued by observing student culture and how it changes over time.” Since graduating from NC State in May 2013, Barr has continued to serve in her position of 14 years as dean of students at Salem College, a liberal arts college in Winston-Salem that is the oldest college for women in the country by founding date.

Stephany Dunstan

Educational Research and Policy Analysis Ph.D. recipient, Dr. Stephany Dunstan, marks a third NC State student and advisee of Dr. Jaeger to be awarded a Dissertation of the Year Award this year. Dustan’s recognition was awarded by the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE). Her dissertation “The Influence of Speaking a Dialect of Appalachian English on the College Experience” sought to understand how dialect as an element of diversity shapes students’ college experiences, particularly when the dialect is one that might stand out on campus.


Since receiving her Ph.D., Dunstan has stayed loyal to the Wolfpack as Assistant Director of the Office of Assessment at NC State and in continuing research to execute the implications for practice from her dissertation. “When we think about diversity in higher education,” she explains, “we don’t often think specifically about language or dialect, and unfortunately, there are a lot of stereotypes about language use and misinformation that can negatively impact our experiences.” Accordingly, Dunstan is currently working with Dr. Jaeger and Dr. Walt Wolfram on a project “Educating the Educated: A University Wide Linguistic Diversity Initiative” to raise awareness of and celebrate language diversity on campus. In hopes of spreading understanding of dialect diversity, the group has created a dialect diversity vignette, which includes an appearance from the Chancellor, that they hope will be viewed by every member of the campus community.

The Graduate School extends warm congratulations to these three outstanding students for their award-winning dissertations and applauds them their continued contributions to the field of higher education!

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