“Not only is Amira a graduate student in our college, she is also the associate director of partnerships and programs in our Teacher Leadership Center…Amira is a perfect example of integrating scholarship with service and action.” -Mark McDermott, clinical professor, science education
Hometown: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Faculty mentor/advisor: Saba K. Vlach, PhD, assistant professor, elementary literacy; Carolyn Colvin, PhD, associate professor, English education; Mitchell Kelly, PhD, clinical professor, educational psychology and learning sciences; and Brian An, PhD, associate professor, higher education and student affairs and sociology and criminology.
What is your degree program and expected graduate date? PhD in language, culture, and literacy education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, December 2024.
Please describe your research: My research focuses on 1) providing Black students also identified as English Language Learners (ELLs) with a linguistically just education that recognizes their identities and linguistic gifts and 2) recruiting and retaining more teachers of color in Iowa.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? When I taught high school here in Iowa City, for most of my students, I was their first Black teacher. For some, I was the only teacher of color they had ever had. In my own K-12 experience growing up in Cedar Rapids, I never had a Black teacher. Representation matters. For Black immigrant students also identified as ELLs, learning Black English can be a means of gaining social capital, yet traditional approaches to teaching English do not recognize Black English as a legitimate form of English. I study how the effects of prioritizing white mainstream English in education affect sense of self and identity for Black immigrant students identified as ELLs.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? During my sophomore year of my undergraduate program here at Iowa, I began a research practicum in a psychology lab.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Research has provided me an aspect of autonomy over my education that I haven’t had before and has provided me opportunities to gain a community of critical scholars that are also interested in studying the social context of education and aimed at creating a more just education for students who have historically been marginalized.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? My ultimate goal is to create actionable research that will change the culture of schools in Iowa so that educators of color are valued, celebrated, and provided a socially just and inclusive environment in which to work; and that education policies and practices will recognize and value the racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic identities of students of color, especially Black students also identified as ELLs.
Banner location: Downtown—In the Ped Mall, in front of Merge