Professors Extend Learning During Sabbaticals


Faculty members who take sabbaticals are given an opportunity to broaden their knowledge and dig deep into an area of study that interests them. These faculty members chose to use their off-time to conduct research on topics from the history of education in Nicaragua to rumination in adolescents.

Christin Cleaton-Ruiz, Ph.D.
Educating Nicaragua

Christin Cleaton-Ruiz, Ph.D., associate professor of history, has always been drawn to Nicaraguan history.

“Nicaragua is a nation that has experienced such tremendous challenges in the 20th century,” Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz says. “It is a place where people are highly politically engaged and pay attention to their local and national governments.”

To combine her passions of education and Nicaraguan history, Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz began working on a project that details the history of education in Nicaragua from the 1890s to the present.

To advance her research, Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz spent three months during her spring 2014 sabbatical in Nicaragua, meeting with a dozen different teachers, including two administrators from the normal school in Estelí. Her goal was to understand what textbooks Nicaraguan social studies teachers were using and how they used them. She also explored how Nicaraguan teachers planned their lessons in relation to the national frameworks coming from Managua. 

Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz was most surprised by the chronic shortage of materials in Nicaraguan classrooms.

“Officially, all textbooks are supposed to be free and available, but in practice, this is rarely the case,” Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz says. “What I found most surprising was how many classrooms, even in urban areas, have no textbooks available at all.”

In addition to the shortage of textbooks, Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz noted the continuing use of outdated teaching methods in the classrooms, in spite of national-level curriculum standards that incorporate reflective and analytical content.

“The emphasis is still too often on rote memorization dictated by the teacher and little development of critical-thinking skills,” Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz says. “This is changing, as newer textbooks include reflection questions attached to the chapters, but slowly.”

On a positive note, Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz discovered that Nicaraguan teachers in urban schools meet monthly with other colleagues in their disciplines to collaborate and discuss lesson plans and teaching methods. This professional development helps to emphasize the importance of students’ analytical skills in social studies classes.

Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz hopes to publish an article on her findings and believes her research would not have been possible without the opportunity to take a sabbatical.

“Tracking down individuals willing to share their materials takes time and persistence and must be done in person, which can only happen with a sabbatical,” Dr. Cleaton-Ruiz says.

Shoba Sharad Rajgopal, Ph.D.
Retracing Roots

Shoba Sharad Rajgopal, Ph.D., tenured associate professor of ethnic and gender studies, spent her fall 2013 sabbatical retracing her roots by returning to her home country of India to research human rights efforts.

After the Supreme Court in India decided to overturn a Delhi High Court ruling that decriminalized same-sex acts, Dr. Rajgopal decided to travel to India and the Colombo area of Sri Lanka to investigate gender issues and the role grassroots and non-government organizations were playing in response to the legislations.

Dr. Rajgopal met with activists and journalists in both countries and discussed what was being done. She found that the organizations were holding protests in the streets and using social media to get their messages across.

What struck Dr. Rajgopal was the level of support she saw for LGBTQ rights.

“It was heartening to see that many of the Indian media support the LGBTQ activists through their articles and news coverage, and criticized the Indian Supreme Court decision,” Dr. Rajgopal says. “It was interesting to see that a sizeable percentage of the general public appears to support them as well.”

Dr. Rajgopal applied her research into a civic engagement class she taught in spring 2014 and is planning to write an article about her findings and submit it to an academic journal. She also discussed her findings at the 2014 National Women’s Studies Association Conference in November.

“This was an amazing learning experience, and I am humbled by the courage and integrity of many of the activists that I met, working in this field under very difficult conditions,” Dr. Rajgopal says.

Rebecca Burwell, Ph.D.
Rumination Research

Dr. Rebecca Burwell, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, spent her fall 2013 sabbatical researching the topic “Self and Emotion Processes Linked with Brooding Rumination among Adolescents.”

As Dr. Burwell explains, rumination is defined as “focusing on depressive symptoms and the possible causes and consequences of those symptoms” (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). Rumination is a topic she researched throughout college, and she even conducted rumination research as part of her dissertation.

“I conducted that research because I strongly believed it was important to demonstrate that self-focus is not universally problematic; rather, it is the dwelling focus that is deleterious, and the data I gathered supported that claim,” Dr. Burwell says.

Intrigued by the increase in depression rates during adolescence,
Dr. Burwell once again focused on that age group because of its ability to adapt.

“Adolescents are sufficiently developed, cognitively, to engage in self-reflection, but are still young enough to easily make changes in coping and cognition that can shift maladaptive patterns as well as self-concept,” Dr. Burwell says.

Working with her research mentor, Stephen Shirk, Ph.D., a faculty member at the University of Denver, Colo., Dr. Burwell recruited participants through different high schools.

Participants came to the labs twice and completed the third questionnaire via mail or the Internet.

Dr. Burwell hypothesized that individuals who believed negative emotions were dangerous would suppress negative emotions, resulting in brooding about their negative feelings. Her findings revealed a slightly different conclusion.

“The best-fitting model was one in which emotional beliefs directly predicted the development of brooding rumination over time,” Dr. Burwell says. “Thus, it’s not whether or not one suppresses negative emotions that’s linked with brooding rumination; rather, it’s the fear about emotions being dangerous that stirs up the tendency to dwell.”

In addition, Dr. Burwell discovered other pieces of her hypothesis to be correct.

“I found, as hypothesized, that self-worth contingencies—that is, the tendency to yoke one’s self-esteem to positive external feedback—predicted these negative beliefs about emotion and brooding rumination and appear to be an important target for intervention and prevention,” Dr. Burwell says.

Dr. Burwell organized her findings and wrote an article that was submitted to the Journal of Adolescence. After receiving positive feedback, she is revising the article and will resubmit it after finishing her revisions.


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