Bio: Christina is a PhD candidate in Educational Technology and Learning Design. As an educator, Christina is greatly interested in and dedicated to education, empowerment, and equalizing power and privilege for historically excluded, and oppressed peoples of all backgrounds and identities, and the lifelong learning that requires. Her research interests include sense of belonging and inclusion in online learning environments, particularly the possibilities of the learning management system as a third space for students to engage and develop in academic socialization and scholarship. Christina is thankful for the identity development, empowerment, and opportunities higher education has brought her, and will continue to work to pay it forward to others.
What sparked your interest in doing research on sense of belonging and community inclusion?
As someone who moved a lot and went to seven schools in five US states from grades 1 to 9, I ended up feeling isolated, as I was always a newcomer. It is hard to build relationships with others when you are moving so much, and to experience support and resources.
Changing schools and neighbourhoods impacted me academically: both my confidence about my abilities and anxiety about being successful in school. Different US states had different education standards for curriculum and testing. I fell behind as early as 3rd grade in some subject areas like English and Math.
I never felt like I really caught up.
When I went to college later in life, I was an older student with much younger peers. As scared as I was to begin this endeavour, the students were welcoming and accepting! I was able to join in group work, study groups, etc. with relative ease. I learned a lot from the undergraduate students about how to be inclusive and build community cross-generationally. Faculty were approachable and empowering. At a middle stage in life, I was experiencing a learning community and sense of belonging in an academic setting for the first time. It was powerful; the perceived barriers I had carried with me melted away, and I started to experience success—a sense that I was capable. The learning community operated in a manner that supported students and fostered competitiveness—meaning you compete with yourself to be better, and support others in their growth and development. I could now identify with the “imposter syndrome” and understand other students had similar doubts and anxieties. I found I belonged, despite differences, and this impacted my ability to learn, my engagement with learning, and eventually my self-efficacy as a successful student.