Set smart goals, divvy up the work, and then attack it. It’s an oversimplified, but accurate description of how new Neag School of Education Associate Dean for Research Sandra M. Chafouleas is working to support Neag faculty. Her commitment is not just to help colleagues advance their own individual research projects, but to advance the Neag School, UConn, and the field of education overall.
“It’s such an important time in education,” says Chafouleas who, with along with Neag Dean Richard Schwab and Associate Dean Casey D. Cobb, assumed her new role in July. “There’s so much in education we need to change and better understand. But to find the best solutions, we need to effectively study the problems. My job in a nutshell is to help identify research opportunities that match our faculty’s amazing expertise, shepherd our researchers through the proposal and grant management process, and work to increase the Neag School’s total research portfolio. It’s exciting because it’s a field I love, and the opportunities of what we can do are endless.”
“Sandy is among the top school psychology professors in the nation.”
—Dean Richard Schwab, Neag School of Education
Chafouleas’ “visible passion” for research is part of what made her Dean Schwab’s top choice for this newly created position. Also apparent was her desire to use the Neag School’s ambitious academic vision to take both the School and University to new heights, Dean Schwab says. But most impressive were her accomplishments: the awards and fellowships she received from organizations like the American Psychological Association, Association for Psychological Science, and UConn Alumni Association; the more than 100 articles, book chapters, and titles she authored; her work as both an educational psychology professor and school psychologist; and the research she’s conducted in the areas of children’s and school-based behavioral, social, and emotional health.
Her previous role as associate dean of UConn’s Graduate School also provided her with the leadership experience needed for what Dean Schwab calls “the most important new position we have created in many years in our School.” Also invaluable is her experience as chair of the University-wide Research Dean’s Council, which was created last year by UConn Vice President for Research Jeff Seemann to develop projects in major existing and emerging research areas, as well as facilitate increased interschool and interdisciplinary collaboration.
“We have recruited some of the top researchers in the field of education and have established a faculty of internationally recognized scholars,” Dean Schwab says, “and growing the Neag School’s research portfolio is one of our top priorities. Sandy is an outstanding scholar and researcher who will help make all of them more productive by supporting their grant writing, submissions, post-award implementations and, later, communicating results to the educators, alums, policymakers, and practitioners who will benefit from the new knowledge.
“Sandy is also among the top school psychology professors in the nation and has established an outstanding record of receiving large federal grants,” Schwab continues. “She’s worked with faculty across departments and has established a reputation as a collaborative person who delivers.”
A Vital Partner
Kent Holsinger, vice provost for UConn Graduate Education, credits Chafouleas with building the Graduate School’s Student and Postdoctoral Affairs division “from scratch.” It’s thanks her, Holsinger says, that graduate students are able to receive support and guidance in finding and applying for jobs and fellowships, among other services. He called her a “vital partner.”
“Sandy is an advocate and model of success for new and experienced researchers.”
—Scott Brown, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor
of Educational Psychology, Neag School of Education
During her two years at the Graduate School, Chafouleas also served as a Neag educational psychology faculty member and researcher. As Neag associate dean, she will continue her research, including her current work examining the relationship between students’ mental, emotional, and behavioral health and their educational outcomes. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s prominent Institute of Education Sciences, it is the first national study that has ever compared the kinds of behavioral screening practices schools have in place, or that has examined whether students being screened are meeting benchmarks. Over the course of the project, data will be collected from 2,000 U.S. public school districts. Chafouleas is principal investigator.
“Sandy is an exceptional leader who did more than suggest needed changes,” Holsinger says. “She implemented them, demanding evidence that the changes made sense every step of the way. Her knowledge, and the skills she acquired as the Graduate School associate dean, will only serve the Neag School.”
‘Model of success’
Educational psychology Professor Scott Brown – whose research using a computerized, problem-based GlobalEd 2 social studies game has led to middle and high school students experiencing improved critical and scientific thinking, along with increased leadership and problem-solving abilities – agrees with Holsinger and is nothing but excited to see Chafouleas in this role. He also considers her appointment a statement of the Neag School’s commitment to research and scholarship.
“Sandy is an advocate and model of success for new and experienced researchers because of her own research success. She understands the research enterprise inside and out and is as ideal to mentor emerging scholars, as she is to guide experienced ones,” Brown says.
Meeting with Neag faculty and creating a catalog of their researcher experiences, interests, and assets is part of Chafouleas’ current focus. She’s also eager to facilitate connections between those working in different disciplines: “Traditionally, researchers work in silos, focused on their own field and not always aware of how their research or expertise might benefit others. So looking for opportunities for crossover is also first and foremost for me.”
Chris Riley-Tillman, professor and associate director of the University of Missouri Department of Education’s School and Counseling Psychology division, has no doubt Chafouleas will achieve whatever she sets her mind to pursuing. Former classmates at Syracuse University, he’s known her for 20 years.
“I have never seen Sandy taken on any job and not excel,” Riley-Tillman says. “She is a born leader and, most importantly, I don’t know anyone who cares more about actually helping children. While it is easy in modern-day academia to get caught up in grants, publications, and awards, Sandy never forgets that it is all a waste of time if lives of children in need are not impacted in a positive manner. She is quite simply an amazing scholar, colleague, and person.”
The latter is something Dean Schwab repeats: “Between Sandy and Casey Cobb, I have the best leadership team any dean could ask for to help move the Neag School forward.”