College of Education celebrates two Spencer Postdoctoral fellows

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two faculty members in Penn State's College of Education have been named 2018 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows. Gabriela Richard and Rebecca Tarlau, both assistant professors in the Department of Learning and Performance Systems, are two of only 30 fellows named nationally for 2018.

The awards will enable Richard and Tarlau to pursue their education research, and were made based on their past research records, career trajectories in education research and the quality of the projects described in their application. Fellowships include one year's teaching leave and a $70,000 stipend, along with professional development opportunities.

Richard is a researcher, designer and educator of learning technologies, media, games and play. She conducts research on the ways that diverse youth and adults engage in learning, collaboration, identity formation and self-efficacy in informal STEM and computing education in contexts such as gaming, livestreaming and makerspaces. In particular, her research addresses inclusive and supportive learning with and through design and technology, and employs intersectionality as a frame for understanding complex sociocultural relationships across gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality and dis/ability in media and design. 

She has written extensively about video games, diversity and inclusive design, and co-edited the third book in an influential series on gender and gaming, "Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat: Intersectional perspectives and inclusive designs in gaming" (ETC/CMU Press).

Before getting her doctoral degree, she worked as an instructional designer and an interactive media developer, as well as created, spearheaded and taught early maker and design education efforts (then termed "physical computing") in the New York City public schools with underserved students and teachers.

She is the recipient of multiple awards, fellowships and grants from organizations including the National Science Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State and the American Educational Research Association.

This research project will extend upon her past work to interrogate how culturally situated tools and culturally responsive practices are (or are not) designed within wide-reaching, informal learning ecologies around making and gaming, how learners respond to those designs, and how we can bring effective applications from more formally influenced environments to these naturalistic, interest-driven ones.

Tarlau is affiliated with the College's Lifelong Learning and Adult Education program, the Comparative and International Education program and the Center for Global Workers' Rights. Her ethnographic research agenda has three broad areas of focus: theories of the state and state-society relations; social movements, critical pedagogy, and learning; and Latin American education and development.

Her forthcoming book, "Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education" (Oxford University Press) examines the educational initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, a national social movement of rural workers struggling for agrarian reform. The book shows how activists engage in a process of contentious co-governance of the public education system, and the real possibilities for prefiguring alternative social and economic goals within public schools.

As a Spencer postdoctoral fellow, Tarlau will continue her research for a new comparative project on teachers’ unions and teacher activism in Brazil, Mexico and the United States. This research examines the relationship between teachers’ unions, the state and political parties; internal union divisions; the moments when teachers organize for broader demands; and how union disputes influence education.

This project strives to shift our understanding of teachers’ unions as simply "self-interested" or "selfless," to a more nuanced assessment of the role teachers play in politics, the diversity of political groups within unions, and the ways that teachers’ unions in diverse contexts go beyond self-interest and become social movement actors. Given the recent teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, North Carolina and other states, an exploration of causes and consequences of teacher activism is a timely topic.

Last Updated June 01, 2018