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Facilitating Social Emotional Learning Outcomes in Adolescents

05. 02. 2019

Meet Amaniel Mrutu

Amaniel Mrutu is utilizing his background conducting research in mathematics education and realigning the direction of his future research with Dr. Michael Rodriguez’s Minnesota Youth Development Research Group, which explores the skills and supports that facilitate social emotional learning in adolescents. As students go through junior and senior high school, their brains are learning how to regulate emotions, make sound decisions, and interpret social hierarchy. The Minnesota Youth Development Research Group’s work focuses on how to measure the social emotional learning outcomes of students who took the Minnesota Student Survey. Amaniel is currently in the process of developing a research study on social emotional learning based on the 100,000+ student responses to this survey.

What led you to the research you are pursuing? Does it relate in any way to your background? Other influences?

I am interested in studying quantitative research methodologies which have practical applications in the education system. As children, we subconsciously navigate through the education system with little knowledge of the organizational forces that facilitate our development, and yet the education system is intended to serve the students. Throughout primary and secondary school, I was under the misconception that the teacher had 100% control over what was taught in the classroom. Then, during my undergraduate studies, I learned that K-12 teachers are expected to create lesson plans that address a prespecified number of educational standards set by the state and federal government. The grander decisions in education, then, are made at the state and federal levels. State and federal policymakers play a crucial role in the operation of the education system even though they are not directly involved in most class activities. Educational research provides policymakers with a snapshot into the inner workings of the classroom. The primary advantage of quantitative research is that the methodologies can accommodate vast amounts of data from a school, district, state, or even nation. As such, quantitative research is one source of evidence that can meaningfully inform the education-related decisions of policymakers. Social emotional learning provides measures for quantifying seemingly qualitative aspects of student behavior and can provide policymakers more descriptive evidence for understanding the different student populations that policymakers seek to serve.

What do you value most about graduate education? How did you decide to come to the UMN?

I value how the structure of graduate school can strengthen my statistical abilities in the context of educational research. The iterative nature of scholarly research is intriguing to me because new research questions emerge from the findings of previous studies. As our knowledge base increases so does the capacity for further discovery. Sir Isaac Newton brilliantly captures this sentiment in the letter he wrote to Robert Hooke by saying, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Graduate education offers an open environment for exploring research interests and building community. During this school year, I have gained opportunities to collaborate with peers on education-related research projects in the Minnesota Youth Development Research Group. Starting in May, I will be working with a multidisciplinary group of graduate students to educate youth on social justice issues through a summer externship with UMN’s CREATE Scholars Program. In July and August, I am planning to serve as a mentor for the Graduate School Diversity Office’s Summer Institute. Therefore, the University of Minnesota Graduate School has supplemented my academic studies with opportunities for me to grow my professional network. I decided to attend the UMN because of the university’s depth of expertise in fields related to educational research. US News ranked the UMN programs in both education and statistics among the top 25 in the nation. Additionally, I was born and raised in Minnesota. By attending the UMN, I can more readily visit parents and family members while benefitting from the merits of nationally ranked university programs.

Please explain a bit about your background - where you grew up, where you did your undergraduate work, what circumstances framed your project.

I grew up in the Twin Cities area and went to North Dakota State University (NDSU) for my undergraduate work. In 2017, I graduated from NDSU with a bachelor’s degree in statistics and minors in computer science and mathematics. During my undergraduate career at NDSU, I tutored mathematics and subsequently conducted research on mathematics education through the McNair Scholars Program. This academic background in statistics and educational research directed my graduate school interests to the UMN's Quantitative Methods in Education Ph.D. program.

What do you hope to do after getting your degree?

I aspire to be a professor who teaches statistics in the social sciences and/or material from related subjects.

Amaniel Mrutu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Quantitative Methods in Education program in CEHD. He is both COSP scholar and a CREATE scholar.