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Washington State University Graduate School

Doctoral Graduate Wins Prestigious Outstanding Dissertation Award

By Cheryl Reed

Kristin PrattKristen Pratt, Ph.D., a 2017 WSU doctoral graduate in education, has won the 2018 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Outstanding Dissertation Award in the area of second language research.

The AERA is the top research professional organization in the field of education with a goal to improve the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and evaluation, and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results.

Kristen is a member of AERA’s Second Language Research and Bilingual Education Research Special Interest Group. Her committee chair, Gisela Ernst-Slavit, nominated her for the award.

“Kristen’s dissertation research is one of the most thorough, systematic and high-quality efforts I have seen by a doctoral student at WSU,” says Ernst-Slavit. “The field of second language research has some of the greatest challenges in educational research because of the complex realities of equity for linguistically and culturally diverse students and families.”

Kristen’s four-year ethnographic study explored language interactions in a third-grade Spanish/English dual language classroom as students, teachers, and community members negotiated their bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural identities. Her study looks at translanguaging, which refers to the normative language practices of bilinguals in which speakers utilize their languages as an integrated communication system. The study offered perceptible examples of realities and tensions, and the hope of integrating partner languages in more natural and affirming ways in dual language contexts. Read more about Kristen’s research.

“I believe Kristen’s dissertation, with a focus on understanding the transaction between macro language education policies and micro enactments of said policies in dual language classrooms, will have a profound and lasting impact on our field,” says Dr. Ernst-Slavit. “I have no doubts that her dissertation will become a highly valued academic text.”

Her Story

Kristen grew up in Wyoming, close to Salt Lake City, Utah. She earned her undergraduate degree at Pacific Lutheran University and obtained her first teaching job in inner-city Seattle. She then taught English as an additional language in Tucson for a time prior to moving to Vancouver, where she received a master’s degree in language, literacy, and culture with an emphasis in reading from WSU in 2006. In 2011 she began her doctoral program in teaching and learning with an emphasis in bilingual education.

“During my doctoral studies, I flew to Pullman each week for classes for the first two years and was the President of the Graduate Students of Education Organization,” says Kristen. “My four-year ethnographic data collection took place in Washington State, while I had an opportunity to be a teaching assistant at WSU Vancouver with a very flexible schedule.”

Kristen praised the mentoring by WSU faculty, crediting them for preparing graduate students to be successful.

“Faculty would attend our Graduate Students of Education meetings and mentor us; they taught us how to apply for conferences, how to apply for jobs, and how to get involved with different research projects,” says Kristen. “Washington State University is really producing amazing graduate students because faculty care to take the time. My colleagues from other universities don’t have the same experience.”

She would like to thank her mentors, her committee and especially her chair, Dr. Gisela Ernst-Slavit for the innumerable hours of meetings and visits, readings, and revisions, as well as discoveries and discussions along the way, all of which she noted, “have profoundly shaped this work and my scholarly identity.”

Ernst-Slavit, a full professor in the College of Education on the WSU Vancouver campus, teaches sociolinguistics, literacy and biliteracy, and researches second language teaching and learning, ESL methods, and critical issues in the education of Latino students.  Among other awards, in 2012 she won the Mentor of the Year Award from her department.

“For me, mentoring doctoral students has always been a two-way street,” she says. “While advising, guiding, supporting, modeling, connecting, and sponsoring are just a few of the things mentors/advisors do—that’s only one side of the equation. I gain so much by working with graduate students. They challenge and push my thinking, they make me keep abreast of new technologies and emerging fields, and become my colleagues and collaborators.”

Kristen recently accepted a tenure line faculty position at Western Oregon University in Monmouth in its College of Education Bilingual Pathways Program, where she will work with colleagues to help create a dual language endorsement program. Her position starts in September, 2018.

She will be traveling to New York City to receive her award and present her work at the 2018 AERA annual meeting in April.

“Working with Kristen has been a fabulous and rewarding journey,” says Ernst-Slavit. “During our many meetings, Kristen pushed my thinking as much as I pushed her.  She is a high achiever and a thorough researcher as well as an enthusiastic, kind, and generous person. Although part of my job is to push my students out of the nest, I’m going to miss her.”





“Washington State University is really producing amazing graduate students because faculty care to take the time  …  My colleagues from other universities don’t have the same experience.” 

~Kristen Pratt



Expressions of Gratitude