College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

ICD’s Sarah Gillespie wins CEHD Three Minute Thesis competition

ICD doctoral candidate Sarah Gillespie (R) with her advisor Dr. Gail Ferguson

ICD doctoral candidate Sarah Gillespie was awarded first place at the Three Minute Thesis competition during CEHD’s 2023 Research and Innovation Day. Gillespie presented her research from Project UNITE: UNderstanding Identity Through Education, which is an evaluation of a new ethnic studies graduation requirement on high school students. 

“After planning and working on this study for over two years, it was challenging to summarize everything in just three minutes,” Gillespie said. “To meet the time limit, I focused on the main implications of my findings for our school partners and other districts who might follow their lead in offering ethnic studies courses to students. The bottom line is that these courses supported students’ well-being during a challenging school year, and it is a great joy and privilege to share that message!”

Gillespie, whose work is a part of Dr. Gail Ferguson’s Culture and Family Life Lab, has partnered with Minneapolis Public Schools to conduct the research. In 2021, Minneapolis became one of the first public school districts in the country to require an ethnic studies course to graduate from high school. This set up a natural experiment in which Gillespie is aiming to understand the impact of the course on students’ identity development, academic achievement, and well-being. 

Gillespie’s slide for the Three Minute Thesis competition
Gillespie’s slide for the Three Minute Thesis competition
She has conducted surveys and focus groups with high school students and her first findings are showing that taking an ethnic studies class is linked to more exploration of ethnic-racial identity, positive attitudes toward diversity, and being more engaged citizens (Gillespie, Morency, and Ferguson, APA conference 2022).

The next steps for Gillespie’s research include sharing results with the school district and at the Society for Research on Adolescence annual conference in April.

Congratulations Sarah!