Advocating for Student Success
Lauren Mims, M.A. '14, appointed assistant director of White House educational initiative
Lauren Mims, M.A. ‘14, has been appointed Assistant Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (WHIEEAA). Mims received her Master of Arts from Tufts’ Eliot Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and is pursuing her doctorate in Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science at University of Virginia’s Curry School.
The Initiative, established by President Obama’s executive order in 2012, is designed to strengthen the nation by improving the educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages and to restore the United States as a global leader in education.
Mims began her tenure at the Initiative as a summer intern and then served a fellow. As assistant director, Mims will manage the Initiative’s projects, focus on youth voices, support interagency relationships, and develop research-based publications and resources for students.
Tufts’ graduate education, says Mims, underscored the importance of rigorous evaluation of programs and research. “I keep my coursework documents from Tufts in a binder to reference the core aspects of what my professors taught,” she adds.
Mims credits Associate Professor of Child Study and Human Development Tama Leventhal with providing a foundation in qualitative research that has been essential in her work. Leventhal, she says, gave her a large contributing role in a qualitative evaluation of the Three-City Study of Welfare Children and Families as a graduate student researcher. “I learned how to organize, categorize, and interpret a large body of research to craft a paper that will advance our understanding of adolescent mothers’ housing instability and mobility patterns,” says Mims. “My current work is heavily qualitative and I was prepared because of the individualized learning and mentoring at Tufts.”
Mims is passionate about education reform and strategies that close opportunity gaps for African American youth. African American adolescent girls, in particular, she says, “face a double jeopardy of race and gender as they must define themselves as black and as women.”
African American adolescent girls in particular face a double jeopardy of race and gender as they must define themselves as black and as women.
Lauren MimsM.A. 2014
A pivotal project she undertook at Tufts helped prepare Mims for her current work. She developed, implemented, and evaluated an eight-week intervention, Girls Rising Above Circumstances to Excel (GRACE) designed to improve psychological and educational outcomes for African American high school girls with a 2.5 grade point average or lower. “The goal was to emphasize each girl’s unique identity to promote positive youth development,” says Mims.
Her thesis advisors and mentors—Associate Professor Ellen Pinderhughes, Professor Leventhal, and Karen Craddock, Ph.D. ‘07—were enthusiastic about the project. “Dr. Pinderhughes took me under her wing and provided great insight on challenges and barriers that students face, guiding me to important research and providing constant feedback on my program design and evaluation plans,” recalls Mims. “My committee supported me from start to finish and the lessons learned—both from my committee and from the students I taught—shape who I am today.”
The first session of GRACE, held in a Boston-area public school, is etched in Mims’ memory. When the students were asked why they were participating in the program, it was clear the girls perceived it as a punishment. “They only shared negative statements about themselves,” Mims recalls. “I considered them gifted and brilliant. When I provided them with the positive reasons for their involvement, things shifted quickly. The students indicated that they wanted to improve their grades, become more involved in school activities, and learn steps to graduating high school and attending college.” Following the GRACE intervention, the students’ self-perceptions improved as did their academic grades.
Complementing her studies with this successful real world teaching experience, says Mims, was the ultimate joy. “Through GRACE, I saw the power of meeting students where they are and highlighting their strengths. The experience underscored the importance of speaking to students and hearing their stories. “At the Initiative, we want every student to feel and know that they matter,” she explains. “Caring and concerned adults are important. None of us have gotten to where we are without somebody believing in us.”
Mims looks forward to working with individuals throughout the country to support the success of African American students. “GRACE was a small classroom,” she says. “Now, I work to support students on a national scale.”