UMBS' new Program Evaluator Stephanei Shaulskiy is pictured holding her son, Nathan.

As the Program Evaluation Coordinator, Stephanie Shaulskiy Ph.D. is tasked with investigating the impact of the University of Michigan Biological Station’s newest course offerings through the Transforming Learning Program. The program is part of the University of Michigan’s Transforming Learning in the Third Century Initiative grant opportunity, which UMBS was selected to join in 2016. Working closely with Program Manager Alicia Farmer, UMBS Associate Director Karie Slavik, and Interim Director Linda Greer, Shaulskiy will evaluate the broad goals of the program in its first year, with more in-depth research to come.

Eight Transforming Learning Program courses are offered in 2017, including: Materials Science Capstone, Green Building, General Chemistry Lab, Intro Biology Lab, Global Change, Water Law and Policy, Florilegium, and Microbes in the Wild. The one- to four-week courses are either optional extensions of classes offered in Ann Arbor or substitute classes for Ann Arbor classes. Eventually, more and different courses will be offered through the grant program, which covers the cost of room and board at the Biological Station for the participating students. Work is already underway planning the classes for 2018.

In general, Shaulskiy will investigate student perceptions of the UMBS community, motivations for taking classes, motivation and interest in science, civic engagement, and ability to work in a team, among other topics. Developing course assessments, like student surveys and interviews, is her primary goal. She wants to determine whether the new courses have an impact on how and what students learn, as well as whether their experiences are enriched by taking the extension or class at UMBS.

In addition to surveying the program participants, Shaulskiy will also survey students who take the Ann Arbor courses, but opt not to come to UMBS. Students who take the full-term UMBS spring or summer classes will be included in the study, too.

 “If the courses have any impact,” she explains, “you have to look as what’s going on in the whole station…  Is there a benefit of the station? And what is the length of time to get that benefit?”

Being new to the UMBS community, Shaulskiy is most looking forward to learning more about the culture and experience the station offers. She plans to visit several times this year as each Transforming Learning course concludes to survey the students, and may bring her husband Vladi Shaulskiy, and sons Nathan, two, and David, six months, along, too. The family currently lives in Toldeo, Ohio, and she works primarily from the Ann Arbor office.

Shaulskiy’s interest in psychology began in high school, when psychology was her favorite class, she said. During her undergraduate studies at the University of Arizona, her interest deepened when she participated in a social psychology research project that investigated conversations: what people talked about and how they talked when conversing with people. During the project, she explained, people wore devices that recorded 30-second snippets of conversations that were analyzed to understand how people communicate. Eventually, the research was adapted for breast cancer patients and their partners as a way to identify the best coping strategies for dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

After she was finished with her undergraduate degree and graduate degree in Higher Education and Administration, Shaulskiy worked for a University of Arizona program that helped transition students from high school to college.

“My supervisor kept asking, ‘Is the program working?’” she remembered. “And I thought, ‘How do we tell it’s working?’”

To answer that question, she decided to continue her studies in educational psychology at The Ohio State University, where she earned another master’s and Ph.D. She was most drawn to the rigorous methodology of educational psychology to answer broad questions like “Is this working?” For her dissertation, she studied college students and their sense of belonging to student groups seeking to understand the relationship between student organization involvement, wellbeing, and GPA. In general, she found that being in a student organization and feeling a sense of belonging increased student’s wellbeing and GPA.

Because psychology can be applied to a variety of fields, her other work experience includes analyzing the summer program at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, investigating the effectiveness of a marketing strategy for a bus system, and working on evaluations and accreditations for the University of Toledo College of Pharmacy. She has also worked for the Center for the Study for Student Life Assessment Office at OSU, determining the correlation between recreation center usage and GPA, which is most similar to the work she’ll be doing at UMBS.

In addition to providing assessments for the U-M Biological Station for internal use, Shaulskiy explained that these assessments will be useful to other biological field stations, serving as a model that other programs can follow to analyze their courses and determine the effectiveness of different educational experiences.

“As far as I know there’s very little research on the educational impact of biological stations,” she said. “We’ll be able to share our findings,” and contribute to the greater community.