Doctoral Student, Curriculum and Instruction
As a first-generation college student, Nancy Carr didn’t realize until later in life how much this attribute has defined her educational journey.
Her father ran a chemical business in their home state of New Jersey, and her mother raised four children and was also instrumental in the family business.
“I saw both of my parents working hard to give each of us options and choices. Both of my parents believe education provides access and opportunities in life.”
Carr went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Sweet Briar College, and later served at her alma mater as an assistant director of alumnae relations. She then relocated to the Tampa Bay area and began working on a master’s degree in English Education at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, which she completed in 2015.
It was during her master’s degree that Carr found a passion for working with adult learners and discovered an enthusiasm for education research.
“I finished my master’s degree, and I realized I had the option to pursue my doctoral degree. My husband has supported me throughout my doctoral journey. He has been my biggest fan and support system. You need a strong support system when you embark on a PhD,” Carr explained.
Today, she is a doctoral candidate in USF’s Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Curriculum & Instruction with an emphasis in Adult Education. Her dissertation research focuses on exploring the challenges faced by like-minded peers—first-generation, female doctoral students who are navigating the complex world of academia.
Nearly one-third of rising college freshmen are first-generation students who hope to be the first in their immediate family to graduate from college. Among the barriers these students face are the financial challenges associated with attending college and the process of decoding unfamiliar procedures that often come with attending an institution of higher learning.
When compared with second-generation students, research shows first-generation students are four times as likely to drop out of college. Carr said she hopes to use her dissertation to add to the scholarship in this underexplored area of research and to provide support for students like her.
“Sometimes, when you are (a first-generation student), you might not be aware of the significance of ‘what does it mean,’” Carr said. “…That’s what the College of Education challenged me to do as a doctoral student, spending a lot of time reading about what the research says about first-generation doctoral students and noticing there was a gap in research.”
Carr says her professors at the university have been instrumental in connecting her with research and professional opportunities. She’s presented at the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education Conference and the Sunshine State Teaching and Learning Conference, and she also teaches courses in the English Department at USF.
All these activities have been done while balancing her studies with numerous professional and personal responsibilities. Carr said she attributes her success in her doctoral studies to the support she’s received along the way from USF faculty, at both the St. Petersburg and Tampa campuses.
“My interactions with my professors, my Philosophies of Inquiry class with Dr. (Vonzell) Agosto, my coursework with my major professor, Dr. Waynne B. James…there’s just been so many faculty along the way…that expose you to theorists who challenge you to not only look inward, but to look at the world in a different way,” Carr said.
Carr said she was motivated to pursue her PhD because she knew it would open even more doors for her, such as opportunities to teach at a university or one day become a university president, to help create supportive programming for first-generation students needing additional support to ensure their success in college.
“I have a totally different perspective being (a first-generation student), and going through these educational experiences, that I can help students achieve whatever dreams that they have because I understand the struggles,” Carr said. “I understand the difficulties students have in knowing who to go to.”
Carr said the opportunities made available to her as a doctoral student at USF have been invaluable. From faculty mentorship to participating in nationally acclaimed research conferences, she said she’s been immersed in the center of the Adult Education field, and that each of these experiences have helped her grow as a scholar.
“The process of pursuing a doctor of philosophy in the College of Education at USF prepares you to think like a researcher and understand the significance that your work can one day promote change,” Carr said.
The process of pursuing a doctor of philosophy in the College of Education at USF prepares you to think like a researcher and understand the significance that your work can one day promote change.
Doctoral Student, Curriculum and Instruction
As a female scholar, Carr said earning her PhD will better prepare her to serve in a leadership capacity to promote access as well as diversity and inclusion within higher education. Right now, she’s seeking a few more participants for her dissertation research study and aims to graduate from USF this spring.
“It’s been a long journey and process, but the faculty have really been instrumental in giving me the confidence to say, ‘I can do this, I want to make a difference in student’s lives, and I want to help open doors for the next generation,’” Carr said. “Because that’s what education does—it helps you get a seat at the table, it helps open doors for you.”
USF’s Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction is a research degree that prepares individuals for various careers in teaching, research, and policy positions at community colleges, universities, and within other private and public organizations. With more than 15 different academic concentrations, students can customize their degree plan to fit their unique research interests and career aspirations.