As educators in many settings face budget cuts and reductions in force, it’s important to know what academic programs and tactics are most effective. East Carolina University associate professor Guili Zhang is at the forefront at assembling the nuts and bolts of how to measure that in an accurate way.
Since joining the faculty in 2006, Zhang has become a leading researcher in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Her work centers on designing and conducting statistical analyses used in measuring academic program success. Zhang has examined the existing statistical standards, identified inadequacies and developed new tools – including a Robust Root Mean Square Standardized Effect Size and the Bayesian Coefficient Alpha – to better evaluate the effectiveness of programs or treatments.
She also has a focused interest in engineering education. Zhang developed a database of information on engineering students at colleges and universities across the southeast from 1987 to 2007. It identifies tactics to help improve students’ chances of success and offers a model for how schools and colleges of engineering establish curricula, develop retention models and set student-centered strategies for success.
“It’s critically important for the U.S. to continue to excel in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in order to remain its global competitiveness,” Zhang said. “The quality of engineering education determines the caliber of future engineers who will play vital roles in the development of the nation.
“My research and evaluation work aimed at assisting colleges and schools of engineering improve women and minority student recruitment and success, improve the quality of engineering graduates and graduate engineers with more real-world experience and help institutions focus limited funding on activities and endeavors that are statistically shown to bring about better results.”
Over the last five years, Zhang participated in 11 grant projects, said Carolyn Ledford, Curriculum and Instruction interim department chair. Zhang was selected as primary investigator and awarded three new national grant projects funded by the National Science Foundation and Learn and Serve America, one internal grant project from East Carolina University, and continues working on two additional projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She has taught online classes on research design and data analysis each semester and co-taught classes on action research.
“Dr. Zhang is a remarkable faculty member,” Ledford wrote in her nomination of Zhang for the Five-Year Achievement Award. “Her contributions to the fields of statistical/quantitative research, program evaluation, engineering education and teacher education are extraordinary and profound. Her work has uniquely impacted the quality of graduate teacher education…and the ability of thousands of U.S. teachers to be critical consumers of research which informs their practice in U.S. public schools and classrooms.”
Zhang, a native of China, holds a doctorate in applied statistics, quantitative research, evaluation, assessment and measurement from the University of Florida.
“My parents never had the privilege to go to school,” she said, “But they taught me to be a good person, to work hard and always do my best.
“I am thankful to the excellent leadership at ECU and our college and department, which provided a fertile environment for faculty research. My sincere thank you goes to my wonderful colleagues in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and College of Education. In August 2006, they welcomed me, someone who is somewhat different from them, and someone who is originally from the other side of the planet, and treated me like family ever since.”
—- Kathryn Kennedy