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#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘My Thing Has Always Been Helping Kids and Helping Adults Help Kids,’ Says Autumn Guin ’20PHD

“I feel like I grew up in Poe Hall.” That’s how Autumn Guin ’20PHD describes her time spent as a student at NC State University—and for good reason. Between earning her master’s degree in community psychology and her Ph.D. in the Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development’s Educational Research and Policy Analysis program area of study, Guin has spent plenty of time in Poe, taking classes as a student and teaching them as a graduate assistant. 

Guin pursued her doctoral degree while also working full time for NC State Extension as a program design and evaluation extension associate. It’s one of three job titles she now holds. Guin is also adjunct professor in NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences, as well as a Children, Youth, and Families at Risk (CYFAR) PDTA coach and evaluation consultant. But no matter what her position, Guin’s focus remains on education. 

“I’m a Mexican-American, first-generation college student who did not get to have a traditional pathway and so, from a very, very young age, I knew that I was called into helping kids like me, whatever that looks like,” Guin said.

Her decision to earn her Ph.D. was encouraged by Associate Professor Tamara Young, program coordinator for the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis program area of study.

“Dr. Young did something that surprised me,” Guin said. “Instead of me coming to her to talk about the program, she came to see me in my office, which is the Brickhaven office on Beryl Road, out by the fairgrounds. She came to see me, and she sat in my office with me. And from day one, she was my advocate. She was in my corner, my cheerleader, just this amazing human who believed in me as a professional.”

Guin, who pursued her doctorate while working full time and raising her two children, graduated in 2020. In 2021, she received the Susan Barkman Research and Evaluation Award for her dissertation, which focused on the way non-formal educators are taught STEM content. Guin was honored with the award during the 2021 North Carolina Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals Annual Conference—North Carolina 4-H is part of NC State Extension—where she also received the Excellence in Healthy Living Programming Award. The award was recognition for her work with the Empowering Youth and Families program, a program that teaches better communication skills. Since then, she has also received the Research Friend of Extension Award for her work on that project. 

For Guin, using her knowledge and skills to help kids is essential to following through on NC State University’s land-grant mission. 

“It all comes from the land grant, because the land-grant mission is to take research and distill it down so that it goes to members of the general public, and kids happen to be a member of the general public,” she said.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why I Chose Education:

We talked about a spark in 4-H. It’s our job in 4-H to help kids find their spark. It’s that thing that they want to attack for the rest of their life. They want to be a part of that for the rest of their life. 

A kid might take a class on honeybees and decide that is their life’s thing. They’re going to advocate, they’re going to network, they’re going to do all the things around that. My thing is helping kids. My thing has always been helping kids and helping adults help kids. 

Whenever I introduce myself, if I’m in an evaluation space, I introduce myself as a program storyteller instead of as an evaluator. Because that’s my job at the end of the day, is to tell the program’s story. And I do that through words and numbers, but I’m telling the story of the programs that we do with kids or how we teach educators to do the work with kids, which is what my specific little thing that I focused on is. 

How Education Has Shaped Me:

It has opened doorways for me. When I was at Fayetteville State University, I had a professor who was my undergraduate advisor who invited me to be part of a research team. She taught psychology courses, and this research team was involved in studying the teaching effectiveness surveys on campus. I got to experience research, and I got trained to do focus groups. We worked on surveys; I did focus groups with students and with faculty. That was huge, that I can impact something simply by having conversations with people or asking them questions. 

While I was in the psychology department at NC State, I had a professor who was an advisor, Dr. Amy Halberstadt, who really poured into my writing and really tore apart my writing and made me a stronger writer, same with Dr. Chad Hoggan. As much as I want to say that education impacted where I am, it’s more the people in education and the relationships across all of that time that helped to get me where I am. It’s really all about the relationships. 

What I Enjoyed Most About Being Part of the NC State College of Education:

I really enjoyed some of the outside-of-the-norm activities. I got to work with Dr. Anna Egalite to do some focus group work during the Education Action Summit, Disrupting Poverty: Initiating Collective Impact in Education.

Getting to be a part of that, getting to help with focus group research and just being trusted with hands-on things, I think that’s a really important part of that process. It’s important to have professors that come beside you and grow you simply by being in a relationship and trusting you to do things. 

We did something similar as a part of a project when I was a graduate student in ED 731: Advanced Qualitative Research and Data Analysis in Education with Dr. Megan Manfra. The new, at the time, Talley Student Union had just opened, and so we went over, and we did some observation, and we talked to people about their experiences and how they were using the space. But that’s not normal, that’s kind of outside the bounds of typical classroom activities. 

What Others Should Know About the NC State College of Education:

There are so many out-of-the-box kinds of opportunities provided by really exceptional faculty who care about their students as human beings, instead of just, “Here you are, you’re one more person in my class.” Professors took time to actually care about their students.

The Last Thing I Experienced That Inspired Me:

I am sitting in the middle of the woods, and last night we got to have a conversation with 4-H educators in person, and the night before that we got to have a front porch conversation about things that they need. 

Hearing from them, the value of the relationship and an appreciation of the work that the team is doing to one, keep them going in the middle of COVID, and two, as we come out of that, to still be here as a supportive group, to make sure that they are getting what they need to reach kids. That’s it. At the end of the day, for me, it’s about the kids and the families, period. Just really being here and getting to do what I love—I build relationships; I teach people; I empower people—that’s my whole job. That’s a cool job. 

This post was originally published in College of Education News.