Undergraduate Research

Audrey Burkey ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Audrey Burkey ’23

Audrey Burkey
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Audrey Burkey (any pronouns) is majoring in sociology.  They conduct research under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Sociology and Comparative American Studies Daphne John. Their project is titled “Valuable Curricula: Distinguishing Preschool Curricular Beliefs through Teachers’ Communication Styles.”

Please describe your project:

How are value systems embedded within preschool curricula? What language and communication tools do teachers use to relay social messages to students? Using Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts of habitus, cultural capital, and social reproduction as a framework, I utilize mixed methods (secondary survey data analysis and qualitative interviews) to empirically test hypotheses regarding the link between the socioeconomic status of students and socialization styles their teachers employ through communication with their students. The results confirm my hypothesis that teachers' socialization styles in preschool classrooms reflect their students' socioeconomic status. This study provides insights into current socialization practices and modern social reproduction, and concludes with future research recommendations.

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project: 

I am researching the ways in which preschool teachers contribute to the socialization of their students. I am looking at socialization in terms of the values students learn in a classroom, and if these differ by the socioeconomic makeup of the classroom.

Why is your research important?

Most literature investigating how socioeconomic status impacts childhood socialization looks at socialization practices that take place in the home, while this research looks at socialization practices that take place at school. This research will provide implications for current socialization practices in preschool classrooms as well as modern social reproduction.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

I am utilizing a mixed methods research approach, meaning I am combining results from both quantitative and qualitative data analyses. I conducted qualitative interviews myself and analyzed data from surveys conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

So far, I have identified that socialization styles of preschool teachers do differ between socioeconomic status groups. Higher status groups emphasize personal achievement while lower status groups stress the importance of authority. I have also found that the values apparent in the preschool at an institutional level are embedded in their teachers' personal views as well, contributing to social reproduction at the administrative level.

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?

I showcased my research in a public presentation of my final findings in April, and I participated in the Oberlin College Research Symposium.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?

I applied to the Honors Program because I am interested in conducting research after graduating. This was a great opportunity to hone my writing and research skills, as well as a huge exercise in self discipline!

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

I have loved getting to dive into this topic at such a deep level. Conducting my literature review led to me to discover seminal research on the topic as well as more recent findings. This project has confirmed my interests in early childhood education as well as social research.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

Professor John has been a huge help to me in all facets of this project, from finding sources to mapping out the overall structure of my thesis. Her help has shown me the power of having a team of researchers on your side.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

I have become a more ambitious, cautious, organized, and inspired researcher! This experience has provided me with experience for a career in social research as well as graduate school.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

Talk to your professors, go to office hours, ask about research they are conducting independently and with Oberlin. The Sociology Honors Department is great!