“ brownbags were a tremendous academic environment that helped socialize me to being an intellectual”
Keith D. Robinson
Assistant Professor, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
I am currently working in Austin, Texas which is a wonderful place to live. I spend much more time outdoors than I did in graduate school running and biking. My wife Isabelle works just a few blocks from our place and either walks or bikes to work. We thoroughly enjoy our lifestyle in Austin. The southern location of the city, as well as the highly efficient airport has allowed us to take easy trips to the Caribbean and Mexico in the short time we’ve been in Austin. We recently celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Aruba where we snorkeled, relaxed by the beach, and drove the entire island sight-seeing.
My research is broadly directed towards achievement disparities in K-12 education. Achievement gaps are considered a civil rights issue and remain a vexing problem for parents, schools, and policy makers. Gaps in standardized test performance, for example, have persisted for decades in multiple subjects and at all stages of K-12 schooling, and have had a profound negative impact on the life opportunities of children from minority and poor backgrounds. Since families and schools serve as the two primary contexts for educating children, my research has explored factors such as parental involvement, behavioral engagement in learning, prior academic achievement, and poverty as potential explanations for achievement disparities. Some of my more recent research has focused on the first year of formal school – in particular, examining the role of behavioral engagement in learning for explaining disparities in mathematics achievement between poor and non-poor children. Kindergarten is a critical time to examine these relationships given that achievement disparities begin early, tend to widen over the elementary years, and become increasingly difficult to close after kindergarten. Since early math skills have the strongest predictive power of later achievement compared to school-entry reading and attention skills, identifying potential mechanisms through which early achievement disparities are reduced will be a critical step in diminishing future disparities in high school graduation and dropout rates. In the long term, I am interested in understanding the macro and micro processes that shape children’s societal opportunities and achievement outcomes, and in doing so trying to identify what parents and teachers and can do to improve the educational lives of young people.
PSC's Influence on Career
I am grateful to many of the PSC professors who influenced my scholarly thinking, abilities, and research agenda. Bill Axinn was especially influential in helping me think like a researcher. He spent a great deal of time showing me how to write a research article, how to conceptualize research problems, and how to find substantively interesting research questions. Scott Yabiku and Dirgha Ghimire were graduate students working for Bill who took me under their wing and provided me with important research training during my first two years at PSC. I worked with Yu Xie during my last two years before graduating and ultimately, he became my dissertation chair. He emphasized the importance of being careful in the methodological aspects of paper writing, and was incredibly influential in shaping my methodological thinking about educational issues. There were others who provided valuable mentorship along the way, including Bob Schoeni, Barbara Anderson, Pam Smock, and Jennifer Barber. All of these people provided the foundation for my career in academia.
Memories of PSC
I have so many memories of PSC. Some that stand out are the brownbag experiences. I learned so much from listening to the questions PSC members asked and the issues they raised. The brownbags were a tremendous academic environment that helped socialize me to being an intellectual. I also fondly remember the time I spent with people who became close friends of mine, and continue to be to this day. So much of our time together was spent at PSC near our cubicles, at lunch at the various restaurants on State Street, and at each other’s apartments. The relationships we formed at UM and the time we spent together are cherished memories I think about often.