Tarryn McGhie
Dec. 2, 2021


When Tarryn McGhie finished his doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction in 2015, his research was far from over. Driven by a passion for child literacy and a desire to put children on a path to a successful academic future, he continues to explore the indirect effects of race on literacy, namely what goes on in the classroom and at home, and how these are shaping the child’s engagement.

Tarryn’s inspiration for pursuing this line of research is deeply rooted in his own childhood. His parents navigated economic hardships and saw how older and younger children could have different experiences in the same household. Ultimately, though, he decided on his professional path through a simple choice in high school. 

“I wasn't a good student,” McGhie said, “I was an athlete and all I wanted to do was play sports. But I started to think in my senior year, ‘What am I going to do?’"

His father, a first-generation college graduate, impressed the importance of education on his son and gave him two choices—head to France to pursue a culinary career or go to college. Tarryn chose the latter, and earned his undergraduate degree in psychology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University before heading to UNLV in pursuit of a master's degree in educational psychology. 

As he progressed in his studies, Tarryn noticed a negative deficit thought process dominated the higher education experience—especially in regard to students of color. Instead of seeing his strengths, his presence as a Black male pursuing a graduate degree was treated as a surprising anomaly. His experience drove him to pursue a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction (with an emphasis in cultural studies, international education and multicultural education) so he could reshape the learning experience to discover and build on students' strengths—an approach that makes diversity integral to the educational experience.

Tarryn saw the benefits of this approach when working on a Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program, which targeted low-income students of color. The summer and after-school enrichment program uses a research-based and multicultural program model centered on five components: high-quality academic and character-building enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational servant leadership development; and nutrition, health, and mental health. 

“For me, it's less about teaching kids to read and more about teaching educators and parents to implement an literacy curriculum that speaks to kids because it’s geared towards their neighborhoods, it celebrates their identities, and makes reading fun,” McGhie said.

Although he finished his doctoral program in 2015, his work is far from over. He's still on campus, serving as a senior instructional designer for the UNLV's School of Nursing and as a member of the Anti-Black Racism Task Force. His recent research focuses on improving the academic trajectory of children and families from high needs communities through the examination of race, class, and literacy development. All of these factors are explored in relation to the school-to-prison pipeline, as well as teacher-student interactions that lead to conflict in PK-12 schools.

While Tarryn has covered a lot of educational ground in his academic career, judging by his prolific research and consistent publishing track record, it looks like he's just getting started.