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New Faces: Sharolyn Pollard-Durodola

Find out what inspired this Education College professor to focus her research on children, especially English language learners, who struggle to read.

People  |  Apr 11, 2016  |  By Diane Russell

Education College professor Sharolyn Pollard-Durodola. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Sharolyn Pollard-Durodola says one reason she chose to move to UNLV from Denver is an opportunity she saw to partner with the Clark County School District, which counts many English language learners among its 300,000-plus students. 

Why UNLV?

I selected UNLV because of the newly developed English Language Learning program, the expertise of the faculty in that program, opportunities to develop and expand the program, opportunities to bridge theory and research via community partnerships (Clark County School District has a large population of English language learners) and because of an opportunity to take part in conversations related to the Tier I status goals. I liked the fact that the university seemed to be thinking about how to create an environment that would attract new hires that were also interested in moving forward with research and scholarship goals.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Houston during a time that the school systems were still segregated. I attended elementary school where my mother taught and then changed schools when she was sent to a different school as part of an initiative to integrate schools. Those experiences taught me much about life and getting along with people despite differences. Growing up in a segregated school, however, resulted in strong identity formation and a belief that we as children could make a contribution to developing a better world. Our teachers protected us from the negativities of the outside world — they taught us to stand before an audience and make speeches, to be curious about new books (I loved having a library card and being able to check out books), and to be proud of who we were.

Where did you work previously? 

I worked in the bilingual education program in the educational psychology department at Texas A&M for eight years and for three years at the University of Denver, Colorado, in the child, family, school psychology program.

Tell us about your field of research. 

My scholarship attends to the prevention/intervention of language and literacy difficulties (Spanish/English) among students at risk of academic difficulties. Central to my scholarship is developing intervention curricula that build on validated instructional design principles, evaluating their impact on the language and reading development of struggling readers, and investigating how to improve the quality of language/literacy practices of teachers and parents of preschool English language learners.

I am interested in bridging research and practice by examining the feasibility/usability of research-based practices. My scholarship for years has focused on children who struggle to read and how to assist them in having greater access to the curriculum.

What inspired you to get into your field?

I have always been interested in issues related to language acquisition from my father’s own travels to Mexico to my undergraduate major (romance languages with an emphasis on comparative linguistics). My interest in understanding the intersection of language and literacy development was a result of my initial teaching years in New York City in Harlem with diverse learners (speakers of Spanish, speakers of African-American dialect, etc.) and wanting to understand why some students struggled to become fluent readers — what interventions, techniques, strategies could be used to overcome these obstacles. This influenced me to obtain a masters degree in developmental and remedial reading (City College of New York).

What’s the biggest misconception about your field?

The biggest misconception about second language learners is that they cannot learn academic content until they are completely English proficient. Another misconception is that families of ELLs are not interested in their child’s education when they are perceived as not being involved in school matters. Families from other cultures view their role and the role of school systems very differently than we do in Western society. Parents may not be involved because it is not a cultural expectation — not because they are not interested in their child. 

Proudest moment in your life?

Giving birth to my two children.

One tip for success

To persevere despite obstacles and to not become sidetracked with activities that in the long run are not meaningful but prove to be superficial. 

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I love to sing and would like to continue with voice lessons in the near future.

Who was your favorite professor or teacher and why? 

John Grayson, professor of philosophy of religion at Mount Holyoke College. He approached abstract and complicated ideas in innovative ways. He inspired students via his depth of knowledge and how to apply the intersection of theology and philosophy to understand contemporary issues in society. He provided opportunities for us to develop as analytical writers and thinkers.

Who is your hero?

Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day was a U.S. social activist and journalist who was known for her writing in the Catholic Worker newspaper during the Great Depression. She was very outspoken on issues related to social justice and known for her commitment to the poor. 

Pastime or hobbies?

Photography of nature and lighthouses, reading (history, theology, historical fiction, Eastern religions), visiting museums, traveling, and exploring new places.