Doctoral grad develops innovative model for teacher education

Victor Diaz didn’t always believe that he would one day walk across the commencement stage and accept his doctorate in educational leadership.

“As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I can't put into words how special this is for my family and me,” Diaz says. “If someone had told me years ago that I would receive a Ph.D., it would have been like hearing I was moving to the North Pole and taking over Santa Claus' job.”

The first steps to higher education were daunting to a young person growing up in a lower-income community. He grappled with his dual identity as the son of a blue collar Mexican-American family and as a scholar at a university.

“Once I found that identity, I felt like all the financial and social challenges that come from being a first generation college student could no longer stop me,” he says.

After earning a bachelor’s in broadcasting from ASU in 2002, Diaz was accepted into Teach For America, and moved to San Jose, Calif., where he taught high school English and English language development for the next five years.

In 2007, he received a master’s degree in Educational Equity and Social Justice from San Francisco State University. Although he received competitive offers to attend other universities, Diaz felt a commitment to his home state of Arizona and wanted to earn his doctorate at ASU with Gustavo Fischman, a professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation.

Diaz was awarded the Graduate College Doctoral Enrichment Fellowship for 2008-2009. The competitive fellowship supports first-year doctoral students who demonstrate academic excellence and are underrepresented in their field of study.

Diaz was inspired to not only encourage students on the path to higher education, but to find ways to more effectively train beginning teachers, particularly those who teach in poor and working class communities.

For his dissertation research, Diaz developed an innovative and original model for teacher training by combining two educational concepts known as PCK (pedagogical content knowledge, or "how" to teach the required content) with CHAT (cultural historical activity theory).

“By coupling the study of PCK and CHAT, Dr. Diaz breaks new ground, overcoming the limitations of previous studies in the field of teacher education,” Fischman says. “It will allow policymakers, faculty, administrators and students to plan, assess and implement better training and retention policies for beginner teachers.”

At ASU, “I've had the opportunity to work with amazing scholars, and publish research both with them and on my own,” Diaz says. In the last year, he presented two papers at the Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association, and authored two book chapters that will be published in different volumes.

As he accomplished all this, he also became a new father in December.

“I can't wait to tell my son, Benny, about what I did in between feedings and diaper changings,” he says, “and about what a rock of support my wife and his mother was for me during this time.”

He will accept a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College on May 2.

After graduation, he has accepted a position in Teach For America's Teacher Preparation and Support team, where he will design professional development and training for staff, who in turn will train and support thousands of teachers across the country.

“I also plan to continue the research projects I started at ASU, and publish my research accordingly.”

“I hope this degree stands as a demonstration of the power of an education,” Diaz says. “I also hope that my biography can be a source of inspiration and motivation for other people from similar backgrounds. I know I would not be here without the influence of those who came before me, so I hope that I can serve in that role for young people as well.”