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Meet an Alumna: Kayla Anderson

Posted by on Friday, May 6, 2022 in Alumni, .

Kayla Anderson, M.Ed. 2020, on the transitions throughout her academic career

Kayla Anderson pic

Kayla Anderson graduated from the CDA program in May 2020. Currently, she is a 2nd year CRA student studying water justice in Dr. Yolanda McDonald’s lab. During her time in the CDA program, she had her practicum placement at the Nashville Civic Design Center. With the unique experience of moving from CDA to CRA, she shares her personal narrative of how she arrived at Vanderbilt and her experiences in both programs.

Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Kayla graduated undergrad and moved to South Carolina to work as a rural middle school teacher for Teach for America. After engaging in the program, she realized, “I really didn’t like teaching middle school, I didn’t like aspects of classroom management.” However, she notes that the move opened her eyes and exposed her to different inequities that limited extracurricular opportunities for students, like the lack of adequate pedestrian and transportation infrastructure for her students. After TFA, she worked for Big Brothers and Big Sisters before realizing she wanted to go back to school.

Kayla had looked at Master’s in Public Administration programs and was reminded of the CDA program from a pamphlet she saw in undergrad. She thought the interdisciplinary nature of the program would be a better fit for her career goals and went into the program without knowing she would want to pursue a doctoral degree. During her time in the CDA program, she realized that she was passionate about research and began looking into doctoral programs.

“A year into CDA, I realized I wanted to pursue my Ph.D. and I actually applied to a bunch of Ph.D. programs such as sociology and geography in addition to community psychology, but it ultimately boiled down to me wanting to do applied research.”

Kayla notes that a defining experience for her was going to the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) conference as a CDA student. This exposed her to how the field of community psychology fits into unique spaces of research. In seeing herself as an applied researcher and interdisciplinary scholar, she realized that the CRA doctoral program at Vanderbilt would be the best decision for her.

Looking back on her transition into her Ph.D. program, she reflects “I had been out of school for five years before I went back to do my Master’s. I really love school, but I don’t think I would’ve transitioned well going straight into a Ph.D. program. CDA taught me how to transition.” Kayla notes that the first year of the required course Community Development Theory prepared her with a lot of terminology and theory that helped her navigate the program and have the language to hit the ground running in her doctoral program.

When asked what advice she would give to prospective students, Kayla says that the most important thing about applying to Ph.D. programs is thinking critically about whether the specific program will be a good fit for you and finding faculty that one’s research aligns with. For current CDA and other Master’s students, Kayla advises, “Seek relationships. Ask for [faculty member’s] advice and opinions. Relationship building and seeking out research projects is often not a big piece of professional Master’s programs, but is really helpful to have on an application.”

Kayla also cautions that the CRA program is not an extension of the CDA program. “I expected [CRA] to be CDA 2.0, but it felt very different. Not in a bad or good way, it was just different.” Ultimately, she attributes feeling good about her position in the program to the time she spent looking into other programs to decide whether or not she really wanted to be here.

“I love the faculty and the other grad students. It feels like a community that I want to be a part of. For me, it feels like the right place.”


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