Wilmore woman overcomes obstacles to pursue career focused on social justice in education
By AMANDA NELSON
UK College of Agriculture
LEXINGTON, Ky. — After setting a goal, Kat Robershaw is known for letting nothing stand in her way, no matter how wild her ideas may seem. When that goal involved enrolling in a doctoral program, her creativity and drive were put to the test.
Despite facing challenges, Robershaw’s passion for making a difference pushed her to find a way forward at the University of Kentucky College of Education.
Her journey began in conversations that followed her between continents. No matter where she lived — her native Hong Kong or in her current hometown of Wilmore, Kentucky — she noticed virtually all parents’ conversations gravitated toward the same topic — finding a school for their children.
Prior to moving to Kentucky, Robershaw had served as an English teacher in Hong Kong. She has a bachelor’s degree in English language education from Education University of Hong Kong and a master’s degree in English literary studies from Chinese University of Hong Kong. She also holds a post-graduate diploma of education in liberal studies education from Open University of Hong Kong.
The more she learned about educational disparities, the greater Robershaw’s desire grew to confront injustices.
“As my role transitioned from being an educator to a parent, I began to see the significant impact families’ social class has on inequality in education,” she said.
Robershaw saw an opportunity to make a difference by pursuing a Ph.D. in educational policy. Although she was accepted into a doctoral program in the UK College of Education’s Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, a lack of funding for her studies caused her to defer enrollment.
Undeterred, Robershaw was ready to do whatever it took to reach her goal. Her creativity and drive landed her the opportunity to work in a janitorial position at UK. The job meant she would be eligible for the university’s employee education program, allowing her to take courses for free while working full time.
“Although I was not alone in the need to work while studying, the transition from Hong Kong as an educator to the United States as a janitor was a difficult one for me,” Robershaw said. “I do not say this to demean janitorial work. I only mean that I had studied and worked hard as a teacher and some aspect of my self-worth was tied to my career and that was difficult to untangle. Thankfully, my colleagues at the physical plant were amazing people. They taught me a lot, not just about cleaning, but also about how warm, inviting and friendly American culture can be.”
Robershaw was soon offered a research assistantship in the Evaluation Center at the UK College of Education. Although it meant saying goodbye to colleagues with whom she had recently bonded, she would be one step closer to the type of policy work she hoped would define her future.
After four years in the program, Robershaw is poised to complete her Ph.D. later this year. Her dissertation focuses on developing and validating a survey scale for measuring parents’ awareness and perspective on school choice in Kentucky.
As she enters her career, she would like to continue researching the attitudes of parents and the general public on educational policies, issues related to education and possibly other social justice issues.
“While a doctoral student at UK, I’ve been advised under a number of professors, such as Kelly Bradley, Shannon Sampson and Richard Waddington, who introduced me to educational statistics, measurement and evaluation. I’m interested in continuing and expanding my knowledge of conducting educational research using quantitative methods as well,” she said.
Robershaw would like to find a role in higher education that will allow her to continue to teach, in addition to pursue research. Most recently, she has been teaching EPE 301, “Education in American Culture.”
“Teaching EPE 301 has been a rewarding experience for me, and I would like to continue helping students develop valuable skills for their future careers. I started teaching this course in the middle of the pandemic. Both my students and I had to quickly adjust for unprecedented changes from the mode of instruction to settling field placements. At the same time, I was impressed by the resilience of my students who overcame difficult circumstances and strived their best in their academics,” she said.
In addition to nearing completion of her Ph.D., Robershaw is also celebrating receiving her American citizenship later last year.
“Since I moved to Kentucky, I’ve been blessed with the opportunities and trust that UK and my surrounding communities have given me. It is their belief in me that has helped me accomplish what I have today. I also owe my husband, Christopher Robershaw, my greatest gratitude. He supported whatever decisions I made, however wild they seemed. I am excited about my new citizenship, and I am ready to contribute to the country the best I can.”
To learn more about programs in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, visit http://education.uky.edu/epe.