From passion to purpose

Former teacher, Britta Bresina, is a special education PhD student whose research focuses on figuring out why some students continue to struggle with reading, even after years of evidence-based intensive interventions, and what can be done about it.

Britta Bresina

“Being a teacher, I was able to both have and directly see the impact I made on the lives of my students. It was very powerful.” Because of this, the decision for Bresina to leave the classroom wasn’t an easy one.

“I still have moments when I really miss my students” she says. Although Bresina struggled to walk away from teaching, she knows that she has the ability to help students through her research.

“As a teacher, there were times when I felt at a loss when trying to move the bar for a student who was particularly struggling to learn more so than others in my classes,” she recalls.

Bresina would monitor progress on all of her students weekly, and make instructional changes as the data suggested. Although this worked for the majority, some students still struggled.

“This always broke my heart,” she says.

“What was I doing wrong? How could I do my job better? Are there specific needs of this student that seems to be setting them apart from the rest who were responding well to my instruction? These were and still are the questions that haunt me,” Bresina adds.

These questions led her to seek answers. “I knew I could do better for my students, so I decided to continue to learn at the highest level I could. That brought me to the University of Minnesota and the labs of Professor Kristen McMaster.”

Through doing research with McMaster, Bresina is able to investigate the questions she always wondered about.

Bresina says her past as a teacher has shaped her as a PhD student and researcher, “I think if I didn’t have my invaluable experiences as a teacher, being able to put faces to the population of student I most care about, I wouldn’t be able to achieve at the level I am. They motivate me.”

When asked what she enjoys about the special education program Bresina states, “I get to work with the faculty we have in our program. They are approachable, a wealth of knowledge, and really want to help graduate students in this program grow.” In addition to the professors, Bresina appreciates that she has gotten exposure to the greater field of special education researchers through attending conferences and other opportunities.

Bresina encourages students to, “Read a lot!”

She says this is one of her productivity secrets, explaining that the more you read, the more questions you will have that will help you generate research ideas. Bresnia also encourages graduate students to start a writing group to analyze scientific writing, set goals, and hold each other accountable. Finally, Bresina states, “Like all special educators know, you must monitor your progress toward your goals!”