Milford native Tiffany Polk was awarded a four-year doctoral scholarship from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. Polk is one of eight new Ph.D. candidates who arrived on the UConn Storrs campus this fall knowing that they will have four years of fully funded support, thanks to a new program instituted this past year by Neag School of Education Dean Richard Schwab.

Launched in 2014, the inaugural Dean’s Doctoral Scholar program invited applications from aspiring doctoral candidates with an interest in pursuing research, under one or more Neag School faculty experts, in at least one of the school’s four strategic areas of focus: STEM education; creativity and innovation; educator quality and effectiveness; or equity and social justice.

Polk will receive full tuition and a stipend through her four years of doctoral study. In addition to earning a doctoral degree from UConn, she will have the opportunity to present at nationwide conferences, publish research in highly regarded journals, and work alongside faculty across the Neag School’s department of educational psychology.

Polk joins the Neag School’s school psychology program with a focus in the area of equity and social justice. For Polk, who attended high school in Hawaii, her career aspirations were formed out of a difficult transition from high school to Yale University. Having attended only public schools that had long grappled with failing test scores, Polk said she found herself unprepared for the rigor of college coursework, particularly among peers who seemed to have been better prepared by their respective high schools. She ended up excelling – earning a BA with distinction in psychology and working as a research assistant in Yale’s social cognitive development lab – but the journey for her was eye-opening.

“This was the first time I ever truly realized the extent of academic disparity resulting from socioeconomic differences,” she said. “I decided then that I had to understand it. That is what brought me to psychology.”

Upon graduating, Polk became the lead research assistant for a Yale School of Medicine study, evaluating mental health treatments for socioeconomically disadvantaged adults struggling with addiction, and also served as a research assistant for a study on HIV-prevention video games.

She went on to teach at the Westport Day School, where she later developed a test preparation program for students with complex academic, behavioral, and emotional needs.

“These have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Polk says, “and they have inspired me to explore ways to improve academic outcomes for all students.”

For more information about the Neag School of Education Dean’s Doctoral Scholar program, visit s.uconn.edu/neagdds.