Armed with a master’s degree and a doctorate from CU-Boulder, Subini Annamma will head to Indiana University at Indianapolis after graduation. There she will teach and continue her research on increasing access to equitable education for marginalized students and urban communities, particularly for children with disabilities.
Annamma received a dual master’s degree in 2008 in special education and linguistically diverse learners. This May, she is graduating with a PhD in special education from the School of Education, Department of Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity. The School of Education is presenting her with its Outstanding Doctoral Graduate Student award.
Annamma had been a special education teacher for six years and directly involved in juvenile justice when she came to CU-Boulder. While getting her master’s degree, she continued teaching full time at Aurora Central High School in Aurora, Colorado, working with culturally and linguistically diverse students with emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities.
After she completed the master’s program, one of her professors, Dr. Janette Klingner, encouraged her to apply to the doctoral program.
“Dr. Klingner recognized my concern for my students,” said Annamma. “She saw my potential capability as a researcher before I knew it existed in myself.”
The focus of Annamma’s doctoral dissertation was centered on the trajectories of young women of color with disabilities who were at the end of the School to Prison Pipeline. The phrase refers to a pattern of pushing disadvantaged students out of school and into the criminal justice system, a disturbing trend in this country, Annamma said.
As a special education teacher, Annamma worked with students in the juvenile justice system. She found them to be bright and thoughtful, which was in direct contrast to the general population’s perception of young criminals as stupid, thoughtless and lazy.
“I learned about the large numbers of children labeled with disabilities,” she said, “particularly children of color, who had been relegated to juvenile incarceration. But I found these children to be empathetic and hard working.”
It was while working with these students that she developed a passion for social justice teaching, which then led her to CU-Boulder’s School of Education.
As an assistant professor at Indiana University, Annamma is looking forward to working in a large city that will afford her more opportunities to advocate for access and equity for diverse student populations in urban schools and juvenile justice.
While at CU, Annamma helped establish Racial Initiative for Students and Educators (RISE) to foster discussion on race and inequity in research and pedagogy. She received a number of awards and fellowships, including the School of Education Fellowship and the American Educational Research Association’s Dissertation Minority Fellowship in Education Research Award.
In addition to faculty who are committed to equity and social justice—topics she is keenly interested in—Annamma also credits CU’s doctoral program for preparing her with intensive qualitative and quantitative research training, policy analysis and development of a conceptual framework that focuses on educational equity.
“The School of Education at CU-Boulder is a national leader in special education and English Language Learner preparation,” she said. “It’s a challenge to get a PhD, but I was lucky to connect with a nurturing group of faculty members and students who were amazing role models and community.”