Growing up, Kendall Wulbrun always felt seen and safe to be herself in the classroom. Now she is interested in devoting her career in higher education and education policy to ensuring all students have the same opportunities that she has been afforded.
“I want all students to have those opportunities and to be able to discover their passions and dreams in fulfilling, supportive educational environments,” she said.
“What we look like, where we come from, or what we believe shouldn't dictate where we can go in life. I believe education plays a crucial role in shaping future opportunity, and we have a responsibility to ensure every child has access to a quality education at all levels of schooling.”
Motivated to learn more about educational equity, Wulbrun originally enrolled in graduate school at CU Boulder interested in the PhD program in Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice in the School of Education, but she discovered the master’s program was a better fit for her long-term goals as an educational researcher.
A former college admissions counselor, Wulbrun’s research interests focus on the intersection of higher education and justice. In her master’s capstone project, Wulbrun conducted an original empirical study of how admissions counselors evaluate applications, drawing attention to less visible criteria that can inadvertently reinscribe inequities between applicants. Her study also drew attention to institutional constraints that structure the work of admissions counselors —time, capacity, and considerations about the financial qualifications of families. Her project posed powerful questions about the less-visible processes and political economic pressures that subvert institutional commitments to equity and inclusion in higher education.
Following graduation, Wulbrun began work as a program associate and research assistant at the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities at Stanford University and as a research fellow at the Campaign for College Opportunity. This fall, she will begin a doctoral program in educational policy at Stanford.
Her journey as an up-and-coming educational researcher is coming full circle with guidance and support of CU Boulder faculty mentors, particularly, Terri Wilson and Kevin Welner. Wilson and Welner described Wulbrun, this year’s Outstanding Graduate in Master’s in Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice program, as “an outstanding student… who deeply engaged in her classroom communities, thoughtfully contributing to different class discussions, meeting/collaborating with peers, and supporting new students.”
Wulbrun says she is indebted to their support and her experiences at CU Boulder for helping her get one set closer to her dream as an influential educational researcher and leader in advancing educational equity.
In her words
Please tell us a bit about yourself
I'm originally from Illinois, but my family moved around a lot growing up. I've lived in just about every region of the country now. I currently live in the Bay Area in California with my fiancé. I've always known I wanted to work in education in some way. As an undergrad student at TCU, I was really involved in various programs on campus that allowed me to get to know staff members in the admission office and student affairs, which influenced my interest in a career in higher education. After graduation, I worked as an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at Santa Clara University. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school in the future, and my time working in college admissions sparked a lot of questions in me about how the process operates and the inequities that persist in access to higher education. I was originally interested in the PhD program at CU but ended up doing the M.A. program instead, which was ultimately such a great choice for me. I knew the master's program at CU would help prepare me for my future research interests and career goals.
Over the past year, I have worked as a program associate and research assistant at the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and their Communities at Stanford University and as a research fellow at the Campaign for College Opportunity. This fall, I will begin my PhD in Educational Policy at Stanford University - the dream I set for myself before arriving at CU (and I don't know that it would've been possible without the experiences I had and relationships I built while I was there)."
What is one of the lessons from your time at CU Boulder that you’ll carry with you into the next chapter?
I met so many great faculty members who turned into strong mentors and learned so much from my classmates who work in other areas of education. Both my professors and classmates encouraged me to pursue the work I wanted to do, even given the short amount of time I spent at CU. Their faith in my work and belief in the value of what I want to do has been such great motivation for my future goals. I was able to pursue a full IRB-approved research project in my one year at CU Boulder. I couldn't have undertaken such an endeavor while also taking four classes and applying to PhD programs without the support of my professors.
Specifically, Dr. Welner and Dr. Wilson were incredible mentors and supporters throughout my time at CU! I will always be so grateful for the relationships I built with them and the advice they shared with me. Last spring, I had to decide whether to pursue a PhD in the fall or reapply to the programs I really wanted. Dr. Wilson took such great interest in my decision and assured me to follow my instinct and wait for what I really wanted, even though it felt a bit crazy to me at the time. From where I am now, I can't thank her enough for that advice and providing me with the support and reassurance I needed in that moment."
What does graduating from CU Boulder represent for you and/or your community?
Graduating from CU last summer was a great experience. To me, it was motivation and proof that I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. I felt such a great sense of belonging in the classroom in the School of Education and so reassured and challenged by those around me. Finishing the EFPP program reignited my fire to continue fighting for educational equity."
What is your best piece of advice for incoming students?
Use class readings and assignments to further your own interests and answer questions you have about your own experiences. Classes are an opportunity to expand your understanding of other topics in education, while also investigating and refining your own interests. Find ways to make the work meaningful and useful to you. It's much more fulfilling and rewarding when you are invested in seeking answers to questions that matter to you."
What continues to drive your passion for your work after graduation?
I'm motivated by the need for educational equity in this country. As a child, I developed my identity in the classroom and felt the most seen and understood in these spaces. I recognize how the privilege I possess and opportunities I've had have enabled me to be where I am now. I want all students to have those opportunities and to be able to discover their passions and dreams in fulfilling, supportive educational environments. What we look like, where we come from, or what we believe shouldn't dictate where we can go in life. I believe education plays a crucial role in shaping future opportunity, and we have a responsibility to ensure every child has access to a quality education at all levels of schooling."