More than a decade ago, as part of ACT’s 50th anniversary celebration, ACT established the ACT Scholars Program, as part of a pair of endowments to nurture the academic talent of graduate and community college students at the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College. These two institutions share ACT’s passion for helping all students achieve their ambitions in college and their careers. ACT emphasized scholarships for students from populations for which the cost of higher education could have presented a significant barrier to college access and accomplishments.
We will feature ACT Scholar blog posts regularly, to hear their stories and learn about their college-going journeys. Learn more about the ACT Scholars program.
What was your motivation for going to college and earning a degree?
When people ask me what I am doing for work, I joke and say I am a professional student. Going to school always just made sense to me. There were times when I excelled, and there were times when I struggled. However, I always craved gaining more knowledge and improving the skills that would make me a better student and person. Growing up biracial in a predominately white community, I often struggled to find where I belonged. So, I threw myself into school and extracurricular activities. Continuing to learn and better myself made me gain goals of one day achieving my Ph.D. I had no idea at the time in what, but I knew that I wanted to become Dr. Alexis Oakley. The motivation to continue to get this degree has come from observations and experiences in the education world. I want to help make a difference in the lives of children who look like me and will have similar experiences. My current goal is to find, create, and explore how we can make the educational experience much more equitable, diverse, and inclusive.
What are you currently studying? What degree will you earn?
I am currently in the educational measurement and statistics program in the Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations in the College of Education. I recently finished my Master of Arts in May and am currently working on my Ph.D.
Who inspired or supported you in your college-going journey?
My family has been my support system throughout my entire college-going journey. No matter what I chose to do with my education, they have been behind me every step – even when I decided to move 12 hours away from home to pursue my graduate degree. A big shout out to my dog, Cornbread, who I adopted during the first year of my graduate program. She has been there every step of this journey as my study buddy during the all-nighters, classmate through the COVID-19 online classes, and rock through tough times. I would not be where I am without the support of my family, friends, and Cornbread.
What advice would you give to college students today?
Imposter syndrome is a real thing. Always embrace who you are and only worry about what you can control. You got here, you were accepted, and you keep working to improve the skills that you know you have. Try new things, explore campus, join clubs, and find your people!
What does the ACT Scholarship mean to you? How does it affect your college-going journey?
Having the ACT Scholarship has meant the world to me. It has allowed me to be financially stable as I continue my college-going journey. I am so grateful to have the support of ACT in helping me attain my goals to get my Ph.D. Being an ACT Scholar has also connected me to other graduate students of color at the University of Iowa and helped me foster relationships with those who have similar goals. The ACT scholarship has allowed me to attend talks and discussions about adding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts to the education world. Being an ACT Scholar, I must help carry the legacy of advocacy DEI in my own program to help shape and mold the minds of others. Being an ACT Scholar has opened the door to me achieving my hopes and dreams, and I am forever grateful for the support that I have been given!
What goals have you set for yourself?
My current goal is to pass my comprehensive exams, get my dissertation topic locked in, and start writing. I am excited to see where this last part of my college journey takes me. I also plan to do an internship to receive more hands-on research practice to become the best version of myself. After attaining these goals and defending my dissertation, my next decision is to stay in academia or move on to industry. My options are now open, as my goal is to make a difference in any area that would have me. If that means teaching future psychometricians how to advocate for DEI in their own research or working for a testing organization like ACT and helping change the DEI culture, I would be grateful to do either option.
How have you and/or your research interests addressed diversity, equity, and/or inclusion issues, challenges, and/or opportunities?
My current research interests have been concentrated on how various statistical and psychometric models use data from different invariance studies. Invariance studies evaluate underlying constructs or latent traits across multi-group (diverse identified populations like cultures, grades, genders, and socioeconomic scales) or longitudinal data (change over time). With measurement invariance studies, I can explore and advocate for DEI issues, challenges, and/or opportunities in education measurement and statistics. These issues and challenges in DEI have become a small conversation in the testing community, though they have yet to be discussed more thoroughly. I would love to stir up the proper discussions on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in testing with my own research.
Alexis Oakley, M.A. (she/her) is currently an educational measurement and statistics Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa. Her goal is to learn everything and anything about how using statistical and psychometric models will help foster a sense of improvement in testing for DEI. When she’s not chasing her research goals she is part of the Society of Black Graduate and Professional Students, Graduate Measurement and Statistics Students, and the graduate student Co-chair for the 2023 National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) Annual Meeting. Outside of school, she is a dog mom advocating for shelter pets nationwide, baking, and singing along to her favorite jams.