Erika Cooper has an extensive background as a public education leader, educator, and nonprofit manager. She is currently a third year Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia. As a mixed methodologist, she uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches to understand the ways in which education policy impacts educational equity. Erika’s current research is concerned with both non-white and low-income families’ perceptions of traditional public schools and how those groups navigate school choice decisions. Her theoretical lens marries Tara Yosso’s cultural wealth model with critical race theory to best offer ways in which to capitalize on the competencies of vulnerable students, rather than focusing on their deficits. Erika believes that highlighting strengths empowers students to increase self-efficacy and heightens their chances of achieving long-term success.
Prior to becoming a researcher, Erika was a practicing educator who spent about thirteen years as a teacher, school level administrator, central office administrator, and non-profit leader. A large portion of Erika’s teaching experience was in majority African American and/or majority low-income schools. These experiences, coupled with her own upbringing in low-income neighborhoods, fostered a unique approach to vulnerable students. A champion of the whole child approach to teaching and learning, Erika is keenly aware that students do not exist in a school-vacuum. Instead, they bring all of their experiences with them. When those experiences are acknowledged and addressed, students can better engage in the learning environment. However, when those unique needs are not considered or dealt with, vulnerable students have decreased opportunities for success.
Most recently, Erika worked with a large, urban school district to increase school flexibility and innovation, and improve talent development. In the nonprofit sector, Erika served as the program coordinator of a middle school mentoring program for at-risk girls, affiliated with the University of Virginia.
Erika holds a B.A. in Economics from Spelman College, a M.S. in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Education Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia. She is also a graduate of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, Education Policy Fellowship.