EMU community is home to international doctoral candidate duo

By Linda Hass | Published March 8, 2016

Eastern Michigan University College of Education graduate students Nigora Erkaeva (MA12) and Katja Robinson are passionate about creating a sense of community in their future classrooms.

Both international students know first-hand the importance of a warm welcome and the empowerment that comes from connection. And both say those qualities are not only alive and well at EMU, but a source of inspiration for their future classrooms.

"Enrolling at Eastern and coming to campus in 2010 was my first experience in America. Everything was new to me, from the education system to grocery shopping," says Erkaeva, a native of Tajikistan who is on track to receive a Ph.D. in urban education Winter 2017.

"But I was welcomed by the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), who gave me campus tours, escorted me to my housing and stayed in touch with me, creating a sense of community. They made me feel at home."

That’s the same feeling the Ypsilanti resident wants to re-create in her future classroom, she says, adding that her post-graduation plans include applying for university positions in her field of ecojustice education.

Erkaeva says EMU faculty and staff went out of their way to provide guidance and support, to answer questions and more. "Eastern has amazing faculty and staff who model the kind of connection that empowers students. It is worth emulating," she says.

Robinson, originally from Germany, echoed Erkaeva’s comments. "When I first visited campus in 2012 to get information about the educational studies program, I knew this was the right environment for me. The faculty was receptive to my ideas and interested in the topics I wanted to pursue," says the 35-year-old, who expects to receive a Ph.D. in student educational studies, focusing on impoverished women and children, this August. Robinson earned her master’s degree in social science/sociology in Germany.

Over the years, Robinson’s favorable first impression of EMU has been reinforced by the COE's warm, welcoming atmosphere and by opportunities to work on publications and presentations, she says. In 2013-14, Robinson teamed up with EMU Professors Valerie Polakow and Marjorie Ziefert to conduct a study on the childcare needs of student parents at Eastern.

"The faculty’s availability and support has been wonderful, and there is a real camaraderie with fellow COE students. In fact, Nigora and I were graduate assistants together, and I could not have managed without the help of a good friend," says Robinson. Erkaeva adds that the two international students have formed a special bond.

"I want to duplicate that sense of community wherever I work," says Robinson, whose career goals include working in a faculty position at a university or at a non-profit organization focusing on impoverished children and families.

One of the ways Robinson already creates community in the EMU class she currently teaches, Infant and Toddler Development (ECE 314), is to authentically share life experiences with her students. "I want them to see the real me, and for us to develop the rapport and trust that comes with that," she says.

Erkaeva says Eastern’s reputation as a top-notch education program extends all the way to Tajikistan, and inspired her to apply to EMU in 2010. She has a master’s degree from EMU in social foundation.

"Eastern was well known for its teacher program. That’s the kind of program I wanted to be a part of," says Erkaeva. "The fact that it also created such a welcoming community made it even better."

For more information visit the Educational Studies program webpage or contact Shawn Quilter at 734.487.6567 or [email protected].