Persistence and Mattering in Undergraduate Education (PMUE) Research Cluster

The Persistence and Mattering in Undergraduate Education (PMUE) Research Cluster will investigate how and why UM-Flint students persist in their undergraduate education and how they develop a sense of mattering in a university community. There is ample research that points to the importance of persistence and mattering (or belonging) in undergraduate student success, and the studies from the PMUE research cluster will advance the scholarship of teaching and learning around this theme. Using quantitative and qualitative data about our campus, our research will contribute to larger scholarly conversations about persistence and mattering for students at regional, urban institutions, especially those who are first-generation, from a minoritized population, or are transfer students. 


  • Investigate and publicly disseminate evidence-based research about encouraging and facilitating persistence and a sense of mattering for undergraduate students.
  • Engage in interdisciplinary dialogue across different academic programs and Student Affairs divisions to coordinate efforts and to identify future collaborations.
  • Support and inform the university’s strategic priority of student retention.

Current Projects

The factors that influence persistence and the conditions that promote mattering can be explored through:

  • high-impact practices and pedagogies
  • intentional course design that employs a specific pedagogical approach 
  • curricular development and revision
  • community-based projects
  • advising and mentoring programs and initiatives

High-Impact Teaching Practices and Pedagogies

Course and Curriculum (Re-)Design

  • Equity-minded and relationship-rich teaching: Nancy Grigg, Kazuko Hiramatsu, Suzanne Knight, Todd Womack
  • Teagle Grant to develop a liberal arts certificate: Jennifer Alvey, Douglas Knerr, DJ Trela, Stephanie Roach
  • Anti-racist and anti-bias teacher education curriculum: School of Educations and Human Services

Advising, Mentoring, and Co-Curricular Programs


Kazuko Hiramatsu
College of Arts & Sciences
Kazuko Hiramatsu is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and a Vice Chair for the Health Sciences and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board. She is an Associate Editor for the Teaching Linguistics section of Language, the flagship journal of the Linguistic Society of America. She primarily teaches undergraduate linguistics courses for non-majors, as well as a first-year experience course that has partnered with the Urban Renaissance Center since 2017. Her teaching and research intentionally intersect, both focusing on the use of reflection, signature assignments, and ePortfolios. With the support of a grant from the National Science Foundation through the Linguistic Society of America, she has been co-facilitating a Faculty Learning Community on the scholarship of teaching and learning in linguistics.

Jennifer Alvey
College of Arts & Sciences
Jennifer Alvey is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan-Flint. Her work in feminist political-economy of development addresses broad patterns of uneven development and social change. Her ethnographic and historical research in Nicaragua focuses on the spatial formation of the state, gendered-class and property relations, and the dynamics of revolutionary/counter-revolutionary political mobilizations. She is also interested in the gendered dynamics of environmental crises, food sovereignty, and social justice in Michigan and in comparative perspective. Her professional interests also include curricular development, integrative learning, and reflective pedagogies. She is a part of the Signature Assignment and ePortfolio working group on campus, and with team members has presented this research and work at national and regional conferences. 

Emily Feuerherm
College of Arts & Sciences
Emily Feuerherm, Associate Professor of Linguistics and the Director of the Bridge and TESOL Certificate programs, is interested in making multicultural experiences accessible to diverse students through global virtual exchanges and collaborations with local community organizations and tribal colleges. Many of her courses partner with UNIMINUTO in Bogota, Colombia, and she has been working with faculty at the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College to integrate indigenous pedagogies and epistemologies to her classes.

Rajib Ganguly
College of Arts & Sciences
Rajib Ganguly is interested in the use of signature assignments and e-portfolios as enhancements to the pedagogy in STEM courses. Reflective practices are typically associated with the STEM fields, but they are present in different ways. In this cluster, Ganguly is interested in reflection both as a way of making the student more metacognitive about their own learning and as a way for the student to how STEM courses that are not in their immediate field relate to them.

John Girdwood
Educational Opportunities Initiatives
John Girdwood is the Program Manager for the University of Michigan – Flint Promise Scholars.  He has also taught sociology there since 2012. After receiving his MSA and PhD, John conducted grant-funded community health research at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor and the University of Detroit Mercy as well as developing programs at the Central Michigan University College of Medicine and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He has managed over $20 million in grants funded by CMS, NIH, MIDHHS, MIDLEG, and Colgate.  Dr. Girdwood is driven by witnessing the impact of grant-funded projects, like watching first-generation college graduates receive their diplomas.

Nancy Grigg
School of Education & Human Services
Nancy Grigg earned her BA and MA in English-Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Michigan-Flint. She joined the Social Work Department in September 2014 as a lecturer, where she has been improving writing outcomes through student engagement, high-impact practices, and civic engagement activities.

Samara Hough
Center for Gender & Sexuality
Samara Hough is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with professional experience in nonprofit and higher education sectors. She currently serves as Director of the University of Michigan-Flint Center for Gender and Sexuality where she leads advocacy efforts across the campus community to support women, survivors and members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Samara is an active board member of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence and Co-chair of the Genesee County Sexual Assault Response Team.  She received her bachelor’s in Women Studies and Psychology from the University of Michigan and her Master’s in Social Work from Wayne State University. 

Douglas Knerr
College of Arts & Sciences

Suzanne Knight
School of Education & Human Services
Suzanne started at UM-Flint in 2004. She has 13 years of experience teaching in middle and high schools and earned a PhD in Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Policy from Michigan State University in 2007. She teaches secondary teacher preparation foundations courses, as well as English methods courses. Suzanne’s research interests include secondary teacher preparation, teacher professional development, and place-based teacher education.

David J. Luke
Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
Dr. David J. Luke earned bachelor’s degrees in accounting and Sociology from Grand Valley State University and a master’s and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Kentucky, where he worked in their Office for Institutional Diversity. He is a registered Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the state of Michigan, where prior to graduate school, he conducted financial audits of primarily governmental and nonprofit firms. Dr. Luke has published a number of journal articles and co-authored a book. His research has focused on multiracial organizations broadly, with a more recent focus on diversity and inclusion in higher education. As a sociologist and inaugural Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan-Flint, Dr. Luke intentionally interrogates what appear to be isolated instances in their broader contexts to explore innovative structural or policy-oriented solutions in order to build more inclusive communities for all, with a recognition that the umbrella of “diversity” is large and constantly evolving.

Nationally, Dr. Luke is involved in (and has presented at the annual meetings of) the American Sociological Association, Society for the Study of Social Problems, National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, and the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education. He currently serves as chair of the Budget, Finance, and Audit committee of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

Shelby Newport
College of Arts & Sciences
Shelby Newport is a theatre educator based in Michigan. She is a professor of theatre at the University of Michigan-Flint, where she also designs costumes for theatre productions. Shelby received her MFA from Purdue University and her undergraduate degree from Cornell College. While serving in a variety of leadership roles at UM-Flint, Shelby has fostered retention initiatives, curriculum development, and has worked to bring cohesion and new growth to the university-wide General Education Program. Her professional design work can be seen around Michigan and on her website: 

Stephanie Roach
College of Arts & Sciences
Stephanie Roach regularly presents at national conferences related to writing, writing program administration, plagiarism, general education, and integrative learning. Her published works include chapters in A Process Approach to General Education Reform: Transforming Institutional Culture in Higher Education, Teaching in the Pop Culture Zone: Using Popular Culture in the Composition Classroom, and The Promise and Peril of Writing Program Administration, as well as a recent article in the flagship journal WPA: Writing Program Administration and a co-authored contribution on signature assignments for AAC&U’s Liberal Education BLOG. 

DJ Trela
College of Arts & Sciences

Todd Womack
School of Education & Human Services
Todd Womack is a social worker by profession. He currently serves as a lecturer and Academic Advisor at the University of Michigan- Flint, in the Social Work Department. Todd’s passion for racial equity and equality is evident in his continued dedication and work towards strengthening Flint neighborhoods and supporting realistic and solution-focused experiences. He continues to strive to decolonize learning experiences and to implement anti-racist and student-centered approaches to learning.