Persistence and Mattering in Undergraduate Education 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, and 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

  • Signature assignment and ePortfolios: Current study team, Jennifer Alvey, Rajib Ganguly, Kazuko Hiramatsu, Stephanie Roach

Course and Curriculum (Re-)Design

  • Equity-minded and relationship-rich teaching: Nancy Grigg, Kazuko Hiramatsu, Shelby Newport, Todd Womack
  • CHILAS (Certificate in Humanistic Inquiry in the Liberal Arts), planned and implemented with support from the Teagle Foundation’s Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative: current Steering Committee Jennifer Alvey, Kazuko Hiramatsu, Stephanie Roach
  • Collaborative Filmmaking: Co-Leads Jennifer Alvey, Emily Feuerherm

Advising, Mentoring, and Co-Curricular Programs

  • King-Chavez-Parks Program: John Girdwood


Kazuko Hiramatsu
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
Kazuko Hiramatsu is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and a Vice Chair for the Health Sciences and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board. She served asan Associate Editor for the Teaching Linguistics section of Language, the flagship journal of the Linguistic Society of America, from 2012-2023. She primarily teaches undergraduate linguistics courses for non-majors, and taught a first-year experience course that partnered with the Urban Renaissance Center for six years. Her teaching and research intentionally intersect, both focusing on the use of reflection, signature assignments, and ePortfolios. With the support of three grants from the National Science Foundation, she has been co-facilitating a Faculty Learning Community on the scholarship of teaching and learning in linguistics.

Jennifer Alvey
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
Jennifer Alvey is an 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 & Education
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 Innovation & Technology
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 a Program Manager at the University of Michigan-Flint supporting the King-Chavez-Parks program. He has also taught sociology at UM-Flint since 2012.

Nancy Grigg
College of Health Sciences
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.

Shelby Newport
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
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 and 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 & Education
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.

Todd Womack
College of Health Sciences
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, solution-focused experiences. He continues to strive to decolonize learning experiences and to implement anti-racist and student-centered approaches to learning.

  • Alvey, J., & Feuerherm, E. (2024). Collaborative filmmaking for social reflection and action: A “Welcoming Communities” pilot project [Poster Presentation]. The National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in Higher Education, Honolulu, HI.
  • Alvey, J., Roach, S., Hiramatsu, K., & Ganguly, R. (In press). Leveraging sensemaking as a leadership strategy in a grassroots faculty approach to ePortfolio design and implementation. International Journal of ePortfolio.
  • Alvey, J., Roach, S., Hiramatsu, K., & Ganguly, R. (2023) Navigating change in ePortfolio implementations: Stories from the field. [Conference Presentation]. AAC&U Annual Forum on Open Learning and ePortfolios.
  • Alvey, J., Roach, S., Wacker, T., Hiramatsu, K., & Ganguly, R. (2022). Democratic implications of reflection: Findings from integrative learning research at UM-Flint. [Conference presentation].  Pre-Meeting Symposium of the AAC&U Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.
  • Girdwood, J. (2024). Teaching First-Year Academically Disadvantaged Students. [Conference Poster]. 43rd Annual Conference on The First-Year Experience, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.
  • Girdwood, J. (Ed.) (2023). Our Summer Our Voice: Sociology at the University of Michigan-Flint. Brandon Publishing.  
  • Girdwood, J. (2023). Faculty-Engaged Assessment of a College Program for Marginalized Students. [Conference Presentation]. Assessment Institute in Indianapolis (IUPUI).
  • Hiramatsu, K. (2022). Integrative learning in linguistics through signature assignments. [Invited presentation]. Teaching English Language, Literature, and Culture 8: Active Methodologies, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain.
  • Newport, S. & Laurence, G. (2024). The Business of the Arts in Japan: Trans-Disciplinary Design Thinking Approach to Course Development. [Workshop]. Nineteenth International Conference on the Arts in Society: Art for Sustenance, Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea.

  • Feuerherm, E. & Alvey, J. (2024). TESOL Practicum: Advanced ESL Conversation and Collaborative Filmmaking, University of Michigan-Flint and Latinx Center.
  • Roach, K., Alvey, J., & Hiramatsu, K. (2023). Getting HIP to ePortfolios: Scaling assignment-level reflective pedagogies into program-based ePortfolios. [Pre-Institute Workshop]. Assessment Institute, Indianapolis, IN. 
  • Womack, T., Grigg, N., & Hiramatsu, K.(2022-2023, 2023). “I am From” course. Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education (IGNITE) Program, Office of Genesee County Sheriff.
  • Womack, T., Grigg, N., & Hiramatsu, K. (2021). Developing Equity-Minded Syllabi. Thompson Center for Learning and Teaching workshop, University of Michigan-Flint.

  • Feuerherm, E. (2023). Hagerman Faculty Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award. Hagerman Center.
  • Hiramatsu, K., & Temkin Martinez, M. (2023-2024). 2024 Workshop on Scholarly Teaching and SoTL in Linguistics. National Science Foundation.
  • Hiramatsu, K., & Temkin Martinez, M. (2022-2023). Conference on Scholarly Teaching and SoTL in Linguistics. National Science Foundation.
  • Hiramatsu, K., Grigg, N., & Womack, T. (2022). A Community-Engaged Curriculum across Three Courses. University of Michigan-Flint Faculty Development Teaching Grant.
  • Trela, D.J., Alvey, J., & Roach, S. (2022). UM-Flint Certificate in Humanistic Inquiry. The Teagle Foundation.

  • Kathleen Blake Yancey. (2022). Variations on a Theme: Toward Mapping the Universe of Reflection and Its Effects.
  • Susan Blum. (2022). Hand-On Workshop about Ungrading