Melissa Speight Vaughn photo

Educational Policy Studies alumna conducts research in South Africa

Map of PotchefstroomDr. Melissa Speight Vaughn is far, far away at the moment. Her first work experience overseas has led her to a position in South Africa.

Vaughn conducts research at North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus). This is also her first time in South Africa.

Her journey to South Africa took many steps:

  • She received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Howard University.
  • After her four children began school, she taught in Henry County Public Schools.
  • She began her studies at Georgia State University in 2005.
  • She began her studies at the College of Education & Human Development in 2005.
  • She received a master’s in Social Foundations of Education (2007), and Education Specialist (2009) and Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies (2015).

During her time at the College, Vaughn worked as a GRA assistant to Dr. Joyce E. King. King is the Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair of Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership. King, who Vaughn calls “Nana,” was of great service back to Vaughn. She was her doctoral advisor, dissertation chair and on Vaughn’s master’s thesis committee.

“I owe who I am as a researcher, scholar and academic to Nana. She guided me through my maze of personal, social, intellectual and political curiosities related to educational policy, and helped me find my place in the sun,” Vaughn said.

Under King’s advisement, Vaughn explored her research interests. She looked at culture, epistemology and place as they impact citizenship identity. Her research took her from Atlanta to Belize, Central America. For her dissertation, she investigated community knowledge and citizenship praxis. This was to document the connection between cultural groups, land and citizenship.

“I created a method of inquiry to investigate a community perspective using their culture,” Vaughn said. “The methodology revealed how the community used culture as a way of knowing who they are in their community and who they are in the world. The knowledge of many long term black communities in the South of the United States is marginalized in school curriculums and classrooms. I needed a methodology that moved the community knowledge from the margins to the center of the research. And I also needed to check my own bias and colonial mentality in the process.”

Melissa Speight Vaughn in South Africa

Melissa Speight Vaughn in South Africa

Once finished with her studies, Vaughn looked to the world for her fellowship placement. This landed her in her current position at North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus). Here she’s a post-doctoral fellow with the Self Directed Learning (SDL) Research Center. Her research considers two subprogrammes – Affordances of Indigenous Knowledge for SDL and Case-Based Pedagogy.

The first involves how black and white communities viewed indigenous knowledge during apartheid years.

“I will have the unique opportunity to interview members of the Khoisan community. The Khoisan are the only group of people indigenous to South Africa,” Vaughn explained.

The latter explores the impact of the South African context on teacher education. She will also work alongside well-known published science educator, Professor Josef de Beer.

But it won’t be all research and no fun for Vaughn. There’s hiking, game drives, wine country tours and South Africa to explore. She’s also excited about guests from the states, including GSU colleagues. Dr. Gwendolyn Benson, Dr. Susan Ogletree and Dr. Robert Hendrick have already visited!