Professor Cramer’s passion for helping others shines through research, mentorship

By Ashley Garcia

Elizabeth Cramer is passionate about helping others. Cramer is a professor of special education and the Graduate Program Director of the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education.

She’s also a 2020 Faculty Convocation Awardee for Advising & Mentoring and a Top Scholar in the category of Research and Creative Activities: Significant Grants (Sciences). Faculty Convocation Awardees earn recognition for their impactful teaching, outstanding research and exemplary service, and Top Scholars are nominated by their deans for their excellence in particular categories and selected by the Provost and President.

Elizabeth Cramer

Cramer’s area of focus is special education, a focus in which she became interested at a very early age.

“My elementary school had a class for students with intellectual disabilities, and my teachers would send me to help out in that classroom when I was done with my work,” she says.

She became a classroom teacher before deciding to pursue a Ph.D. Her work specifically looks at marginalized populations with multiple diversity and minority markers, such as disability, race, and poverty. The field was an emerging one when she entered it, and as a doctoral student, the project she worked on was one of the first to look at this overlap. Today, there’s more attention to intersectionality in published literature and mainstream journals.

While she doesn’t teach as much anymore, she still feels a strong tie to the classroom.

“In a way, I can reach more people now than I ever could directly as a teacher. My students come back and tell me that what I teach them is helping. There are people who I mentored who are now professors, and will tell me stories about the teachers they’ve trained coming back to them. It’s a line of legacy.”

Her favorite project, which began last year, is a multi-million dollar consortium project with Arizona State University and Syracuse University to educate and train special education professors. They began recruiting doctoral students from typically underrepresented groups last fall, and this semester all three cohorts across the three sites are active.

“By the time they’ve graduated, they will have done research, published, presented, and have a built-in network of colleagues,” she says. “I’m so excited for this project because we have the budget, connections, and capital to really train the generation of leaders in urban special education.”

This is Cramer’s sixth year participating in the Faculty Mentor Program. When she first began, she was paired with a new faculty member in psychology whose research overlapped with hers. She’s partnered with that faculty member several times since, highlighting what she sees as one of the program’s benefits.

“Connecting people who otherwise wouldn’t have met leads to fresh perspectives, which is important to have as a junior faculty member, and to collaborations outside your department or outside your college, which is a great way to build a network.”

Cramer is currently mentoring three mentees within the FMP and one mentee in her own department, as well as others in an unofficial capacity. She sees mentoring as intrinsically tied to her research.

“When you’re working with doctoral students, you’re essentially mentoring them and helping them to emerge as leaders in the field,” she says. “I have the benefit of having been able to enjoy a long career, and now I’m in a position to pay it forward. If someone is asking for help, who am I to not make that space?”

The best advice a mentor has ever given her is to keep in perspective that a career is only one part of life, so when choosing an institution to work at, one should consider how happy one can be living in a particular city. This idea of balance is built into her mentorship, especially when asked about the best advice she can give to mentees.

“Where I often see the most ambitious and productive mentees fall the flattest is wrestling with balancing professional and personal responsibilities. There’s more to having a successful career than taking care of your work. You have to take care of yourself as well.”

She was excited to learn about her Faculty Convocation and Top Scholar Awards.

“I found out about the two of them within a week of each other. It was a nice example of how there’s still positive things going on in the world and it gives me a little perspective to know that I’m doing things that matter and that make a difference.”

This story first appeared on ADVANCE News.