Before today’s culture had terms like “achievement gap” Karen Mapp ’77 was sitting in Trinity’s admissions office, considering how to improve the education prospects for all students. Mapp’s work as an admissions officer confronted her with a persistent quandary: what is the connection between a low income/low opportunity student’s educational success and family? Her questions turned into actions, and she has committed herself to answering the question, and to creating opportunity for greater access to post-secondary education.
While at Trinity, Mapp majored in psychology. She started the cheerleading program and loved her friends. Following graduation, she worked at Southern New England Telephone Company and then joined the Trinity admissions team for six years. At that time, Mapp wasn’t considering the pursuit of a doctorate, and enjoyed working with her Trinity colleagues, students, and parents.
As Mapp interviewed thousands of prospective students at Trinity, she noticed patterns in the answers of the high school students when she asked them about factors leading to their educational success. Students unanimously deferred to either a supportive family member that inspired, or a lack of encouragement, which led to internal motivation. She says, “My interest in families and education came out of admissions. I slowly realized that families played a larger role in the success of the students than was recognized by schools.” Her realization became a seed that needed to be watered and tended to. Mapp says, “It was April 1, 1992 and I was sitting at my admissions desk at Trinity when I was received a call from Professor Jay Heubert, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), to say I had been admitted to the doctoral program.”
Today, Mapp is at HGSE as a Lecturer in Education and Director of the Education Policy and Management Master’s degree program, a role she has held since 2005. When I asked her what she most enjoys in her role, she replied, “I LOVE teaching my students and talking through my research with parents, school and district staff, and policy makers. I also feel connected to the practice piece of the family engagement work. I identify as a researcher and practitioner.” The exciting thing about Mapp’s work is that people are paying attention to her findings and putting them into practice. For example, districts are now developing programming and hiring full time professionals that work on fostering educational partnerships between families, community members, and school staff, opening doors for students who in the past would not have considered college. Mapp is devoted to education. A lifelong learner, she is dedicating her career to helping others do the same.