Joshua Pretlow is the 2010 recipient of the Alton L. Taylor Award.

Joshua PretlowThe mix of classes he taught at Clarke County High School by day and at Lord Fairfax Community College by night exposed an issue Joshua Pretlow had never before considered.

“I noticed that there were different expectations for high school and college students, but nobody made that explicit,” Pretlow says. “Were we preparing high schoolers to graduate or preparing them to be successful in college? I started thinking about the misalignment and wondering, ‘Why are they not the same thing?’”

Pretlow’s experiences teaching, both as an adjunct at Lord Fairfax and in his high school dual enrollment courses, confirmed statistics he later discovered: Sixty to seventy-five percent of students going to community colleges and twenty-five percent going to four-year colleges need one or more remedial classes before they can begin taking courses for credit. Yet, remedial education is a hurdle that a majority of these students never overcome.  Most drop out of college before completing their degree.

Pretlow decided that he wanted to know more about how to address this problem, and some Google searching connected him with Heather Wathington, an assistant professor in the Curry School’s higher education program. Dr. Wathington had just obtained a grant with the Institute of Education Sciences to examine the effectiveness of summer bridge programs in Texas. A summer bridge program is a short, intense introduction to college designed for first-year students who are judged to lack academic or social readiness.

The topic seemed a perfect match with Pretlow’s very specific interests, and he was funded by the research project all four years of his doctoral program. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but it worked,” Pretlow said. “The more I got into the research, the more I liked it.”

He finished his dissertation on the Texas summer bridge programs in August 2011. His study compared a group of students taking the program to a randomized control group of students who signed up for the program but were not accepted.

The year prior, Pretlow had received the Alton L. Taylor Award from the Curry School Foundation. This monetary award was established by the former students of Professor Taylor in memory of his distinguished career. It is awarded each year to an outstanding full-time doctoral student in the Higher Education program who had made a distinctive contribution to the university.

“This award allowed me to present research at a conference that I would not otherwise have been able to afford,” Pretlow said. Presenting at professional conferences is an important way for doctoral students to disseminate their work, develop self-efficacy in the scholarly community, and build networking relationships that may eventually lead to a job.

Since defending his dissertation, Pretlow has been working as a postdoctoral fellow with Wathington on some new research projects related to the high school to college transition. Later this summer he will move to Ohio, where he will teach higher education and research/evaluation courses as an assistant professor at University of Cincinnati’s School of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services.

Joshua completed his doctorate in 2011 and is now working as the director of policy analysis at UNCGA.

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