SFA’s Dr. Heather Olson Beal selected as congressional fellow

Stephen F. Austin State University’s Dr. Heather Olson Beal, professor in the James I. Perkins College of Education’s Department of Education Studies, was recently named a congressional fellow by the American Educational Research Association.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University’s Dr. Heather Olson Beal, a professor in the James I. Perkins College of Education’s Department of Education Studies, was recently selected by the American Educational Research Association to serve as a congressional fellow.

Olson Beal heads to Washington soon to work alongside staff for either a congressional office or committee, where she’ll serve as an expert in education.

The yearlong appointment, buoyed by an $80,000 stipend, begins Sept. 1.

“I am thrilled to have this incredible opportunity to live in D.C. for a year,” Olson Beal said. “I am excited to see the inner workings of Congress and to work on connecting educational research to educational policy in ways that will hopefully contribute to improvements and better support for students, families and our teachers in public schools.” 

Thinking she had little chance of receiving the fellowship, Olson Beal submitted her application at the beginning of the year. When she finally heard back in early August, things moved quickly. She was asked to jump on a Zoom interview two hours later, then the official offer came the next day.

Once in Washington, Olson Beal and other fellows will meet congressional representatives and ultimately be selected to work with a specific office or committee. Though unsure of which office she will work with, Olson Beal has a good idea of what she’ll be doing — “chewing through” research, perhaps producing a literature review and otherwise being an all-around resource for the writing of educational policies.

Olson Beal will teach her SFA courses remotely during her Washington tenure. She also expects to start planning a future event in Washington called Day on the Hill so her SFA peers can meet with federal officials and advocate for teachers and students.

For their support, Olson Beal thanked SFA colleagues Dr. Jannah Nerren, chair of education studies; Dr. Lorenzo Smith, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs; and Dr. Judy Abbott, dean of the Perkins College of Education.

“Dr. Olson Beal has long been engaged in educational policy work,” Abbott said. “This fellowship is evidence of her national reputation in this work. We’re proud of her accomplishments.”

Founded in 1916, AERA is a national research society dedicated to improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry.