Alumna Profile: Nicole Barnes

Research is this Alum’s favorite part of being a college professor

Nicole Barnes (née DiDonato) (Ed.M.’08, Ph.D.’09) started teaching when she was a child. Barnes would play teacher with different family members. At the time, she never thought she would become a college professor.

“I jokingly tell the students in my class that I think I was born to teach,” explains Barnes.

In addition to playing teacher with her family, several of them were educators. Barnes’ parents both started as teachers before moving their careers into administration positions. Barnes’ mother is now the president of the New Jersey Affiliate of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NJASCD). Her parents played vital roles in Barnes’ decision to obtain a career in education.   

“My parents were my first teachers,” says Barnes, “and they instilled in me a love for learning and a desire to teach.”

That desire to teach began when Barnes spent her summers during college teaching and substituting at different school districts in New Jersey. Barnes knew that further educating herself would help in a career in education.

Already having her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers, she was well aware of the university’s reputation as a top-notch, teaching and research institution. This made for an easy decision for Barnes to enroll at Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE).

GSE helped Barnes understand how to properly conduct research and interpret data. Barnes feels that the strong training in methodology and theory she received at the GSE set her apart from peers who attended other graduate programs.

“When I first started teaching, I did not feel like a first time professor,” states Barnes. “I felt like I have been doing this for awhile.”

While studying at the GSE, Barnes was a graduate assistant under Dr. Angela O’Donnell. O’Donnell shared valuable career advice, like the many hats a college professor wears.

In her fifth year as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Foundations at Montclair State University, Barnes enjoys teaching courses in educational psychology and assessment, engaging in research, and working with students. Like O’Donnell did with Barnes when she was a student, Barnes has her students involved with every aspect of research.

“I feel that students should have the opportunity to explore research topics that they find interesting and relevant to their future careers,” declares Barnes. “They should assume an active and significant role in all parts of the research process including dissemination of the research findings.”

As part of a research team, Barnes was one of seven teams nationwide to receive a prestigious grant from the Spencer Foundation to examine how teachers use data to inform instruction. Barnes hopes that the research will uncover better assessment techniques for grade school teachers.

“A good deal of research has examined school or district level assessment activities, but little is known about the practices of individual teachers,” explains Barnes. “We are trying to understand how teachers engage with classroom assessment data and to use what we learn to inform pre-service education and professional development for practicing teachers.” 

Click here to view the faculty directory at the GSE, and learn more about their particular research interests.