CMC SUCCESS STORIES
Comm Grad Sabrina Miller Klein Produces Award-Winning Research in Higher Education Equity & Access
Supporting rural and first-generation students is one of the most pressing issues facing universities today, and Communication, Media & Cinema grad Sabrina Miller Klein is determined to address those systemic challenges in higher education.
In February of 2023, Klein completed a Ph.D. in higher education and organizational change at the University of California-Los Angeles, but her academic journey began at Rogue Community College (RCC), where she was inspired by mentors to major in Communication at Southern Oregon University.
“Coming from Cave Junction, coming from a small school, working three jobs, and commuting from Grants Pass, I had a lot on my plate,” said Klein. “SOU was a small community for me that allowed me to learn and take advantage of what I loved. When I came to SOU, I was working on college access already. So, I could take all the things I was doing in my job and apply them in the classroom. That was really powerful for me. I didn’t have to separate what I was passionate about.”
Klein credits SOU’s Communication faculty with fostering her passion for education and providing essential academic skills that informed her work at UCLA.
“I love listening to people, hearing their stories, communicating their stories, and advocating for those whose voices aren’t often heard,” Klein said. “Those are all the skills that led me to become a qualitative researcher.”
Klein’s dissertation, “There’s More to the Story: An Organizational Analysis of Rurality and Higher Education,” recently earned second place in the American Educational Research Association’s Rural Education Special Interest Group. Her research explored how stakeholders work together to create educational and economic opportunities for students at the K12, community college, and university levels, focusing on a rural area in the Pacific Northwest.
“I learned how to interview people and conduct focus groups at SOU,” said Klein. “Those are the things that led to my dissertation. I think the ability to understand how the world communicates ideas, and how we critique and understand those ideas, are skills that I still use every day.”
As a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education and Organizational Change program at UCLA, Klein started out as an academic advisor for underrepresented students in STEM majors. From there, Klein became a teaching fellow for a class called “University Studies,” which focused on strategies for college success. Working with predominantly first-generation and community college transfer students, Klein approached education from a unique, transformative perspective.
”I also believe in the power of educational spaces,” Klein said, “places where everyone comes to learn, including myself. I learn just as much from students as I hope they might learn from the space itself and from each other.”
Klein’s commitments to research, learning and mentorship have also paid off with a new professional position working on equity in higher education:
“I think of myself as an educational partner with students,” Klein said. “How can I help students actualize their best selves through the class? How can I help them be the best that they can be? How can I help them navigate this system that wasn’t built for them? How can I teach them the hidden curriculum? How can I teach them the things that everyone else seems to know about college success?”
Story by Ripley Pierotti, Community Manager for the Communication, Media & Cinema Program at Southern Oregon University.