February 21, 2024

Wayne State graduate student turned her uniform experience into research project

DETROIT – Wearing a school uniform was part of Amber Anderson’s academic life.

From the time she entered kindergarten through her senior year, a uniform was all she knew, including the white blouse and plaid skirt she wore as a student at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills.

“I didn’t burn it, but I couldn’t wait to get rid of it,” said Anderson, laughing. “If I ever see that plaid again, it’ll be a little bit too soon.”

Amber Anderson is a graduate student who will receive her masters of arts in sociology in May.
Amber Anderson is a graduate student who will receive her masters of arts in sociology in May.

While many parents like the idea of uniforms because it makes getting ready for school easier, Anderson, a sociology graduate student at Wayne State University, wanted to know if her own uniform experiences would be reflected within scientific data.

“I wanted to know if uniforms actually made a difference,” said Anderson, a former McNair Scholar. “If we look at data, will we see that students who wear uniforms report higher math test scores? Higher reading scores? Higher student aspirations? How far will students see themselves going?”

Last year, Anderson began analyzing data sets. With the help of her Advanced Social Statistics professor, David Merolla, Ph.D., she looked broadly at schools across the United States, including public, Catholic, private and nondenominational institutions. Pulling data from the National Center for Education Statistics, she investigated the National Longitudinal High School Study and found some intriguing answers.

Anderson plans to reveal those findings this month at the 14th annual Graduate Research Symposium, which will be hosted by the Wayne State Graduate School on Feb. 28 in the Student Center. 

Anderson, whose research project is entitled, Dress to impress? Examining the effect of uniforms on student outcomes,” will receive her masters of arts in sociology this May.

“I’m really excited because I haven’t presented research since McNair,” she said. “I’m a little out of practice, but I’m so excited to be back out there sharing what I’ve learned. I’m hoping that I’ll talk to people who are there and it’ll spark conversation within their own circles and their own families and get to my goal of uniforms no longer being a thing for students.”

Merolla said the benefits Anderson and other students receive from conducting and presenting their own research will extend beyond college. These program goals are aligned with Wayne State’s College to Career initiative, which seeks to provide every student with experiential learning opportunities and allows them to encounter the world, gain deeper insights and new perspectives, and prepare for prosperous careers. 

“The faculty in the sociology graduate program are all very research-active faculty,” said Dr. Merolla, an associate professor and chair of the Sociology Department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Ideally, the students who come in can get started on a project pretty early on. And then, whether it’s just a terminal master’s where they stop after they get the degree, or if they continue into a Ph.D. program, we really try to give them those tools and give them the hands-on assistance that they need to really learn how it is that we go about doing social science research.”

After high school, Anderson was accepted to Wayne State but she wanted to go away to college. She decided on Grand Valley State University, where she received a bachelor of arts in sociology in 2022. Now, she’s back in Detroit, where she is a Dean’s Diversity Fellow with dreams of becoming a sociology professor after she finishes her doctoral project, which will look specifically at Catholic schools and their culture of uniforms.

“I wanted to be back in a city, and the program that I’m in gave me a lot of flexibility for what I wanted to study and what I wanted to do,” Anderson said. “I feel very supported in the sociology department. It’s been the best fit for my research interests and my long-term goals.”

As a teenager, Anderson said she never dreamt that one day she would earn a doctorate.

“Even though some of it was not the greatest, everything I’ve experienced has led me down this path and made me into the woman that I am, and I wouldn't change any of that for the world,” she said. “That’s just kind of a part of life. Not everything is going to be phenomenal, but I would just let my 15-year-old self know that it’s going to be fine. Just stick it out a little while longer. It’ll all work itself out.”

 

 

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