First-generation student, Charlie Dors talks with colleague in an early education classroom. First-generation student, Charlie Dors talks with colleague in an early education classroom.
Education & Service 

First-gen student conducts gender research

gender gender norms gender roles gender stereotypes Interns to Scholars program Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Political Science SBS Sociology Undergraduate Expo and Symposium Undergraduate Research Club

Charlie Dors is passionate about research: doing research, talking about research, supporting others doing research. They’re here for it all.

Dors, a first-generation student at NAU, is a junior double majoring in Political Science and Sociology. They’re preparing a research project to present at the Undergraduate Symposium on April 28.

Working with their mentor Victoria Damjanovic, assistant professor in special and early childhood education, Dors is examining an early learning program as part of a faculty research project called “Inquiry-Based Teaching and Learning with Teachers and Children.”

“I specifically am focusing on gender and gender stereotypes, especially regarding the pre-primary education space,” Dors explains. To do that, they are analyzing data collected in a Florida study by Damjanovic. The inquiry-based study prompted preschoolers to approach a subject with openness and curiosity, allowing them to “explore topics that they were interested in, the actual things that were going on in their life. In this study group, they largely focused on gender, gender stereotypes, and gender roles.”

It’s an approach Dors would have welcomed as a child. “I’m so connected to this project,” they say. “I’m trans myself, and fighting against gender norms was very much me growing up. I felt so alone in school. Having these children able to learn what they want to learn and choose what happens in their classroom, it’s amazing to hear. It’s really cool hearing that these teachers support them and are like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with a boy putting on a dress or being the caretaker in the household or caring for a baby or wanting to wear makeup.’”

Dors entered the research community through the Interns to Scholars program, where undergraduate students are hired as paid interns to participate in faculty research and scholarly and creative projects. Presenting their work at the symposium wasn’t a question.

“I was definitely going to do the symposium,” they say. “Just because I think this work is so cool and I’m so personally passionate about it.” A symposium presentation has the added benefit of being a résumé-booster for the future—a crucial aspect for Dors. “I really want to go to grad school. I want to go into academia, and I think the undergraduate symposium is such a great stepping stone because it’s low stakes; you’re surrounded by your peers, but you have the opportunity to do a project by yourself for the first time.”

Dors’ enthusiasm for research led them to multiple positions on campus. They are currently working as an intern in the Laboratory for Applied Social Research with James Bowie, the lab coordinator and a teaching professor in the Department of Sociology. “He’s currently one of my professors, but he’s also a great mentor, and he’s helped me learn a lot.”

In addition, Dors is an officer in the Undergraduate Research Club. The club helps students get involved in research projects and provides support—even funding—for posters so anyone can present at the symposium. Dors appreciates that part of the initiative. “If you’ve never done research before, you can do it; it’s open to everyone. I just think it’s such a cool space.”

Staff advisor Tina Zecher, the assistant director of academic programs for the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, guides Dors and the other club members. “She’s just been fantastic. She’s very much been that encouraging factor,” Dors says. “Because I’m new to research, I don’t really know what’s possible. She helped me apply for an undergraduate research conference and just provides support.”

Research has become a through-line for Dors, and they’re grateful for the opportunities they found at NAU. “The research community is fantastic. I want to be a part of this lifelong learner community. Research is not just STEM; there’s a space for everyone. I definitely encourage people to look into it because it’s such a fun space, and you learn so many skills.”

Student photographers at the Grand Canyon.