Masha (Mariya) Yukhymenko, Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction
My story: My origin, childhood dreams, and their connection with the chosen field
I was born and raised in Ukraine. As a child, I was successful in and passionate for academics and sports. One of my greatest passions in childhood was mathematics. As a child, I participated in math competitions called the Math Olympiads and helped several of my classmates with mathematics homework. This informal tutoring of my friends led me to realize that I fully enjoyed teaching, and could contribute to society by teaching others. My other passion was Rhythmic Gymnastics, a sport that combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, dance, and apparatus manipulation, and is arguably the most beautiful sport in the world. I did Rhythmic Gymnastics for 11 years, participating in local, national, and international competitions and, as a result of my performance, earned the title of Master of Sports of Ukraine under the Unified Sports Classification of Ukraine. Interestingly, these two passions led to my current professional field and research interests, in which I emphasize cross-context connections as I examine people’s motivation and well-being from a holistic perspective with consideration of the multiple domains in their lives.
When the time came to pursue an undergraduate degree, I applied to a Pedagogical University to become a teacher, but I had to choose between two passions (mathematics and sports). I obtained a B.A. and Teaching Credentials in Physical Education, Choreography, and Health Studies. I also taught dance to 4-6-year old kids in a local private school of dance. These were very happy years and I look back with awe as the kids I taught are now grown up and are entering university. Yet, while I was feeling fulfilled in the physical aspect of my life, admittedly my life was lacking in the cognitive component. This led me to applying for the Fulbright scholar/student grant with the ultimate goal to becoming a professor at a university to continue teaching and being a contributing member of a society.
I completed my M.A. as a Fulbright scholar/student, and my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, Cognition and Instruction, at the University of Connecticut with focus on Quantitative Research Methods. The focus on quantitative research methods was not my initial idea, but as I was proceeding with my Ph.D. degree in Educational Psychology, my childhood passion for mathematics re-sparkled in a form of deciding to take several additional classes in applied statistics. Notably, my dissertation focused on identity, achievement motivation, and ethical conduct of student-athletes, simultaneously focusing on two prominent contexts in which student-athletes live, strive, and achieve: academics and athletics, also reflecting my childhood passions for mathematics and rhythmic gymnastics.
Yet, my professional work has supported colleagues in various fields. For example, after I graduated from the University of Connecticut, I worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago teaching Research Design in Education graduate courses and providing methodological support on the Institute for Education Sciences Reading for Understanding research project, Project READI (Reading, Evidence, and Argumentation in Disciplinary Instruction). Funded by the Institute of Education Science (IES) in the amount of almost $20 million dollars, Project READI was a collaboration among the nation’s leading learning scientists, who were working to develop instructional interventions that support adolescent learners in developing reading for understanding in literary analysis, history, and science. I provided methodological support to Project READI’s variety of studies ranging from largely qualitative observation studies to mixed methods studies to largely quantitative studies.
I am now an Assistant Professor of Research and Statistics in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, serving graduate students from diverse programs in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. I am also currently pursuing my second M.A. degree in Sport Psychology from Fresno State to further enhance my research work.
What was the best moment of your career so far?
There have been many amazing highlights in my career so far involving teaching, research, and service, but one of them stands out in a brighter light. In summer 2014, I was contacted by the American Psychological Association (APA) Press with a request to interview me for an upcoming press release featuring my recently accepted study entitled, “The relationship between ethical and abusive coaching behaviors and student-athlete well-being.” This study was done in collaboration with Michael Brown from the Pennsylvania State University and with Thomas Paskus from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The APA press release led to a number of follow-up interviews with various media throughout the country as well as some international exposure of my work. This collaborative study also received the 2015 Outstanding Paper of the Year Award from the APA journal, in which it was published.
What are your hobbies?
One of my greatest hobbies is traveling. I have been to a number of places in the U.S. and to a number of countries. I absolutely love learning about new cultures, because it allows for gaining new perspectives in life. While I used to travel with friends or by myself, I now am being lucky to be able to share my travel passion with my dear husband and our young, but growing, son.
What is your favorite thing about Fresno State?
When I first came to Fresno State, I immediately felt like I was at home. It is this sense of a strong community, rich diversity of student population, and immense support of faculty are my absolutely favorite things about Fresno State.
One teaching tip that I would like to share with my colleagues is that we must consider what skills and knowledge the students would need to become successful professionals, provide students with opportunities to share what they find the most beneficial and challenging, and then use this information to improve the courses in terms of their content and structure to serve students better.
The Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) was central to better my teaching and engaging students for success. Because I frequently teach fully online courses, I took all available professional development and workshops offered by CFE, which helped me to redesign and greatly improve my online courses. In turn, students really appreciate the way I designed my online courses and deliver the contents. This has been particularly valuable because I teach what typically are known “difficult” courses (e.g., research, statistics, measurement, assessment, evaluation). However, with the help of CFE, I was able to create positive and enjoyable learning experiences for my students, as shown from the student testimonials below.
Feedback from students in online courses:
- I was really excited to enroll in this course as I've been working in the nonprofit sector for many years now, but had not had an academic foundation in program evaluation (my knowledge and skills in program evaluation were formed throughout my experience in the nonprofit sector). This course has been incredibly helpful and I've been connecting the dots between what I'm reading and the practical work I've done in this subject in my professional experience. Many, many "aha" moments.
- Dr. Yukhymenko is super helpful. It is apparent that she takes the content of the course seriously and tries to make it as interactive as possible by using videos, group conversations, and PowerPoints. We even had an online research workshop with a librarian. She grades things promptly and always provides constructive feedback. I appreciate having a professor like her here at Fresno State.
What are the 2-3 most important things that you have learned so far in this class?
- Educational research is extremely valuable and can done in our own classrooms to inform and impact our teaching practices.
- Finding reliable sources and being aware of the difference between method and methodology
- How to search for data and how to interpret the data I am reading about.
- The difference between qualitative and quantitative research and how to write a research paper appropriately.
- The research process is ongoing; it does not have to be so linear, like we sometimes believe.