Commencement 2023

Commencement Speaker: Vicky Laina, PhD

Laina is filled with gratitude after a challenging educational journey

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Commencement address (04:49)

Vicky Laina didn’t have a straight path to her doctorate in education at the Berkeley School of Education.

She grew up in Greece, received her undergraduate degree in Athens, and began her work in math education and research in Boston with Professor Michelle Wilkerson who was then an assistant professor at Tufts University. Laina followed Wilkerson to Berkeley in 2016, losing some credits along the way.

In December 2019, just months before the pandemic, Laina gave birth to her daughter, Alexia. She took six weeks of maternity leave and then returned to her studies and GSR position. Her partner was a graduate student, as well.

“We found ways to make it work. It gave us more time with our daughter, but made everything else more difficult,” Laina said of the pandemic.

In summer 2020, Laina began her dissertation: a collaboration with researchers at the Lawrence Hall of Science to design and offer two online, weeklong summer camps. However, the video files from those camps, which Laina planned to use as data sources, were corrupted and had no audio.

Frustrated and upset, Laina presented her dilemma to Wilkerson, who helped her begin a new research project the following summer. “She said, ‘I am with you 100 percent,’” Laina recounted — a sentiment that meant the world to her.

She started that new research in summer 2021 in collaboration with CalTeach, ATDP (the Academic Talent Development Program), and Lawrence Hall of Science. She used the core dataset from the "Introduction to Geometric Thinking" class with ATDP for her dissertation.

In the end, Laina had expanded her collaboration and strengthened her work. Her research seeks to make mathematics more welcoming and accessible by using collaborative digital platforms to support student engagement in knowledge-building activities in flexible and personally meaningful ways.

Through more than five years of graduate work, Laina is grateful for an advisor who offered personal, emotional, academic, and intellectual support.

“Times were challenging and every now and then particularly so, but there were always people I felt I could count on,” she said.

Laina’s parents traveled from Greece to join her partner and young daughter at the commencement in Berkeley.