We had the good fortune of connecting with Erica Caasi and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Erica, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
I’ve often been asked, “What do you do?” To which I respond, “I’m in a PhD program studying education and literacy.” This results in a string of questions that mostly center on pulling the curtain back to unveil the process of what it means to work on a PhD. I often use the term apprenticeship to describe the PhD as you are enculturated into the world of higher education by taking on responsibilities frequently part of an academic professor’s career. The main emphasis of the PhD is on exploring previous research to develop your own research ideas. However, there are other components, such as teaching. For instance, I am currently teaching a course in children’s literature because that’s an area I’ve developed some expertise in and have practitioner knowledge in from when I taught K-5. In parallel to teaching, I am also enrolled in coursework while simultaneously doing research. The courses are meant to guide you toward independent and original research where you will focus on generating a question of inquiry that is often a gap in the field. The course work is meant to help you move in that direction, as well as prepare you to explore that question through research itself (e.g., you might create a study, collect data, analyze the data, and write about it). Additionally, you take part in one or more active research projects which is often closely related to your own research work. For example, I am part of a multi-site project that works closely with currently practicing teachers and school districts in the area of Denver, but this varies depending on current projects, collaborations, and funding. Research looks, feels, and sounds different depending on what you are studying, your field of study, discipline, and the populations you work with. There isn’t a one size fits all to describe a PhD program, but in general these are some of the components that are part of the process.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
In really simple terms, I love literature and stories. I constantly engage myself with books, audio books, podcasts, television and movies, and people. I enjoy getting immersed in a good story in multiple forms. That has led me to where I am today. Prior to entering the PhD program, I was a teacher in K-5 where I was able to teach daily and infuse stories throughout the day, as well as engage my students with stories whether that was through books or other means. My transition toward the research side of education really came from an interest in exploring literacy at a deeper level. I am most excited to develop work that connects two of my main passions: literacy and athletics. It has not been an easy road to consider how to engage the two topics with one another and the work continues to move forward, but I believe that this is something that is unique to my work in that I naturally enjoy thinking about how we engage our bodies on a daily basis and that includes how we engage our bodies in learning, whether that’s in a classroom or on the athletic field.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love to explore any city through food. Likewise, when friends and family come to visit, I often take them on this journey through my neighborhood in Baker, located about 10 minutes from central downtown. The following is an itinerary for a long-weekend, about 3 days. Day 1: We’d start by having breakfast at Denver Biscuit Company on Broadway where I’d order the strawberry shortcake if I were in the mood for something sweet or the Franklin for savory. We’d most likely need to walk it off after eating so much and I’d take them down Broadway to some of my favorite shops, we’d stop into Decade which is a cute boutique shop that also sells vintage furniture and unique pieces of clothing. As we continued down the street we might stop at the Mayan Theater for a film or Punch Bowl Social to play games. We’d end the night getting a quick bite to eat at Illegal Pete’s where they have burritos, quesadillas, and a variety of options. I’d most likely also insist we stop at Baere Brewery to taste test their locally brewed beers and play boardgames on the patio. Day 2: After we’d digested the previous day’s meals we’d walk or drive to Pho Haus, still in the neighborhood. The pho has this rich flavor that permeates the space and their french fries have this coating that really gives you a punch in flavor, I’d highly recommend ordering the Haus pho with your choice of meat or veggies and as fries as a starter! If we wanted to explore a different part of the city I’d take them across town to Linger for happy hour and views of the city, this establishment was an old mortuary and now has a rooftop lounge with stunning views of downtown. We’d most likely decide on Work & Class for dinner where they serve homestyle southern and Latin American style food served in a tapas style manner. Day 3: We’d start by having brunch at Bon Ami which takes French food to delicious levels with ingredients that spark your palette. If we still hadn’t had our fill of food we’d get a mid-day dessert at Sweet Action for some ice cream. I’d then take them to Law’s Whiskey for taste testing and a tour. Dinner would be a stop into Chook Charcoal Chicken where they serve rotisserie poultry & hearty sides that are absolutely delicious and mouthwatering. Finally, we’d end the day by trying out another favorite ice cream spot, Sweet Cow. I really enjoy taking friends and family to some of my regularly frequented spots. Of course, there are a number of places you could visit in the city, including restaurants in Boulder and outdoor activities in that area. However, I truly enjoy food and these are some of my favorite spots. Must-stop Food spots: Denver Biscuit Company Pho Haus Work & Class Bon Ami Sweet Action Sweet Cow Chook Charcoal Chicken Linger Drink: Baere Brewery Law’s whiskey Shop: Decade on Broadway

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There has been an ample amount of support and mentorship throughout my life and career, but I’d like to give a few shoutouts. The first would be to Liz Scharnetzki who is now a research associate at Maine Medical Center. She helped foster some of my initial inquiries and open questions in research early on and she’s a close friend who has continued to inspire me in what I work on now. The second shoutout I want to give is to my advisor Elizabeth Dutro who has been supporting my journey and efforts throughout the PhD program at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I would not be as far along in the program without her guidance and support. There are also a number of scholars at the university who have continued to contribute to my growth. The third to Colosseum Gym in Maryland, this place represents a place where I really began to train for the sport of powerlifting. Some people that I met there who helped encourage me in numerous ways include Ian Burgess who is a personal trainer and powerlifter, additionally several people who trained at the gym: Abby, Marilu, Karen, Alexis, Tonia, Emily, Nikki, Lauren, Kelsey, Fannie, Mark, and Anna. My family, including my parents, Len and Enrico Caasi, and my in-laws Sudha and Shankar Harid are also very relevant and I’ve received invaluable support from them. Finally, but importantly, my partner, Vijay Harid who has supported my continuous growth and exploration, including my decision to quit my job in teaching and explore a PhD.

Instagram: @ericaliftstuffs
Other: ericalyn.caasi@colorado.edu

Image Credits
Meghan Elizabeth Ichigo Takikawa

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