Michael Savaria, PhD '17: Graduate Student Commencement Speaker

Graduating with a PhD in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, he has previously earned three other degrees at UMassD.

Michael Savaria, 2017 Graduate Commencement Student Speaker
  • Year: PhD, 2017
  • Program: PhD, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
  • Prior Degrees: MA, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies; MS, Marine Biology; BA, Biology
  • Hometown: Westport, MA
  • Leadership: Vice president, Graduate Student Senate; orientation leader, International Students Orientation
  • Instructional Positions: Graduate teaching assistant; an instructor, Veterans Upward Bound; graduate tutor, Writing & Reading Center
  • Award: 2017 Young Alumni Award

Graduate Student Commencement Speaker

The student speaker for the 2017 Graduate Commencement Ceremony, Michael Savaria is receiving a doctorate degree in educational leadership and policy studies, his fourth degree earned at UMass Dartmouth.

He has previously earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies in 2015, a master’s degree in marine biology in 2013, and a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2010.

"My transition into educational leadership was serendipitous," he said. "As a teaching assistant for biology labs, I soon began to realize how much I loved working with students. I became invested in student success, trying to get everyone to not only learn the material, but also to enjoy it.

"It was challenging at times entering into a completely new field, but I had a great deal of support from family, friends, and the UMassD community."

Michael Savaria leading a workshop at a UMassD STEM4Girls Day sponsored by the Kaput Center
Michael is pictured leading a workshop at a UMassD STEM4Girls Day at UMassD sponsored by the Kaput Center

Advocate for equal educational opportunities

The focus of Michael’s research has been in creating equal educational opportunities for all individuals and in identifying pedagogical methods and administrative policies to increase the recruitment and retention of women and other groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) college majors.

He has presented at 16 research conferences and has been the primary author of two peer-reviewed journal articles.

"I continue to love my first subject, biology, which drives my work to ensure that everyone can enjoy it as much as I have," he said. "My research focuses on high impact teaching practices to improve learning environments for student success."

Some of greatest milestones for Michael were in being able to share his research at international conferences. "People would line up to speak with me about how conversationally I presented the research and how connected they felt to my work.

"I've presented at large conferences such as the Association of American Colleges & Universities as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and published in Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research."

Education: creating a supportive community

"One of the best experiences I had was working at the UMassD campus with veterans who were entering college," Michael said.

"It was during this time that I began to understand that education is so much more than solely learning materials in the classroom. Education is about creating a supportive community for everyone, addressing the needs of every individual to create equal opportunities for all. It was a humbling experience to be thanked by the men and women who served our country."

Active in campus life

"UMassD has become my home," Michael said.

"I've made so many friendships with students, faculty, staff, and administration. The faculty are extremely invested in student success. I cannot count how many times they have notified me of experiential or employment opportunities. I always had someone there to support me, which is essential while in graduate school."

On campus, he has held positions as the vice president of the Graduate Student Senate, a graduate teaching assistant, an instructor for Veterans Upward Bound, a graduate tutor at the Writing & Reading Center, and as an orientation leader for International Students Orientation. He recently received the 2017 UMass Dartmouth Young Alumni Award.

"The best part of the Graduate Student Senate is meeting new people," he said. "One of my favorite events we planned was a Spring Gala held in sponsorship with the Alumni Association. This was an amazing night of dinner, dancing, and connecting students with alumni to share stories. Another great event was volunteering at the Dartmouth YMCA, as part of the Sharing the Harvest Community Farm, providing produce to local organizations."

Michael Savaria & Kristina Monteiro, UMassD alumni
Michael and his wife, UMassD alumna Dr. Kristina Monteiro ’10 ’12. They met as undergraduates and have been research colleagues and co-authors ever since.

Career steps: higher education & research

Michael plans to move full-time into academia to continue his research and work to advance greater student engagement and advocacy. 

"I'm unsure of what will come next. It will be the first time in over 10 years that I will not be returning to classes at UMassD. With the support I have received from my department, there is nothing more that I want than to continue to work towards a more diverse and inclusive educational system."

More information


College of Arts and Sciences, Features - Commencement, Alumni, Features - Graduate, Features - Leadership & Service