I am proud to say I spent my summer working less than one mile down Auburn Avenue from where Dr. Martin Luther King was raised. The location in Atlanta, Georgia, could not be more appropriate as I was working with the Southern Education Foundation, an organization committed to “combating poverty and inequality through education.” As SEF’s Higher Education Doctoral Intern, my contribution to that mission came in the form of applying my knowledge and expertise of Developmental Education to support projects focused on improving the educational experiences of academically underprepared students attending Minority-Serving Institutions.
As a PhD student, my classes have centered primarily on Developmental Education as related to curriculum and instruction. However, this summer I was able to apply what I have learned at Texas State to much larger contexts, like program planning for four Minority Serving Institutions as part of a US Department of Education grant proposal and policy analysis to better understand the degree of differential effects of performance-based funding programs on Minority-Serving Institutions.
Through my 10 weeks in Atlanta, I learned two very valuable lessons I think every doctoral student should hear. First, at a certain point in your program, you become an expert in your subject. While this may seem obvious, I argue this happens before you have your degree in hand. While graduate school is largely years spent being told about all the things we don’t know, as doctoral students, the depth and breadth of our understanding of our respective fields are expansive and impressive, which means we should not wait until graduation to start making meaningful contributions to our field. Second, stop thinking you alone can solve the problems in your field but instead, contribute nuanced, well-researched solutions. Big problems, like inequity in education, cannot and will not be solved by a single person. Instead, solutions will come through the constant and focused efforts of dedicated individuals who believe in the power and possibility of change.
This summer was the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of The Freedom Summer, and, yet, many of the same problems surrounding equity in education and racism still exist. This doesn’t mean these problems are insurmountable; this only means we’re not done yet. I am confident that my 10 weeks at SEF helped support, if only a in a very small way, the work for equity intrinsically tied to Auburn Avenue.