Day Eighteen: My Hot Date (with a School of Education)

One of the things I did as the Site Director for the Bard MAT Program was meet with prospective students. Each visit would be practically identical. I would invite them to our Bronx campus and meet them at the front door (the directions you gave from the train were really helpful, thank you – it was easy to find); give them a tour of the building and the schools inside each (wait, so each floor is a different school? That’s crazy.); explain where they would have class and spend their time (so there isn’t a student lounge, then? No, of course that makes sense, I understand that space is tight in public schools); and then take them up to our office to answer their questions.

This was the part that always blew my mind a little bit.

If you take the time to write to a graduate program you’re interested in applying to, talk to the Director of Admissions who passes you along to the Site Director of the campus you’re most curious about, engage in a seven-email-long-conversation with her, schedule a visit three weeks in the future, and get the agenda ahead of time – which includes an hour set aside for Q&A – wouldn’t you do a little prep work ahead of time?

Well, these folks couldn’t be bothered. Their questions would usually be something along the lines of:

“How long is the program?”
“Do we get to work in real public school classrooms?Do I have to find my own classroom to student teach in?”
“How many classes do I take? What subjects do I take classes in?”
“Can I keep my full time job and do the program?”

Seriously, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the end of some tours if they asked, “so, I can practice law when I finish the program, right?” or “now, do I get to take my favorite kid home with me, or I have to leave them at school?”

I was always surprised by the lack of care that had been put in to getting ready for the site visit. A five minute stroll through our (albeit anemic, but semi-functional) website would have answered the majority of their pressing inquiries. It made the ones who did prepare really stand out as professional, interested, and smart. And it sure made me a hell of a lot more invested in their applications.

I always prepare for any meeting – whether with a new friend or a business connection – more out of curiosity than anything. If I’m making time to get together, it’s because I’m interested – and if I’m interested, I’m going to internet-stalk you. Just a little. It won’t hurt – I promise. I want to hit the ground running when we get together – and I want you to know that I’ve bothered to take three minutes out of my day to at least google you so that you know I didn’t stumble out of bed and into our meeting without thinking twice about it. I see preparing as satisfying my own curiosity, but also as an act of courtesy and respect to your date. And politeness gets you far, I believe.

So today, I have a coffee date/meeting/I-don’t-totally-know-what with Dr. Sarah Ulrich/Reynolds (her email says the latter, her bio says the former) at the Drexel School of Education. This is one of those meetings I pushed to setup, am really excited for, and have no idea why I’ve scheduled.

I’m conducting some research right now to figure out what the hell I’m going to ask and talk about, and make sure I know enough about the program to seem interested and respectful. So I’m going to multitask here, like a mom shoving her kid in the shopping cart at ShopRite, and strap you in shotgun while I go truffle hunting for golden information about my afternoon date.

Trolling their website, the mission statement is kind of popping out at me and surprising me:

Recognized for its best practices in the development of educational leaders, the SoE focuses on education with real world experience, research that impacts society and civic engagement that builds community.

I am all about research that impacts society and civic engagement that builds community. Hello, new friends. Let’s keep perusing.

I’m going straight for the jugular – the Community Outreach tab – and am finding some goodies here, too. I’ve learned:

– They’ve invested $1million in partner schools in West Philadelphia

– The Lindy Scholars Program connects west Philadelphians with the Drexel resources to “level the playing field”

– One of their professors runs a lifeskills program at the Arise Academy Charter High School, the only charter school specifically for foster children.

Hmm – that last bit sounds interesting – never heard of a school solely for foster children before. I had fantasies of opening a boarding school in the city for disadvantaged youth, and I wonder whether it has a similar flavor. Going to just take a slight detour to look that place up . . .

From their website I can see they’re located in Center City, on a floor of a larger building (their address is “Suite 2,” which is always interesting when the place is a school. I think many folks don’t realize how many schools are tucked in the nooks and crannies of office buildings.) They have a small staff, and workw ith students age 14 – 21. That’s all I can find without digging in press packets.

OK! Back to preparing. Back to Drexel.

Time to take a look at the MIssion & Vision statement. Any goodies here? Let’s see…

Hmmm. Mission statement is interesting: “The School of Education develops leaders with the expertise to collaborate and solve complex problems related to transforming institutions and educating diverse populations impacted by domestic and global challenges.” So while I thought that the school of Education would be like the progrma I worked iwth at Bard – preparing folks to become teachers – it looks like the Drexel Program is more about education in the greater context of society, and looking at the macro (institutional) level, not just the micro (classroom) level. Me likes, me likes.

Wow. There is a really strong emphasize in their proposed action plan on partnerships & community engagement:

Submit at least 5 grant proposals that provide funding for interdisciplinary collaborations by SoE faculty with other faculty within Drexel University and/or at other institutions.

Increase annually the number of quality SoE partnerships so as to facilitate the learning and work of SoE students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Offer sponsored professional learning and community-building activities in order to strengthen the school’s culture of continuous professional learning and development.

Wow. Wow wow wow. This is actually sounding… really interesting. Shit – now I’m getting nervous. I hate when I like stuff. Now I care that this goes well. This is like Googling someone before you have a date with them and realizing they are gorgeous and have published two novels before the age of 30 and lived in Ecuador nursing orphans for five years – better to just know a screenname and the minimum amount of info included on a dating profile, sometimes, so it makes one less hysterical before getting dinner. Ah, the bliss of ignorance.

Moving on . . .

I’m scrolling down through the rest of their mission, and their Goal #4 just made me have an intellectual orgasm.

Goal 4: To translate teaching and research into civic engagement and transformative partnerships with the communities in which we have, and would like to have, a presence:

Provide all pre-service teachers with novel and cutting-edge opportunities to participate in interactions with local school teachers, administrators and community leaders and long-term engagements that last beyond student teaching, in order to provide the best preparation for teaching careers.

Provide all faculty and students with opportunities to engage in community-based research projects and/or advocacy partnerships, including those funded by external sources, that address pre K-adult education priorities

Build relationships with organizations that provide our student with opportunities for learning experiences in workforce and human development that extend beyond the walls of educational institutions.

Involve our alumni in our civic engagement and partnership efforts.

Initiate and sustain an Urban Education Lecture Series that engages the Drexel community and the public in efforts to improve the education offered to urban youth.

So that is actually everything I tried to do at the Bard MAT Program with minimal success, largely because it wasn’t the priority of the program. Jesus. How did this fall in my lap? I cannot wait to find out about this work that they’re doing in greater detail. What do they do with alumni? What organizations do they have relationships with? Who has spoken at this Urban Education Lecture Series?

Hmmm – that one I can easily look up . . . Ah. There is no dedicated webpage – just articles about two talks that happened last spring. Both were about STEM education in urban settings. Less thrilling to me, but still worth asking about.

OK – back to the homepage I go. So far I know that the program emphasizes educational leadership, and math/science/technology education. They fancy their graduates to be resourceful, spunky, and creative. They are eager to see themselves as an internationally recognized institution, and to build strong relationships within the West Philadelphia community as well.

I’m going to take a look at their course listings. Wow – incredibly various. Some interesting gems that catch my eye include:

  • Community College Administration
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Global & International Education
  • Educational Leadership vs. Educational Management
  • Educational Policy
  • Institutional Researh & Planning
  • Game-Based Learning
  • Peace Education
  • Student Development & Affairs
  • Teaching, Learning, & Curriculum

Alright – time to learn more about my date herself. Who is Sarah Ulrich/Reynolds, and what do I need to know about her?

She’s blonde & athletic looking. I imagine she has a strong handshake, a deep voice, clipped speech, big laugh. I hope I get to hear it.

She runs a ton of the programs. She also has a B.A. in Journalism. I wonder how she made the switch to teaching?

She taught in California (that makes sense).

OMG! Her doctoral thesis! Is an actual in-depth exploration of my favorite topic in graduate school about which I wrote a 15 page paper, but always wanted to study further! So I wrote a paper for my Identity in the Classroom course that was a play on Franz Fanon’s canonical work (“Black Skin, White Masks”)  – my paper was called “White Teacher, Black Masks” and explored the (what I felt was a ridiculous elephant in the room) phenomenon of white teachers in classrooms populated by students of color. How could this not be a huge issue that needed addressing? Why were we never really taught how to discuss or think about this, before plunging ourselves into these contexts? What does Sarah Ulrich/Reynolds have to say about this!?

Alright, well now I feel I have a good deal to discuss – in summary:

1.) Finding out more about Drexel’s emphasis on civic engagement, community partnerships, and resource access in West Philadelphia

2.) Discussing Dr. Ulrich’s research on the racial chasm between teachers & students in urban classrooms

3.) Asking about ways I could get involved (eek!)

This last one is really scary. It’s like going in to haggle without a price in mind. What exactly am I asking for here? A job? More information? Nothing? I think that the best thing to do is to go in with the aim of just learning – that I truly am interested in the work they do, and in learning more about it. Since it jives so beautifully with my own experience and interests, I want to learn more in hopes of becoming a part of their community, and hopefully gaining from, and giving to it. I don’t really have ulterior motives beyond my interest and enthusiasm, and I think that’s actually a good thing. When someone comes into a meeting with a secret purpose or an opportunistic angle, you can smell it on their breath. Mine will hopefully remain innocent and minty fresh. Although I certainly wouldn’t say “no,” were they to mention ways to get involved . . .

Here goes nothing! I’ll let you know how it goes . . . 

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