by the College of Education at Illinois / Apr 4, 2016
The 13 members serving on this year’s College of Education Graduate Student Conference (GSC) committee strove to put on an event that represented the varied departments in the College while expanding the conference to a campuswide level and attracting students from other universities.
Their work during an eight-month span accomplished all of that and more, according to Shana N. Riddick, a doctoral student in the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership (EPOL). Riddick co-chaired the committee with Mia Lavizzo and Brenda Nyandiko Sanya.
“We had goals about expansion, wanting to highlight faculty and student research, which we were able to do,” Riddick said. “And then we continued a really strong subset of the conference, which has been professional development for graduate students.”
Now in its seventh year and overseen by conference adviser Denice Ward Hood, an assistant professor in EPOL, the mission of GSC is to build networks among faculty members, colleagues, and graduate students within the field of education. Issues of educational access, equity, and opportunities are addressed throughout the day-long event.
In addition, young scholars present their research and work, and this year there were approximately 50 presentations. Through the research submissions they received, the GSC committee members were exposed to studies and conversations they would otherwise have very limited access to, Riddick said.
“I think one of the conference’s major strengths is that it is Collegewide. It’s an interdisciplinary space that creates wonderful opportunities for exposure to new fields of study,” she said.
The theme of the conference was “Transformative Scholarship, Schooling & Society,” and topics included African-American education from a historical perspective; the structures of education and the power of agency; and emerging scholarship, social justice, and empowerment.
Dean Mary Kalantzis said the College’s graduate students study under complex conditions of constant change yet contribute greatly to shaping the future of individuals and society.
“This conference demonstrates the level of commitment of our graduate students, their sense of purpose, and the scholarly community they create in our College,” she said.
The convergence of budding and established scholars was on full display at this year’s GSC with the addition of a faculty book fair in which professors spoke about and discussed with students the research that went into their books and what the publication process is like.
“As a new initiative within the conference, it was very well attended,” Riddick said. “Being able to see those conversations between students and faculty was amazing.”
Education at Illinois graduates were also involved with the event, with several Distinguished Alumni Award recipients relating their expertise during panel sessions. Kevin Favor, Ph.D. ’87 Ed Psych., was one of three scholars who participated in the keynote address titled “Using Walls vs. Bridges: Commitment to Helping Lives.” Favor is a specialist in minority mental health and a professor of psychology and human services at Lincoln University.
Andrew Hibel, Ed.M. ’94 EOL, co-founder and chief operating officer of HigherEdJobs, chaired the presentation “Educators’ Voices: Experiences and Approaches,” which featured talks by campus scholars T. Jameson Brewer, Brittany Frieson, Ju Seong (John) Lee, and Valerie Willets.
Another Education graduate, Elise Darwish ’88 C&I, chief academic officer at Aspire Public Schools, returned to campus for the first time in decades to facilitate a morning discussion called “Critical Literacy and Language.”
“I love seeing how much the University has evolved, and how the students have evolved, in really addressing today’s issues and challenges with youngsters and education,” Darwish said.
Morgan Willer (College of Charleston), Ewan Wright (University of Hong Kong), Lauren Hegarty (Cali, Columbia), and Melissa McNabb (Indiana University) were among the off-campus individuals who attended the conference.
Willer, a master’s candidate in history who studies coded language in education, gave a presentation on African-American students in segregated schools from 1959 to 1969.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to come up here and present my work and get feedback on it from people who are so good in their field,” she said.
Hegarty, an online Education student, attended the conference to network and expand her professional horizons; Wright was at GSC as part of the Hong Kong Graduate Student Exchange Program between the College’s Office of International Programs and the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Education; and McNabb gave a presentation called “Beginning College Students on Academic Probation: A Classroom Ethnography.”
"I figured driving three hours and coming to this event to discover a broad perspective and practice for my dissertation was ideal."
- Melissa McNabb
As a doctoral candidate in the Department of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education at Indiana University, McNabb said she regularly receives invitations to academic conferences, many of which are on the East Coast or West Coast and can be pricey. Her close proximity to the UI campus made attending GSC an easy choice.
“I figured driving three hours and coming to this event to discover a broad perspective and practice for my dissertation was ideal,” she said.
The day ended with a standing-room-only talk by Khalid el-Hakim, founder and curator of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum. A former teacher with Detroit Public Schools and a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, el-Hakim has a collection of more than 7,000 artifacts, including slave chains, a bill of sale for a slave woman and her children, a copy of director Spike Lee’s script for his 1992 movie Malcolm X and many original documents signed by prominent African-Americans, including Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
“I have followed Mr. el-Hakim’s work with the museum for some time now,” Riddick said. “The audiences around the country that he is able to reach, as a result of the museum’s mobility, is amazing. He presents exhibits that showcase historical and contemporary aspects of black life and culture in the U.S. These are lived experiences and moments in time that many of us would not have such tangible access to otherwise."
The Graduate Student Conference is made possible through the generous support of Dr. K. Patricia Cross, a distinguished Illinois alumna and former assistant dean of Women on the UI campus. Dr. Cross credits her time as a graduate student at Illinois for laying the foundation of what would become a remarkable career in higher education.