SUNY Empire State College Student Uses Studies to Effect Real-life Change
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos ‘10, graduate student, SUNY Empire State College
May 28, 2015
SUNY Empire State College contains a rich and diverse body of students, who choose to study here for a plethora of reasons. This includes professional learners with extensive experience in their fields. These students often use the knowledge they acquire during their studies in the work in which they are engaged outside of the college.
E. Reginald Pope, at left, an undergraduate student at the Long Island Location, recently used the knowledge he attained during a course to root out educational inequality in the Hempstead School District. As vice president of the Nassau County Chapter of the National Action Network (NAN), Pope participated in a news conference and called for “access and equity” in the school district, which has enrollment barriers that impede educational services to immigrant students. He was joined by Dominique Sharpton, board president of Education for a Better America. The news conference marked a significant step toward holding the school district accountable for unequal treatment of students.
Pope credits his studies with Erin Young, Ph.D., in developing his project for educational equality. During the course, Research Paper Writing, Pope used Young’s guidance to research the effects of poverty on access and quality of education in order to form a thesis and perspective. The final paper, Long Island’s Failing Schools: A Brief Discourse on the Ill Effects of Poverty became the catalyst for action and through his ties with community organizations like NAN, Pope helped arrange the initial news conference to call local, state and federal governments to action. “I have extensive experience in community organizing,” Pope said. “But it was during my studies and discussions with Dr. Young that I developed a process to use what I learned in my grassroots efforts. I was able to correlate my knowledge with the things I saw people experiencing every day.”
Young was excited to learn of her student’s endeavor. “This is, hands down, the best part of my job,” Young said. “When I started working with Reggy, he already had a lot of knowledge about the educational issues facing this community. As his mentor, I gave him some tools to deepen his research, find logical solutions for the problem he identified and craft a convincing argument around his research. I'm thrilled to see his academic work blossom into community activism.”
Pope researched areas of Nassau County, New York that have high poverty levels and focused on how increasing Latino immigrant populations affected the ability for school districts to effectively educate their student bodies. Pope writes in his paper: “Given the diversity and rapidly changing racial ethnic and socioeconomic makeup, the school districts appear to be ineffective in educating the student body. Classrooms are overcrowded; Latino-immigrant students do not understand English or the curriculum.” The situation is even more challenging for Latino-immigrant students, who often require translators who are not readily available. Additionally, the parents of immigrant students often speak little to no English, making it difficult for them to comprehend teachers during parent-teacher conferences. In his paper, Pope wrote: “In my observation, the problem is greater than pundits are willing to admit; thus, I have decided to follow through energetically with a plan to be a catalyst of change in my community.”
This is an example of how the professional students at SUNY Empire State College have opportunities to effect change in their professions and communities. The learning here often results in real-world praxis, something about which many instructors are aware. Young explains: “Our students come to us with a wealth of knowledge and experience that needs to be respected. Reggy and I were a great team; he had a good deal of foundational knowledge about his subject, in addition to decades of experience in community organizing, and I had the expertise in academic research and rhetoric. We learned a lot from each other. This is the beauty of Empire's academic model.”
A portion of Pope’s original research paper is featured in this issue’s “Academic Showcase.”