When he started at W&M as a freshman with an interest in government, Aidan Gosset ’22 had no idea he’d end up creating his own major focused on education. It soon became his goal as he began taking classes within the interdisciplinary Minor in Educational Studies offered by the W&M School of Education.
He took courses on critical race theory and globalization in education, as well as one that allowed him to work on a community-engaged research project with Meredith Kier, associate professor of education. Through that course, Gosset worked with middle school students from underrepresented backgrounds as they pursued engineering projects designed to spark an interest in STEM subjects.
The minor in education is not just for students who are interested in becoming teachers. Government and education make a perfect pairing, says Gosset. The government classes help him understand policies on a macro level, while his education courses make him more conscious of the social constructs that shape those policies and their racial and sociological effects.
The interdisciplinary nature of the minor, which offers tracks in Global Education and Policy & Equity, combines education courses with a wide variety of courses in Arts & Sciences, including Africana studies, American studies and sociology.
Several of the courses in the minor carry COLL 200 designation in W&M’s College Curriculum, allowing undergraduates to explore different academic disciplines while completing general education requirements.
“Everyone goes through the K-12 education system no matter what, and studying this system that affects us all helps us to develop a better understanding of what goes on at the local or state level, your own K-12 education, and what opportunities are available in some areas and not others,” Gosset says.
Jamel Donnor, director of the program, is an associate professor of education and affiliated faculty in American Studies and Africana Studies. He notes that a foundational understanding of the American education system benefits students in a wide variety of academic disciplines.
The minor allows students to study timely issues, says Donnor, including the dynamic and interconnected relationship between race, social inequality and educational opportunity, language, culture and literacy, and “truthiness” in education.
The minor also requires an experiential learning component, which helps students better understand the issues that directly affect individuals and educational institutions.
Milka Mered ’20, who graduated with a degree in public policy, was able to conduct research with minority students at W&M through her experiential learning class. She remembers the experience as being the first time she saw her personal educational experiences validated.
Mered’s interest in public policy made her curious about inequities in the education system, which naturally led her to the education minor.
As a Black student, her experiences reflected the inequities in her education, she says. Years later as she began taking classes in the educational studies minor, the information she learned and the stories her peers shared were similar to her own experiences. She bonded with her classmates over their shared goal of changing the educational system to better meet the needs of diverse students, and the minor allowed her the opportunity to conduct research on the experiences of minority students at William & Mary. She remembers taking Critical Race Theory, which allowed her to explore her identity and reflect on her personal experiences. In this class, she was introduced to ideas that resonated with her and felt like she could talk about her experiences as a minority student in a way she never had before. This realization empowered her to better advocate for herself and other students from similar backgrounds.
Mered agrees with Gosset in that there is more to the field of education than what originally may come to mind and education can influence communities on many different levels. Students can work in education through a variety of fields and careers, and public policy offers a way to make an impact in education, she says.
Donnor encourages students to pursue the educational studies minor because it allows them to explore the broader social, cultural, legal, and economic factors that impact not only the education system, but also students themselves.
“The education classes in my major have opened my mind to the many perspectives through which one can study, discuss, and contribute to the field of education,” says Lauren Grob ’22, another student pursuing the minor.
“So many issues exist within our nation’s public education system, and the School of Education has empowered me to begin a career in tackling them.”