Students as Teachers: Lessons Learned from the 2007 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Winners
The annual K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award—bestowed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities—recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education, with strong commitments to teaching and learning; to academic and civic responsibility; and to the development of others as leaders, scholars, and citizens.
No doubt in part because of the selection criteria, these students share a number of important characteristics. Here, with their permission, are descriptions of the lives and commitments of the 2007 award winners in their own voices, drawn from the personal statements that accompanied their nomination materials. In them, we see a glimpse of our best hope for our collective future.
—Margaret A. Miller
Change Executive Editor
1. Using what award-winner Kasey Baker calls their “Janus-vision,” they merge their civic work with their academic expertise to serve the community. For several of them, this civic and academic commitment seems to have begun at an early age, leading to an intense engagement with their field.
I grew up in a house where I learned that one’s professional work could make a public contribution. My parents were first in their families to go to college. My mother was one of few women to attend medical school in the 1960s, and for the next 40 years she dedicated her career as a neurologist to serving U.S. veterans. My father found his way into higher education, where his teaching, research, and action outside the classroom have been focused on cultivating social responsibility in businesses, non-profits, and governments. Often, the commitments my parents made in the workplace influenced our life at home. Two examples highlight this:
From the time I was 5 or 6, we were prohibited from eating anything made by Nestlé. All I knew was that our household ban on Nestlé Crunch bars was because “babies were dying in foreign countries.” What I didn’t know then was that my dad, and as a result our family, was participating in an international boycott against Nestlé’s marketing of infant formula in the developing world.
When I was a bit older, we started getting visits at the holidays from George. He was a veteran and, like my family, he was Polish. George would bring us the most wonderful kielbasa and would stay for a short visit, always making sure to thank my mother. As the years went by, George had more and more difficulty walking, and eventually the news came that he had died. In time, I learned that my mother had been much more than George’s doctor. She had been his advocate—working to ensure that he received the medical care he needed so that his final years were just a bit easier.
Perhaps it was because I was at a particularly impressionable age, but these experiences resonated deeply. They taught me that my parents’ job was a part of their personal commitment to making life better for other people. Without really knowing it at the time, my parents modeled how to live out their vocation in service to others and for purposes that enhanced the health and well-being of society.
In graduate school, I began to work with refugee women at the Jane Addams School for Democracy—an intergenerational community school where immigrants and native English speakers study language, prepare for the citizenship test, and develop collective efforts to improve education in the city of St. Paul. My relationships at JAS gave texture to what I was studying in school and have ultimately shaped the focus of my doctoral work. In accompanying women through the naturalization process, I learned directly about the complexity of immigrant life in the United States. Through our efforts to improve education, I also found that my own citizenship was not a static entity but rather a dynamic set of responsibilities to my community and the world around me. On the bridge between the classroom and my organizing work, I found that I could participate in a collective process of democratic change, not just by studying or teaching about public problems, but by actively engaging in civic life.