Education Policy Pre-Grad Intern Esmeralda Rodriguez
"Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information" - Paulo Freire
When I was growing up, I always knew I wanted to someday attend a university but my knowledge of higher education pretty much ended there. It was not until a couple of months ago that I even realized that there is such a thing as graduate school and until my participation in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program, I never once thought about even attending it.
It's not to say that I did not know that degrees such as a Master's or PhD existed, when I say that I did not realize there was graduate school, what I meant was that it did not necessarily exist as a possibility to me. I knew, through very vague descriptions from other people, that this is the place where students essentially become learned scholars and it is through graduate school degrees that they are able to research. Working with my mentor Patricia, I came to understand that graduate school and a Master's degree or PhD mean far more that just being able to research. It is about producing knowledge and letting the academic world know.
I have been very involved with my graduate mentor's research and I it was through this work, not word of mouth that I began to understand exactly what graduate school is about. Patricia involved in her research by teaching me how to approach conducting a research, what a literature review is and how to pen one, and the importance of the people's stories and how something of academic value can come from research participants.
One of my main tasks, if not the most important thing I undertook, was transcribing interviews my mentor had conducted over the summer. At first I thought it should be easy enough but I came to realize that something that seemed so mundane was in fact very time-consuming but in the end always rewarding. I know I cannot disclose any of the information that was divulged from these interviews due to the confidentiality agreement I signed, but what was said in those tapes just completely opened my eyes. It was through tediously working on the transcriptions that I realized that I identified with the participants in a way that it almost seemed like it was me on those tapes being interviewed. It was then that I realized that conducting a research is not just about trying to find an answer to the question posed, it is instead trying to answer something about yourself, that there is something in everyone's lives that are the reason for the production of such knowledge in the first place. Perhaps this is the most valuable thing I learned from the IE program and my mentor. Without the hands on experience I have received with this mentorship, maybe graduate school would have remained the mythical place where people went to get one more degree.
My role as an undergraduate research assistant was really only one part of the internship, because aside from being Patricia's student, I was to work with the Texas Center for Educational Policy as well. Interning with the center allowed for me to have more than just one mentor. I instead had (have) three mentors aside from Patricia: Emmanuel Garcia, Andrea Melendez, and Dr. Angela Valenzuela. All have guided me and have been more than available to answer any questions I have had.
The research I mentioned earlier is still in the works. We are still going through the data and see what we can pull from it. I will be continuing my work with my mentor next semester but this time it will be under independent study with the college of education. Another project I have worked on with the center is the launching of a pilot after school program called La Clase Mgica and the organization of the Hispanic Futures Conference series.
With these two side projects, I have been able to step out of the realm of research and tackle other educational projects. I always felt strongly about educational issues, especially those that affect the Spanish speaking community, but with my work with the center my knowledge on the education system has just grown immensely and I am left with a yearning to learn more. I have even added education to my major. Yes, indeed the IE program has given me more than I could ever expect. Because of it, I have gained an understanding of the academic world beyond undergraduate work and have found my passion. Freire's words do ring true, had I not done this, had I not taken on a hands on approach and just taken in information, I would not know half of what I know now.