My Journey Towards Cultural Proficiency in an Educational Sector

Hello! My name is Emily Vinson and I am a current third year here at Ohio State. I am an early childhood education major with a passion for leadership and cultural proficiency. For my STEP Leadership Project, I wanted to see how education, leadership, and cultural proficiency all worked together in an educational setting outside of the classroom. I designed and implemented a self-conducted personal cultural proficiency trip to Washington DC. I challenged my own ignorance by visiting landmarks, museums, and educational settings that I was unfamiliar with such as the African American Museum of History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian. I also met with seven individuals who work in education related sectors outside of the classroom that were all extremely unique and different from one another, and had the chance to shadow and meet with the principal of an International Baccalaureate School that has students from over 40 different countries!

Although my trip to Washington DC was only four short days, it was one of the most educational experiences I have ever had. In the past year, I have discovered a passion for wanting to eliminate inequality in education. Specifically, working to close the achievement gap and incorporating cultural proficiency into elementary level curriculum. To do this, I began considering programs such as educational policy and public policy at the graduate level.  As I approach graduation sooner rather than later, I have begun to think about post-graduation plans. I was very on the fence about if I wanted to go into the field or attend graduate school immediately following graduation. One of the goals of my STEP Project was to gain recommendations and advice from the various individuals I met with in DC by hearing about their personal journey and current position in an educational sector, and apply it to my future career goals. The other goal of my project was to get a glimpse of how cultural proficiency and leadership can be engrained in everyday elementary curriculum. I am very happy to say that both goals were accomplished!

When I first started STEP, I had no clue what I wanted to do for my project. A lot of my friends were studying abroad during Maymester or doing an internship throughout the summer, neither of which were an option for me due to my summer job. As I pondered it more, I knew I wanted to create a project that was so unique I never would have the chance to do it again. I spoke with my STEP advisor, and we began discussing my passions, my personal and professional goals, and my daily life. I told her about the classes I was taking at the time that focused on cultural proficiency and inequality in education, and I explained to her that I believe the two topics work together in education (or at least should). To integrate cultural proficiency into a classroom, one must be working towards cultural proficiency themselves. This is where my project began. I started writing down all identities I was ignorant towards, including their history. Knowing I only had four days in DC (and out of those four days, only two days to be a tourist), I picked the identities I wanted to study first based on their accessibility to my trip and the likelihood that they could be in my future classroom. The identities I chose were African Americans and their history, Native American/Indigenous People and their history, and English Language Learners (ELL). I hope to study all identities and their history throughout my life, but I wanted to choose these three as I learned through research that Washington D.C. has great resources to support these three identities and their history. A part of continuing my journey towards cultural proficiency, which I should make a point of stating is a life-long journey because one can never become “completely culturally proficient”, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian. This was my first time visiting each museum and I cannot wait to go back. I was not able to get through either museum completely because the history and information within the museum hold so much depth, but from what I did see, I know the history we are taught in school of African-American and Native American/Indigenous People is NOT historically accurate. As I reflect on my experience in DC, and look ahead to my future classroom, I plan on teaching the truth, not the history some would prefer us to teach.

Outside of the National African-American Museum of History and Culture

Another key aspect of my trip that led to me accomplishing one of my goals were the meetings I had with individuals in an educational sector. Although I feel very in tune with my passions and what I was put on this Earth to do, I am still figuring out exactly “what I want to be when I grow up”. That was the main reason behind setting up these meetings and conference calls was to get an idea of what a career in leadership, cultural proficiency, and/or educational policy could look like. As mentioned above, I met with seven individuals in two days, all very different from one another in the best possible way. I met with a man who works for the National PTA, a woman who has a very established reputation in the field of early childhood curriculum and now runs her own strategy consulting group, two individuals from the National Academy of Education, an alum of Ohio State who did Teach for America, the executive director of Women in Government, and the Principal of an International Baccalaureate in Virginia. It was incredible to hear about their career paths and how they got to where they are today. They offered me great advice, and after having multiple conversations, I decided I am going to pursue a job in the field immediately following graduation and plan to attend graduate school to study educational and public policy after having taught in an elementary school setting for 3-5 years.

The next key aspect of my trip that led to me accomplishing my second goal was the very last meeting on my trip. I had the chance to meet with Dr. Donna Synder, Principal of Randolph Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. Dr. Synder came in as an interim principal at the beginning of last school year, and since then has implemented changes and relationships that will last far beyond her years as principal. Being the leader of a school with students from over 40 countries who speak over 20 languages is no simple task, and I found myself in awe of the dedication she has to her students, their families, and the community. She gave me a great piece of advice when I asked her about a recommendation for future career plans, and she told me that “There is nothing like being in the classroom. You will amaze yourself when you look back at all you have learned and what you give to your students. You may find that what you think you are passionate about now can change once you teach for a couple years. Take your time and get your feet wet first because like I said, there is nothing like it”. Dr. Snyder is a leader, an advocate for multicultural education and English Language Learners, and one of the most dedicated educators I have ever seen. I appreciate her welcoming me into her school and giving me so much to take away as I look to begin my own journey in the classroom.

My STEP Project made a huge impact on my life. It made me rethink my professional goals, plans for the future, and passions. My STEP Project allowed me to grow in both personal and professional ways that I never would have imagined. As I look towards the future, I am equally nervous and excited to begin the job search for my dream teaching position, and soon after begin searching for graduate schools. No matter what may change, I know who I am. I am and forever will be on a journey towards cultural proficiency, I am and forever will be an advocate for children, and I am and forever will be a Buckeye.

Go Bucks!


Attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference

For my STEP Leadership Project, I attended the 2017 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando, Florida, a computer science conference celebrating and exploring diversity in technology.  While there, I attended a variety of sessions, talks, and panels discussing women’s experiences in tech, professional development advice, and networking opportunities.

I attended the Grace Hopper Conference as the co-president of ACM-W, a club on Ohio State’s campus that supports and empowers women in technology.  ACM-W was able to send a total of 25 girls to the conference this year, more than doubling our numbers from 2016.  Being able to attend the conference myself and take a lead role in the planning to send so many girls to the conference was an incredibly transformative experience for me.  In 2016, I attended Grace Hopper as an ACM-W member and benefitted enormously from the friendships and connections I gained from it; however, in 2017 while attending Grace Hopper, I not only gained wonderful friendships but also a renewed passion to lead ACM-W as co-president and carry out our mission: supporting women in tech.

In the opening keynote of the conference, Melinda Gates spoke about how the world badly needs change for women, and needs it now, saying, “No more standing by as her dreams bump up against biases and barriers,” urging women in the audience to be a force of change for what they want to see in the world, and this was profoundly impactful to me.  Hearing her speak reminded me of the reasons that I accepted a leadership position in ACM-W originally: I wanted to be the change I had hoped for when I was just beginning college.  Hearing that keynote re-inspired me to continue working towards that goal, to help as many younger women as possible.

In addition to attending the opening keynote, the conference consisted of a variety of sessions, lectures, and workshops throughout 3 days that I was able to attend, and many of those were also equally inspiring and impactful.  For example, I attended on the first day of the conference a panel consisting of women who had all worked on the technology team for the Hillary for America campaign.  Every single one of them had a unique, incredible story about stopping their lives when Hillary announced her candidacy to be part of her campaign and their diverse backgrounds were a reminder that no matter where you’re from, you always have a chance to be part of something incredible.  Hearing their stories was an inspiring reminder to pursue what is important to me, regardless of if it is conventional.

A second interaction that really inspired me at the conference, too, was an additional quote from Melinda Gates’ opening keynote, where she said, “The next Bill Gates may not look like the first one.  Not every great idea comes wrapped in a hoodie.” This was an eye-opening experience for me and was a particularly impactful quote; it was an important reminder that every day in computer science, stereotypes of what a programmer “looks like” are continually reinforced, despite their dangers.  Her quote was an excellent reminder to never underestimate someone based on their appearance and an excellent reminder to me that, as a leader, it’s my responsibility to take lead in challenging stereotypes and being a vocal supporter of all people in tech.

Finally, I attended a session on the second day of the conference called “So you want to be an entrepreneur?” discussing the realities, hardships, and adventures of entering the Silicon Valley start-up culture.  This session was by far one of my favorites, of the several dozen I was able to attend over three days.  The session included a panel of women all with experience being entrepreneurs in tech, discussing their successes and failures and giving advice to the younger women in the audience.  A huge takeaway from this session for me was the resounding belief that I can and will persevere in tech after rejection of many forms.  Their experiences and stories were a needed reminder that the reality of being a woman in tech is that you will experience unfairness, you will experience unjust situations, and you will experience failure.  But they emphasized that the key to success is perseverance through everything.  To me, that was a much needed reminder and something I hope that, as a leader, I’m always able to embody and pass on: staying resilient in your hardest moments.

Overall, attending Grace Hopper this year has been one of the most impactful experiences of my semester.  This year was my first time attending the conference as a co-president of a club and because of that, I had an incredible experience meeting top female leaders in technology, hearing them speak, and getting to interact with them.  Every woman I met at the conference proved to be a wonderful role model and excellent example of what it means to be a leader and be a mentor and even be a friend, and that was incredibly inspiring for me to watch and learn from.  From being at this conference, I significantly strengthened not only my own belief that I can and will succeed in this field, but my belief that every woman I know can and will succeed as well.  And as a leader, it’s my responsibility to help them along the way, much as the leaders I met at Grace Hopper have helped me.