Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this monthly series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: "Where are they now?".
April Warren-Grice completed her PhD in Educational Policy Studies in 2014. Now, she works with K-12 public school districts and schools on issues of equity in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska while also teaching graduate courses in the graduate social justice certificate program as the Coordinator for Professional Development and Assistant Professor of Curriculum Instruction at Midwest Equity Assistance Center (MEAC) at Kansas State University.
What was the transition from graduate school to a professional career like for you?
The transition was exciting, and I've been learning to really set my own agenda and goals and then follow through with them. I've had to remind myself that I am in charge of my life and that it is up to me to carry out my mission with my research, academic writing, teaching, programming, and mentoring. Achieving balance has been an intentional process that I am still mastering.
What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is being able to work with both K-12 educators and students in four states to better understand educational equity. One example is where I spearheaded the first Educational Equity Leadership Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, which launched an area-wide collaborative space for educational stakeholders. At this two-day conference, we had over 100 participants including educators, students, parents, and community members from 15 school districts, and speakers from top universities, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and as far as London, England. The conference was so well received that participants and the Missouri Department of Education requested it again, as well as in two different areas of Missouri. We are currently preparing for the second conference in St. Louis which will take place in spring 2016.
What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?
Networking and coordinating events. As a graduate student, I actively worked on networking to meet and collaborate with individuals in and outside of the department, the university, around the country, and abroad to think about new ways of looking at educational issues. These skills have helped me meet people from various walks of life and fields who are interested in furthering educational equity. Collaborating with people in and outside of the field of education has helped me coordinate and plan "out of the box" conferences, where participants experience more opportunities to connect with others, exchange ideas, and come up with creative and innovative solutions, in and outside of their districts.
What experiences made an impact on your career choice?
Being an educator is a calling - this is what I would do for free, but I do like the check Honestly, I couldn't stop if I wanted to, because it is who I am. I remember being in elementary school and noticing how Black students were treated differently than White students, and although I couldn't put it to words, I knew something wasn't right - looking back, it was definitely inequitable, and I wanted to do something about it. So, going into 6th grade, I made the kids I babysat play school. We would ride our bikes to the library as a field trip and we all had to read a book. I was determined that my siblings and neighbors' kids would be the ones in school that everyone went to for the answers.
What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?
Pursue your highest excitement and make sure that everything is in alignment with who you are as an individual. Although, we may not always know what the end game is, if we do things in alignment with our passion, each platform will prepare us and be an apprenticeship for our life's work.
This interview is part of the monthly Grad Life series called "Where Are They Now?" which chronicles the career paths of recent Univeristy of Illinois Graduate College alumni. Interviews are conducted by Laura Spradlin, the Thesis Coordinator at the Graduate College. She is an alumna of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois and studied English and French at Illinois Wesleyan University. Prior to joining the Graduate College, Laura worked in communications and public libraries. In her spare time, you can find her browsing libraries and used bookstores, writing, knitting, or running (slowly).