Michael Lee Schad: Seeking equality and equity in education

Q&A with SOE Ph.D. student

What drew you to the field of education?

I always liked school when I was growing up. It had so many possibilities and such freedom of thought. I also had some great teachers in middle and high school who changed how I thought about the world. They challenged me and made me into a more thoughtful person.

After I earned my M.F.A. in creative writing, I was working hard but had skills that I wasn’t using. I knew that I wanted to help people, and the people I felt I could help the most were students. Teaching seemed like the perfect avenue for me.

Michael Lee Schad - 400x400-96
Michael Lee Schad

What were you doing prior to applying to SOE?

I was teaching at Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, a small, private school that I helped found in Richmond’s East End. When we first started, it was just 5th and 6th grade students of limited economic resources from the Church Hill area of Richmond. It was my first teaching job after I got my teaching license.

I did everything you could imagine: I helped create the curriculum, wrote our initial policy handbook, taught English and history, built desks, painted classrooms, drove the bus, coached sports, and bought computers for classrooms when we needed them. When I look back and reflect on how far they’ve come, it’s pretty amazing.

What advice do you have for prospective students on the SOE application process?

First, make sure you know the people who are writing your recommendation letters, and know that they’re going to write good recommendations for you. Second, don’t stress out about the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) because it’s not a judgement on who you are as an intelligent human being.

Why VCU’s School of Education?

I had influential, impactful conversations with two SOE professors before deciding to come here: Dr. Monty Jones, my current advisor; and Dr. Bill Muth. I could tell that they really care about education. I remember thinking, “This is exactly how I want to learn to think about education, and this is how I want to do research about education!”

I spoke with professors at other schools, but we didn’t connect in the same way. I thought, “If I can get into VCU, this is definitely where I want to go.”

“I had influential, impactful conversations with two SOE professors before deciding to come here. I spoke with professors from other schools, but we didn’t connect in the same way.”

I also live in Church Hill, and I feel really connected to the area. I didn’t want to leave Richmond.

Why did you decide to pursue a doctoral degree in curriculum, culture and change?

The social justice component of the program appealed to me, and the professors care very deeply about finding ways to connect with people who’ve been forgotten in America. From my previous teaching experience, I’ve seen systematic inequalities where the same people get left behind over and over again. When I thought of ways that an educational system could empower people and bring equality and equity into the conversation, the curriculum, culture and change concentration emerged as the best fit.

What were the highlights of your Spring 2018 semester?

I enjoyed working with and being supported by the other students in my classes. It’s so important to build those relationships. You do so much research by yourself, and everything can become so conceptual and theoretical. Without that human interaction with your fellow students, you forget why you’re here: to help people learn more efficiently.

What do you like about being a graduate assistant?

The focus of my doctoral program is instructional technology. What’s neat about being a graduate assistant is having casual conversations with SOE professors like Dr. Kurt Stemhagen about how we’re dealing ethically and philosophically with technology’s influence on education. Whenever I talk with any SOE professor about any issue, they’re more than willing to give me their time and possibly provide me with a totally new and different perspective.