We sent Qiana M. Cutts, 2009 Ph.D. graduate of Educational Policy Studies, questions to answer to keep us up to date on her successes.
What made you choose Georgia State University and the College of Education & Human Development over other schools in the area/country? Why the EPS dept and/or RMS program?
When I applied to Georgia State University’s College of Education & Human Development, I was a middle school teacher in southwest Atlanta. I moved to Atlanta from Birmingham, Alabama with the intent of advancing my education.
In the summer of 2003, I attended a job fair and was hired as a middle school English language arts teacher. I was eager to begin teaching but not sure of what to expect. Because Atlanta assuredly was/is more urban and had/has more educational, employment, cultural and social opportunities than Bessemer, I assumed that the majority Black students from lower-income communities whom I’d teach would have vastly different experiences than those majority Black students from lower-income communities whom I taught in Bessemer.
However, I found that my students in Bessemer had much in common with my students in Atlanta by way of educational experiences and academic achievement. The similarities between my students made me question the structure and organization of schools; the perceptions, beliefs and preparedness of teachers; and the general sense of belonging that students do or do not feel in relation to schooling as a process. In addition to exploring those areas in my efforts to become a better teacher, I also wanted to explore how I could conduct research with/for/about educators to ensure students’ academic achievement and school success were exemplary and within students’ reach, no matter where they attended school.
Before making my final decision, I reviewed a few graduate programs in the Atlanta area and was most attracted to the Educational Policy Studies’ Research, Measurement and Statistics with the Social Foundations and qualitative research foci as I perceived this program would help me flesh out the questions I had about education and facilitate my engagement in critical research and theory.
I also found the faculty and staff diversity as a strength of the college and department. When I enrolled at Georgia State, there were a number of black, brown and queer-identified faculty members. A number of these faculty members also were associate, full or endowed professors. Seeing so many faculty with whom I shared some identity in such positions was one of the solidifying factors in my decision to attend Georgia State.
What is your current occupation?
I currently am an assistant professor in the Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations department in the College of Education at Mississippi State University. I teach undergraduate and graduate student courses in action and qualitative research, critical thinking and writing and social foundations.
What fascinates you about research? What has surprised you about what you’re learning/have learned?
I am most fascinated by the process of research. The process is one that – no matter how one prepares – is always susceptible to change. When conducting research, I often learn more through changes (or challenges) to the planned research process than I likely would have learned had I been committed to a predesigned plan. I cannot recall any specific surprises I have had; however, since graduating from the program, I continuously have been reminded that building relationships, engaging in ethical and equitable research and decolonizing research practices are of the utmost importance.
Is there a professor you’d like to mention that helped with your studies?
There were several professors who positively impacted my Georgia State experience. Specifically, Drs. Russell Irvine, Jennifer Esposito and Asa G. Hilliard, III (Nana Baffour Amankwatia) all played key roles in my experience. Irvine was the instructor for the first course I completed in the program. The skills and knowledge I gained from his lectures and mentoring set the foundation for rigorous engagement. Esposito was my dissertation chair and instructor for several courses. Her instruction, support, and guidance were more than instrumental in my efforts to complete the program successfully.
Dr. Hilliard also was very influential to my experiences as a student and now in my tenure as a professor. I met him during my entrance interview and, although the meeting was brief and I was one of many students, he recognized me when we saw one another again months later. He recalled my teaching and research interests and immediately offered his support. While I never completed a course with Dr. Hilliard, his mentoring and knowledge of African history and culture, educational psychology, etc. planted a seed that deeply has influenced my teaching philosophy, research interests and practices, and general commitment to being a powerful teacher. I constantly refer to his work and ask, “What would Baba Asa do?” when considering how to address a topic, implement a project, etc. The challenge and goal to reflect and honor him in my teaching and research have always kept me grounded in scholarship in ways that remind me to see the genius in all youth and in African ascendant youth, in particular.
How do you explain what you do (in school or for your profession) to your grandmother?
I don’t explain what I do to either of my grandmothers as one is deceased and I don’t have a relationship with the other. However, when elders who are not familiar with the academy inquire about what I do, I have a simple reply: I’m a teacher. No matter my level of education or professional position, I identify as a teacher because teaching is my passion and I believe teaching – whether in kindergarten through 12th grade, higher education, community settings, etc. – is one of the most honorable and impactful professions. We all are, or should be, teachers in the sense that we are committed to sharing knowledge, encouraging self-discovery and conducting research. I always will be a teacher.
What tips can you give a student just starting to help them be successful?
This is a great question! As a first-generation college student, and more specifically, as a first-generation Black woman college student from a working-class, rural background, I would encourage students – especially those who share any of the identities I noted – to first determine short- and long-term goals and use of the degree. Students whose intentions are to continue working in K-12 or community settings might have different goals than those who intend to become faculty and administrators at colleges and universities. As such, it is important to look forward to the potential end goal to determine the most successful path.
Some recommendations for nurturing a successful experience are:
- form critical friends groups
- ask critical and specific questions
- identify department, college and university resources
- nurture healthy relationships with faculty and staff
- join and be active in a professional organization
- present and publish
- be diligent and focused in courses
- and when possible, structure assignments to help focus reading on a research interest that could help shape the proposal and dissertation.
I also encourage students to develop and practice self-care, especially if they maintain employment outside the academy and have families or other commitments while matriculating through the program.
Give us either a favorite quote, a song lyric or poem or something a professor said to you that you find inspiring.
At Dr. Hilliard’s homegoing ceremony in 2007, Dr. Wade Nobles challenged attendees to honor Dr. Hilliard and his legacy by continuing to research, teach and love in the ways he did. Dr. Nobles stated we should, “Do Asa.” His statement was more than a challenge; it was a call to action and a statement that continues to inspire me to engage in the work of research and education in ways that representative of my commitment to “Do Asa.”