Tyra Robinson completed her master’s in Social Foundations of Education in Summer 2021.
Why did you choose the College of Education & Human Development? Did you hear about a professor somewhere while researching for your program? Did you come here for the location?
I selected the College of Education & Human Development because of the faculty and the university’s commitment to supporting a diverse student population. Faculty members such as Dr. Joyce E. King and Dr. Patricia Carter drew my attention to the Social Foundations of Education program because their research interests aligned with the type of work I wanted to engage in the most. The department’s approach to addressing educational issues and inequality while using a developed social justice perspective was an opportunity I wanted to fully immerse myself in for graduate school. Additionally, seeing faculty, staff and students that looked like me was also an attractive quality. I completed my undergraduate degree at a predominately white institution, and there was a stark difference in representation at Georgia State that I wanted to experience. This diverse representation of students affirmed that I could also be successful in academic spaces as a Black woman.
I have family that lives in Atlanta, and I was always fond of the downtown landscape. It was no surprise that I aimed to be a part of the Georgia State community as a student and a staff member. The location allows students to discover themselves and delve deep into their passions. Additionally, the city is rich in African American history. Personally, Atlanta’s historical significance provided me with the strength to develop resilience during my time in the program.
What interests you in the program of study you are in? What are the previous experiences that brought you here?
I’ve always had a healthy relationship with education and the world of academia until my last year of undergrad. During that time, I encountered moments of immense stress and anxiety as I tried to juggle working full time and completing my thesis. That brief period in my academic career shifted my trajectory and led me to the world of higher education. Not only do I want to help students achieve their goals, but I also want to ensure the necessary scaffolding is there to support underserved students as they navigate the landscape of higher education. The Social Foundations of Education program encourages students to think critically about the relationship between education and educational policies and how those factors interact with marginalized student populations. With an academic background in Anthropology, this graduate program weaved together the disciplines from the social sciences to analyze the social conditions affecting education. I instantly knew this was the program for me and would provide me with the essential context needed to tackle issues such as student success and mental health programming within higher ed.
Do you have a specific research interest? What professors or programs help you?
My research interest is in mental health initiatives for Black women in college. I completed my master’s project with Dr. Patricia Carter as my advisor. The project consisted of a preliminary analysis of local policies and mental health services offered by institutions within the University Systems of Georgia. Since this was my first experience with policy analysis, Dr. Carter was extraordinarily supportive and diligent with my research skill set and encouraged me to dive deeper into my work. Due to her kindness and confidence in my work, I’ve decided to pursue a doctoral program to continue my research. The research experience I had within this program restored confidence in my academic abilities. I am appreciative of the opportunity to have worked with Dr. Carter during her tenure.
Who has been the biggest influence on you in regards to your education and career choices?
There isn’t a single person I could credit for my education or career choices. I pay homage to my community of support that has helped me along the way. This community includes family, friends, mentors, professors and staff that knew I was capable of anything (even when I couldn’t muster the confidence). I can’t stress enough the importance of having that level of support. Especially during graduate school, finding a community that values you and loves you unconditionally will get you through the most challenging moments. You’ll have the opportunity to find a community like that at Georgia State during your time in the program.
Can you tell us about the struggles you’ve encountered?
As a first-generation student in undergrad, my standing left me with many holes to fill in regards to college culture. I also worked full time while undertaking research. These experiences highlighted some of the many struggles students from underserved populations grapple with while getting their education. Personally, my struggle with mental health led me to become a fierce advocate for therapy and encourage others to seek support when needed. I wouldn’t have discovered my research interest if it weren’t for those challenging times, and I am grateful to continue my work to help students who were once in my position.
What brings you joy in your academic studies? What have you had to discard? What are you grateful for in regards to your education?
I find joy when I have the “aha moment.” The “aha moment” is when you’re able to make a connection between what you are learning and what you already know. Dr. King discusses this phenomenon in her class as students uncover deeply rooted ideologies in the education system. For me, those connections create a path to effect change. Being able to take theory from a class and apply it in practice is a satisfying experience.
I’ve had to relinquish setting unrealistic expectations for myself. As Black women, we are either held to a higher standard or not expected to perform well in academic settings. To prove our worth and garner a seat at the table, we must be the best, the smartest, and have the most accolades. This educational experience was different. This program embraced me holistically as a student. The faculty and staff understood that life was not confined to the classroom and created a space for me to develop holistically as a person and not just as an academic.
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn. I self-identify as a life-long learner, and I’m in the pursuit of learning all that I can. I don’t want to gatekeep this knowledge; I want to share it. Knowledge is powerful and enlightening. It is a necessary tool for change, and that’s how I plan to use it.
How has being a first-generation student affected your family?
Yes, I am a first-generation student. My family has been incredibly supportive in my pursuit of advanced education. I was always aware of the significance of earning a college degree very early in my life. As a single parent, my mother made sure I excelled academically during my secondary education career. She has been my cheerleader and sounding board as I continue through graduate school.
Tell us about a specific class project, research assignment or something you did while in school that stays with you. What are your most memorable college experiences?
I have two examples for this question:
The first is my master’s project. I completed this project during the Summer 2020 semester. We were all dealing with the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the weeks of civil unrest as Black Lives Matter became a global outcry. At first, my research was broad; I completed several extensive literature reviews that focused on mental health programming for several marginalized student populations (LGBTQ+, adult learners, students of color, etc.). After a couple of weeks, I was able to narrow it down to Black college women. My connection to this research made it one of the most introspective periods in my life. Through my work, I realized that my experiences in undergrad were valid and common.
Furthermore, these experiences are needed in educational scholarship. Creating a space for Black mental health in higher education is a necessity for academic growth. Ironically, while making these connections, I was also trying to manage my mental health. I learned the importance of giving myself grace and developing a strong relationship with my therapist. Despite having to take an incomplete for the course during the summer, the time allowed me to finish my research with the precise focus and energy needed to create work I could be proud of. Again, I am appreciative that Dr. Carter could identify when I needed the extra time to prioritize my mental health over my research.
The other memorable experience that will remain with me for a lifetime is the friendships I’ve made with folks from my class. In my first semester in the program, I took Multicultural Education with Dr. Tiffany Russell (an excellent class + a phenomenal professor) in person. I was nervous about being in a classroom again and contributing to discussions, but this class became like a small family. It was fantastic to hear different perspectives and to engage critically with other students from various academic programs. During that summer, I grew close to three other women in the course. We studied together and celebrated the end of finals at a downtown bar. Even with the pandemic, we are still in each other’s lives. We’ve been there to support each other with school-related moments and with personal experiences. I am happy that I found my girl gang and look forward to seeing how our friendships will grow over the years!
What excites you about studying at a downtown college?
I enjoy the diversity of the city. There are so many things to do, see, be a part of, and learn from because the city is a magnet for international travel and culture. These opportunities elevate the learning experience outside of the traditional academic setting. In addition to the colorful cultural landscape, the city of Atlanta also has a great food scene. We all know that you need to be nourished and healthy to tackle the rigor of grad school; Atlanta offers a multitude of cuisines for you to discover.
What’s your favorite quote?
“I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise.” —Maya Angelou.
I was always a fan of Maya Angelou’s work. It wasn’t until I saw this quote in the National Museum of African American History and Culture that it stuck with me. Personally, these words resonate with me because it allows me to identify the resiliency of my ancestry. I am capable of all that I want to achieve, including pursuing a master’s degree. I have been fortunate enough to be in spaces that have allowed me to build resilience, and I will continue to work in higher education to create more spaces that build that same resilience for other students.