Featured Student: May 2012
When she was a teenager, UWM Urban Education doctoral student Tatiana Joseph suffered a painful loss—not a loved one or a treasured belonging, but her sense of who she was.
She had enjoyed ten happy years growing up in Costa Rica, and adjusted well to her predominantly Latino grade school after her family moved to Milwaukee. But then came high school—which Tatiana describes as a “subtracting” experience. Her clothes, language, and cultural background seemed to work against her. She changed her wardrobe and hair, and soon felt compelled to “assimilate into a white, middle-class society where different rules applied.”
By the time she graduated, Tatiana recalls, “I did not want to speak Spanish, I did not want to eat my mom’s food, nor did I want anything to do with who I was.”
As an education major at Marquete University, she says the college resembled her high school. But again, Tatiana felt that she didn’t fit in. This time, however, she began to realize that many of her fellow Latino students felt the same. “We began to take comfort in each other, to share food and traditions from our childhoods—memories we had lost,” Tatiana says. “My passion for culture was resurrected. Most importantly, my passion in relearning who I was became my reason for success . . . I became a ‘born-again Latina.’ ”
After graduation, Tatiana returned to her old high school as a teacher. “I was heartbroken to see that nothing much had changed—the same subtractive curriculum was still used,” she says. “Minority students were losing their identities, all in the name of success.” The experience helped her find her calling: “My personal goal became to advocate for students like me who had endured a painful loss. I became interested in finding ways to preserve and strengthen one’s ethnicity.”
Seven years ago Tatiana began graduate courses at UWM, where she earned a master’s degree from UWM in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Bilingual Education/ESL. Then she enrolled in the Urban Education Doctoral Program, from which she will graduate in August.
At UWM Tatiana has been supported by a Graduate School Advanced Opportunity Program Fellowship and a School of Education Ziemer Graduate Fellowship. As an undergraduate, she earned support from Marquette University’s Educational Opportunity Program.
- 1) How would you describe your field of study/research to a friend who is not in your graduate program?
- I am interested in researching the experience of students of color in schools. I study things like the school curriculum and how it impacts (in a positive and negative way) student learning, issues related to second language acquisition, how teachers and schools encourage (or not) students to become vested in social justice, etc.
- 2) What brought you to UWM for your graduate studies?
- Seven years ago, as a first-year teacher, I was very interested in learning more about bilingual education and ESL. At that point, UWM had the only ESL/BE program in Milwaukee. Once I started taking courses, I was drawn to the School of Education’s commitment to urban education. I grew up in an urban environment, and after taking courses at UWM I was able to name the many problems I was seeing and experiencing in my community. This commitment to urban education and social justice became the main reasons why I decided to enroll in the Urban Education Doctoral Program.
- 3) What's been your best experience so far?
- I love every minute of it! Because of the program, I have grown tremendously, not only intellectually, but also as an agent of social change. I was very active in my community before, but now, I have the tools and the vocabulary to call out the injustices.
- 4) If you were able to merge another discipline with yours, what would that be and why?
- I feel like I have the best of all worlds! My undergraduate is in Spanish and Secondary Education. My master’s focus on Bilingual Education and ESL and my doctorate focuses on urban education with minors in Sociology and Educational Policy. I really love sociology; I wish I would have taken a few more courses! It allows me to look at the issues in education from a different perspective.
- 5) What is your favorite stress-reduction activity?
- I really enjoy gardening, reading, and cooking. After a long, stressful day there is nothing better than to come home, cook a nice meal, eat, brew a nice cup of tea, and sit on my couch with a book!
- 6) What do you most enjoy about Milwaukee?
- Milwaukee has been home to me for the last 20 years of my life. What I enjoy the most is the diversity. I live on the South Side of Milwaukee, where I can walk up to Mitchell Street and buy Middle Eastern products. On my way there I can stop at a Mexican panaderia and pick up sweet bread. Let’s not forget the Puerto Rican rice two blocks down, or the polish deli only a few miles away.
- 7) Is there anything that you've had to "give up" as a graduate student?
- One thing that was hard for me to learn was to balance school life and family life. I come from a family that is very tight, where we call each other multiple times a day, or visit multiple times a week. Because I am a first generation grad student, it was hard for them to understand that my work as a student is never done—or as my three-year-old niece puts it, “I always have homework.” This sacrifice was a hard one for me to swallow; however, over the years I have learned to better manage my time.
- 8) What are your plans for after graduate school?
- I feel like I have so many plans, and so little time. I am a teacher; my calling is the classroom. I answered that calling nine years ago when, despite my parents’ lack of support, I declared my major as teaching. Teaching is what drives me, it is my passion! So I hope to acquire a faculty position in a school/college of education. I also want to stay connected with my first love, K-12 teaching. My hope is to find a high school that would allow me to volunteer to teach a class or two—while teaching full time at a university, of course. I have also learned to love research, and my wish is to continue on this path of researching best teaching practices for urban schools—but at the same time, carving out time to sharing this research with the teachers, parents, and students.
- 9) What trait do you find most necessary to succeed in graduate school?
- Determination, perseverance, patience and a thick skin. Graduate school is not for the faint of heart; in order to succeed your heart needs to be in it. It has to be your calling and not just an opportunity to “boost your salary.” In Spanish we call it “ganas”—a drive or desire so great that it will allow you to conquer the world.
- 10) Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program?
- From day one, find your support group. Find a group of students whom you can unpack your experiences with; a group of people who you can sit and talk to about your research, your struggles, challenges, and victories. Also find an advisor who aligns with your research and is willing to truly mentor you through the rollercoaster called graduate school.