Truman Scholarship Recognizes "Exceptional
Leadership Potential" in Tiffany Shumate '08
Tiffany Shumate '08, who aspires to a career working toward social change as an urban educator, has won a Harry S. Truman Scholarship. The Truman Scholarship is awarded annually to about 70 college juniors "with exceptional leadership potential" who are committed to careers in public service; it funds two years of graduate study.
Shumate, a native of Newark, N.J., is a psychology major with minors in Africana studies and education. She says that she had no intention of becoming a teacher when she started her career at Bryn Mawr; in fact, she shrugged off the recommendations of friends who suggested that she might like the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Education Program. Her interest, she says, began when she attended a summer institute for rising sophomores associated with the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. The program was co-facilitated by Senior Lecturer in Education Jody Cohen.
"Jody talked about education as social justice," Shumate says, "and that really resonated with me. In Newark, I had had firsthand experience of public schools that couldn't even afford basic supplies like textbooks. After eighth grade, I went to a private school where we had everything we needed and then some. So I was very aware of the disparities in educational opportunity that exist in the United States."
After that summer, Shumate pursued her interest in education with both coursework and extracurricular activity, ultimately embracing teaching and education policy as a career. She has worked with kindergarteners at Philadelphia's Overbrook Elementary and with eighth graders as a teacher for Project Forward Leap's residential summer program for middle-school students. She serves as a student tutor at Bryn Mawr's Writing Center and a pedagogical consultant for the College's Teaching and Learning Initiative. Among her myriad other activities at Bryn Mawr, she is the co-president of Sisterhood, an African-American group, a Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow and a community diversity assistant for the Office of Intercultural Affairs.
Shumate, who plans to enter a graduate program in education after completing her Bryn Mawr A.B., is interested in Afrocentrism and neoAfrocentrism in urban education. The daughter of a Ghanaian father, she has a strong interest in all things African and has traveled to Africa twice during her Bryn Mawr career. This January, she accompanied the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Chamber singers on a cultural-exchange trip to Ghana. Last summer, she traveled to Rwanda with Global Youth Connect, a human-rights education organization, in an effort to explore the roots of the 1994 genocide and collaborate with Rwandan youth on projects aimed at promoting awareness of human rights.
In Rwanda, Shumate worked in a "Peace Village" occupied primarily by survivors of the 1994 genocide and children orphaned by the HIV epidemic. In the village, many older children had assumed responsibility for the care of their younger siblings, and Shumate began to feel that Americans had little to teach these prematurely wise children, who lived alongside their former enemies, about human rights. She asked a teenager who had dropped out of school in order to support her younger sisters and brothers what she wanted Americans to know about the genocide.
"She said, 'I want them to know what really happened.' So I talked with the staff of Global Youth Connect about how we could incorporate this into our mission. Now we're working on a documentary film about their experience of the genocide and how it has affected them."
Shumate and her collaborators on the video project plan to show the documentary to a group of high-school students in New York at a Global Youth Connection conference this summer.
In the longer term, Shumate looks forward to a career in both classroom teaching and education policy. She is especially interested in partnerships between nonprofit organizations and public schools.
"I want to look for ways to build toward community involvement in public schools," she explains.
She envisions founding a nonprofit of her own, a space where working teachers can discuss the challenges they face.
"It would function as a support group, but it would also focus on finding solutions," she says. "It would be a way for teachers to discuss educational strategies that work — not in theory, during their teacher training programs, but once they have real experience of the classroom and are coping with the problems that teachers in urban public schools deal with every day."
The organization, she says, is likely to be in Philadelphia; during her time at Bryn Mawr, she has fallen in love with the city.
"Philadelphia's young people are so full of creativity and energy," she says. The city needs to harness some of that power."
And education can be transformative, she says. "Six years ago, I didn't have much ambition besides graduating from high school. Look how much has changed."
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