The Power of Education

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela.

Bridget Curry, Honors College student

An Honors College senior takes that quote to heart and is making strides to prove it. Not only is Bridget Curry deepening her own knowledge as a student, she is researching students themselves. Specifically, how their experiences and choices impact education as an institution.

The Palos Heights, Ill. native is studying anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and currently travels to Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis three days a week for her research. However, before we can fully understand Curry’s project and path to research, we need to take a step back to the very beginning, before she became a resident of West Lafayette, Ind.

Curry credits conversations with faculty and staff members as the reason she chose Purdue, saying they made her feel and believe she could be successful here. Upon arrival, Curry was intent on studying anthropology. She wanted to pursue a career at a museum and initially involved herself in archival research. Her interest in education caught flame while she was digging into those archives, focusing on college preparation and education at Purdue in the 1890s. That spark ignited further when Curry met Dr. Kristina Bross of the Honors College while presenting her freshman year research.  After much conversation and continued thought over the summer, Curry began researching for Dr. Bross the following semester, focusing on contemporary education. But why this subject matter?

“I think education is such a window of opportunity for somebody to be successful and have their life impacted in a meaningful and lasting way,” Curry said.

Coincidentally—that same fall—Purdue announced it was opening a charter school in Indianapolis. Intrigued, Curry began initiating conversations with people across campus and eventually made contact with the head of the school itself. She expressed her interest in researching the students’ activities, motivations, decisions and how their participation in this particular program would change the way they think about education and its value.

While the prospect of this project was quite exciting to all involved parties, it would be no easy task to pull off. But through hard work, determination and some aptly-timed faculty appointments on Purdue’s part, the pieces slowly began to fall together for Curry. In her junior year, sociology appointed a new department head, Dr. Linda Renzulli, who just so happened to focus her work on charter schools. Curry promptly approached Dr. Renzulli regarding her interests in the realm of education, and Renzulli offered to take her on as a student, eventually serving as the primary mentor for the project. By utilizing her new-found connections and resources the remainder of her junior year, Curry continued to lay the groundwork necessary to make this dream of hers possible.

Curry has been a fixture at Purdue Polytechnic High School since it officially opened on July 31. While there, she takes field notes throughout the day, bouncing between various learning spheres to observe and document the work being done there. With a great deal of choice and flexibility involved in a student’s daily schedule, many refer to the charter school as a “mini college.” In addition to observations and note-taking, Curry conducts regular interviews with students and faculty members during the school day. She also completes phone interviews with parents of the involved students. Her ultimate goal is to gain insight on the students’ experiences, how and why they came to be involved in the program, and how is it impacting their mindset and aspirations moving forward.

Curry plans to make education and student agency a prominent factor in her life and future career. She’s waiting to apply to graduate school in the hopes of traveling to South Africa, where she endeavors to delve deep into the educational environment there.

“South Africa offers a context that is similar to that of the United States, but with different outcomes,” Curry explained. “There is a history of persistent racial inequality there and students have choices in their education, but those choices can be very constrained.”

With some similar situations and factors visible in the United States, Curry would like to compare and contrast the two countries’ situations in a larger context. After graduate school, Curry envisions a role in policy, as it concerns both the analysis and implementation of school choice and student agency movements.

Wherever her path may lead, Curry is sure to make a rather large impact along the way, not only on education itself, but consequently, on all those affected by it. Nelson Mandela’s words hold true. Through education, Bridget Curry may very well be on her way to change the world.