1337 This summer, students in Brown University’s Master’s program in Urban Education Policy (UEP) have hit the ground running, completing six weeks of coursework at AISR and working in teams to conduct a summer research practicum. We recently spoke with Dalma Diaz, a member of the UEP Class of 2017 and this year’s recipient of the Ruth J. Simmons Urban Education Policy Scholarship, about her path to the UEP program:

My undergraduate experience as a Latina first-generation student is really at the heart of my interest in pursuing a career in urban education policy, because my own experiences there higlighted a lot of the barriers that exist for students like me at the higher ed level. Besides the blatant culture shock and being someplace where there is so much privilege, there is also just lack of exposure to certain things, like finals week and studying in groups. There is a completely different culture that exists that, as a student who attended a low performing K–12 public high school in L.A, I just wasn’t exposed to.

And as someone who confronted a lot of these issues at the undergrad level, I was really made aware of not only what I lacked as a student – what tools I lacked and what knowledge I didn’t have – but it also gave me awareness that what I was experiencing at the higher ed level was something that a lot of my peers had experienced within the K–12 level. And even though it was a struggle for me to do, to overcome these barriers as a college student, at least I was fortunate enough to get to college, which is not something that a lot of my peers could say. And so with all of this in mind, I really did want to do something positive to help change the situation, to help change people’s lives.

Dalma Diaz: Ruth J. Simmons Urban Education Policy Scholarship Winner 2016

Since graduating from undergrad, every career step after has been with this idea in mind – how can I gain tools and the perspectives necessary to be an effective policymaker down the line? I went into City Year as a service corps member, because I really wanted to get experience in the classroom as an educator, and working in a nonprofit where our focus was, “Okay, how do we engage parents in this whole process? What are their concerns? What do they need or what do they want for their kids?”

Coming to the UEP program, I want to invest my time and my energy wisely, but also with a lot of enthusiasm, because I really do want to learn the tools that I can while I am here to become a better practitioner. And what that really means to me is learning about the theory behind the research that informs a lot of the policy, learning about how it is conducted, how it is designed, and ultimately how I can then apply this knowledge to the world and to actual decision- and policy-making. Because in the end, all of this will be worth it for me if I can then use it to do some good in the community that I come from.