Jake Maguire ’07--Graduate Student (MA/Ph.D., American Studies), Austin, TX

image

After graduating in 2007, I worked for two years in democratic politics, first as a consultant with Global Strategy Group and then as Communications Director for New York City Council Member David Yassky. Upon leaving New York, I entered graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, where I now hold one of four fully funded Powers Presidential Fellowships to pursue my Ph.D. in American Studies.  The William J. Powers, Jr. Presidential Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin provides five years of funding, beginning in fall 2009.

As a political consultant, my ability to write clearly and quickly mattered more than almost any other skill I gained at Amherst.  I attribute this skill almost entirely to the rigorous program offered by the Black Studies Department.  In graduate school, where professors assign large amounts of reading over short periods, I rely heavily on the critical approaches I gained in Black Studies 11 and 12.

As mentioned above, I attribute these skills almost entirely to my work in Black Studies at Amherst.  The rigorous, skills-centered approach taken by the department set my reading and writing on a disciplined course that has since become invaluable, first professionally and now academically.

Black Studies shaped my interests and crystallized race as one of the most relevant lenses through which to view America’s history and politics.  It also exposed me to authors who have since become some of my favorites and friends who I now call some of my best.

 Advice for current majors:

Embrace the writing advice the department offers.  Refining your writing skills can be maddening, but the result will be valuable.  Strong communication skills have proven themselves an important asset in my post-Amherst career.  If you want to get into politics, be willing to start at the very bottom, put your nose to the grindstone and never complain.  Proving that you’re smart usually won’t cut it.  The people who make it are the ones who get things done.

Phuong V. Vuong '09--teacher, Oakland, California

Phuong

As of Spring 2010, I am earning my teaching credential at Mills College in Oakland and plan on teaching here in the city.  I participate in an anti-oppression dialogue group with other beginning educators.  I also work with Vietnamese American community organizers in the Bay Area.  I received the following awards since graduating:  Amherst College Fellowship 2009-10, Mills College Education Alumnae Scholarship 2009-10, and a Flora Foundation Scholarship 2009-10. 

My current work requires strong verbal communication and analytical skills.  I have to be thoughtful constantly about my word choice around students, be it for their understanding or mere appropriateness.  Another equally exciting and exhausting aspect of teaching is the analytical demand.  At Mills, we are taught to use observation, interaction, and student work as information to evaluate the effectiveness of our approach and conceive of new methods.  Daily, teachers evaluate their students, themselves, and their own processes.  We use this information and content to make choices about what and how we teach.

The Black Studies Department definitely played a role in helping me develop these skills.  Discussion-based classes taught me to choose my words and organize my thoughts quickly when speaking.  The focus on argumentation, concise writing and purposeful reading helped me think analytically about my ideas in relation to others. 

Most importantly, the Department has changed my consciousness about the world and myself in it. By combining content and a focus on language, professors challenged me to investigate reality while they helped reveal my ability to change that reality.  My work in Black Studies led to my understanding that the personal and the political are intertwined—sometimes they are the same and sometimes conflicting.  This informs my “personal” decisions, which include considerations about my community and broader world.  Furthermore, as a teacher I am driven by the desire to help develop the critical thinking that I have gained through the Black Studies department. 

If I had to leave some words of advice to Amherst students, I would tell them not to rush.  We learn the most when we can be reflective about our work instead of being concerned with attaining the next high-paying or high-status job.  Specifically for students interested in education, I encourage them to find a program to earn their teaching credential alongside as much student-teaching time as possible.  Sure, nothing can totally prepare you for full-time teaching, but you can choose to ease yourself into that role.  As an undergraduate, you can develop relevant skills by leading groups and by planning and running workshops.  Also, on your own you should read authors such as Paulo Freire and bell hooks because even the most progressive education programs neglect their work.