Published on 9/6/2011 12:33:00 PM
Michael Quigley is a PhD candidate in the School of Education’s Social and Comparative Analysis in Education program, but his relationship to the University of Pittsburgh goes back to when he was a young boy growing up in the Hill District, an economically challenged area located near the university.
“The University of Pittsburgh has always been a force in my life: from the community engagement programs that I participated in every summer as a kid to being accepted to Pitt as a student through the University Challenge for Excellence Program designed to provide minority students like myself with the support to do well in college,” says Michael. “However, like many young people who think they don’t need help, I didn’t take school seriously for the first two years and ended up on academic probation. I wasn’t just impacting my own future; I became a father at 17 and so I already had a young daughter’s needs to think about.”
Everything changed for Michael during his junior year because of a simple book given to him by a friend: The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. Michael read it in three days and was profoundly impacted by the power of the narrative; the story resonated with him and created a seismic change in his attitude and perspective about school and life.
“The messages of redemption and transformation in that book were so powerful and with that I gained a focus and a purpose. I realized the gift of education I had been given access to, started taking it seriously and graduated with a BA in political science and a minor in black studies,” continues Michael. “I hadn’t ever really thought about teaching, but I learned of a fellowship being offered by the School of Education and the Pittsburgh Public Schools designed to encourage African Americans to enter teaching and I decided to pursue it.”
After receiving his certification, Michael started working with Pittsburgh Public Schools in some of the very same schools he attended as a student as part of a multi-cultural education initiative. A significant part of this role involved working with students on conflict resolution, anger management, and diversity issues: all subjects he believes should be part of the education curriculum for all teachers.
Because of his previous success with conflict resolution, the principal at his current school asked him to launch mentoring groups for young men in the hope it would help curtail gang violence issues. When the school district ended busing, which meant rival gangs would now be attending the same schools, Michael spearheaded the creation of a three-day summer camp as preemptive strike against school violence.
“Through my own experiences and the techniques that I learned at the School of Education, I was able to help the kids focus on their similarities instead of their differences. I was also able to help them find alternatives to violence for resolving conflicts and recognizing the futility of waging war on each other,” says Michael.
While Michael loved working directly with students, he had a strong desire to make an impact on education as part of a larger platform. This desire led him back to Pitt and the School of Education, with the goal of becoming a principal. As he was getting ready to complete the master’s program, his mentor challenged him and encouraged him to think about the effect he could have on education by pursuing a PhD. Michael applied and was accepted for the K. Leroy Irvis Diversity Doctoral Fellowship.
As a PhD candidate in the School of Education’s Social and Comparative Analysis in Education Program, Michael is focusing his research on studying K-12 racial education disparities and what can be done to fix them by analyzing policy and practice. On that larger platform he is committed to finding ways to help schools do a better job of serving students who are economically disadvantaged or have special needs.
“I believe in empowering my students and engaging in courageous conversations about race and the other factors that can have an impact on education and learning,” says Michael. “I also continue to teach every student like they are one of my own children; kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This philosophy led me to focus a portion of my work on how adolescent black males’ identity is constructed and the impact that has on their academic achievement."
Michael has enjoyed being a part of the School of Education over the past two decades and seeing it evolve.
“The School of Education is emerging and growing and is doing more to bring in and nurture students and faculty of color," concludes Michael. “Because at the end of the day we are in the business of human development; we are molding lives, not just teaching subjects.”