Storytelling is a Powerful Agent in Transforming Access to Education

Guest Blogger

Eve Boyle

As I near the end of my PhD program in human paleobiology, I have become interested in how I can contribute to the Washington, D.C. STEM education community beyond the experiences I’ve accumulated as a student and educator at George Washington University. Personally, I find that attending a conference is the most immersive and efficient way to familiarize myself with issues in a field that may be at unfamiliar to me. In early December, I attended Big Ideas Fest 2018 (BIF2018), a conference focused on democratizing access to education that was held at the American University Washington College of Law. Throughout my academic career, I’ve attended large conferences where scientists presented research and smaller conferences that felt more like intimate workshops, but I’ve never attended a conference quite as thought-provoking as Big Ideas Fest.

BIF2018 was unique in that it encouraged participants to integrate key take-aways from conference speakers into a multi-day problem-identifying and solution-finding framework called an Action Collab. This year featured a variety of speakers, but one recurring theme that particularly impacted the attendees in my Action Collab group was the power that storytelling has to change lives. Tamir Harper, an undergraduate student and co-founder of UrbEd, Inc., expressed that his career goals were shaped by having a black male educator in his life. Ayomi Wolff, a local student from Woodrow Wilson High School, was compelled to create a Diversity Task Force after listening to the experiences of her classmates. Muslim Girls Making Change, a group of undergraduate students who are talented spoken word poets, shared that seeing young people who looked like them, being vulnerable, and taking control of their narratives at a poetry slam festival was an ‘Aha!’ moment for them.

These are only a few instances of BIF2018 speakers discussing how students can be profoundly impacted by stories. My Action Collab group reached the conclusion that beyond the obvious socioeconomic barriers to inclusive education, a deeply personal obstacle to success is not having an empowered vision of yourself. Hearing about the professional experiences of individuals who look like you, talk like you, or otherwise come from a similar walk of life as you, can give a student an opportunity to envision an educated, successful, fully realized version of themselves. This motivation can be the spark that ignites the campaigns of future politicians or lays the blueprint for the next big technological innovations. Knowing this, I will continue to share my own story with the young adults I encounter at my remaining time at George Washington University. Moving forward, I also aim to create educational environments where my future students feel comfortable sharing their successes, failures, and ambitions with each other. 

January 08, 2019