Compassionate Education

By Viki Dekle

Geography and compasses go hand in hand. Sometimes a compass can help you with your physical direction, but in Raven Newberry’s case her degree in geography from the University of Kentucky served as a compass to locate her passion for social justice.

It’s a path that has led Raven, a 2011 honor graduate, to currently pursue a masters degree in Educational Policy at Vanderbilt University. The graduate program is prestigious and competitive and Raven attributes her success to a fantastic undergraduate education at UK.

While at UK, Raven was a Gaines Fellow, a member of the Honors Program, and an Ambassador for the College of Arts and Sciences.

She pursued an interdisciplinary tract through the Honors program on Space, Place and Culture, and the honors courses were small and helped her form close relationships with faculty members in the Department of Geography.

Some of her favorite classes included Political Geography with Anna Secor, Urban Planning with Lynn Phillips, and her senior residency seminar with Gary Shannon.

The faculty in Geography also aided Raven in her studies as a Gaines Fellow. Phillips oversaw Raven’s jury project, “The River Inside” to the River discovery Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. Secor chaired Raven’s thesis committee and her thesis, “Popular Geopolitics of Regan-Era Cold War Films”, was recognized as an outstanding undergraduate research project by the Geography department in 2011.

Her studies in geography also took Raven outside the classroom. She went to Japan in the summer of 2010 through a joint study abroad opportunity with the University of Kentucky and the University of Wisconsin – Platteville. Professor P. P. Karan of the Department of Geography is a scholar of Japanese landscapes and culture helped establish this fantastic study abroad program.

The Japan study abroad experience included a six week rail trip across the country that specifically focused on the relationship between humans and the surrounding environment. Raven and classmates learned a variety of field techniques, from participant observation to research-based interviews.

All of these experiences shaped Raven into a well-rounded and prepared young scholar.

After graduating from UK in 2011, Raven had a few exciting offers to choose from. First, she was accepted into JET, a program for American graduates to teach English in Japan. Her calling to education policy, however, was particularly strong and Raven made the tough decision to forgo the JET program. Instead, she took a position with College Possible in Milwaukee through Americorps.

“I found myself being pulled towards education-related things in my undergraduate education. For instance, I worked for Kentucky’s Governor’s Scholar Program all through college. Also, the Arts and Sciences Ambassador’s program got me interested in access to higher education,” she said, “because I got to see a side that I had not seen before, like recruitment and prospective students. That was really interesting.”

Her Americorps position had a profound impact on her outlook on education. “I became very passionate about ensuring that everyone has equal access to higher education and a quality education.”

Raven feels that her studies in Geography thoroughly prepared her for where she is now in her life. “I’m kind of a nerd about it,” she admitted, “but geography is applicable to so many things.”

“It is so helpful that geography is both so qualitative and quantitative. I think I really had an edge coming into this graduate program, being able to look at both sides of things, as far as being able to read data and feeling comfortable with statistics.”

“Also, in a discussion of public education it is almost impossible to ignore things such as public transportation, zoning neighborhoods. These are all things that play into it. Geography is related to everything, so I think it’s very helpful with my program.”

Raven sees many possible paths after she completes her educational policy degree. She would like to first teach in the traditional classroom for a couple of years and then pursue a career in educational policy. Raven also enjoys the research process and she may pursue a Ph.D. at some point in her career.

Raven’s journey began during her Kentucky Merit Scholars visitation weekend as a senior from a small high school in Paducah, Kentucky. That experience helped her see herself in the university setting and allowed her to envision a successful academic experience.

Then geography helped her find her compass.


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