By Michelle Armstrong
Julie Schell, an Ed.D. candidate in her second year in the Higher Education program, has extensive experience in helping those who may not know how best to help themselves. Her personal story is one of triumph through resiliency, filled with chapters of first-hand knowledge of how to overcome by persevering. It begins in her hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, but for quite some time, her life has been an expertly played hand rather than a reckless gamble in the desert. Her experiences have made her both a champion of equality and a woman focused on improving society through her contributions to the field of education. "When I think about the future," says Julie, "I close my eyes and see myself as an activist and as a productive scholar."
As a health sciences undergraduate major at the University of Nevada, Reno, Julie had the opportunity to both act as a teaching assistant for and conduct research under the guidance of a bioethicist. She says that she was "fascinated by [issues concerning] caregiving for chronically ill and sick people, and why doctors aren't trained to be more caring." That interest led to a year of concentrated study on medical ethics following the completion of her Bachelor of Science. While she considered pursuing graduate studies in the field, and was in fact accepted into bioethics programs, her desire to work with and for disabled and disadvantaged students steered her towards a Masters program in counseling and educational psychology at her alma mater. Recognizing her potential, the chair of the university's Department of Health Ecology made it possible for her to attend graduate school on scholarship funds. Julie knew that her next step after receiving her Masters would be a position in higher education, and she was offered the directorship of the judicial clerkship program at Stanford Law School where she worked closely with a 200+-member group comprised of students, alumni, and faculty. And, she says, "that's where my real passions were born."
Julie noticed while in this role that a pattern of student counseling had evolved over time in which only students with very high grade point averages were advised to apply for a clerkship, considered by many to be the best step for beginning one's legal career. Her realization prompted her to more closely examine the data thus far collected on who from the school had applied for and received clerkship appointments, and she uncovered what she calls a "myth about GPA" as result of her investigation. Not all of the clerkship applicants who had been successful had extremely high grades. When faculty disagreed with her analysis, she decided to let the facts speak for themselves and conducted her own IRB-approved study on the linkages between Stanford law students, their GPAs, and clerkship assignments based upon 12 years of data. Speak for themselves, the facts did, as Julie's hypothesis was proven, leading to a shift in the school's counseling patterns. "It was important to get the message out," she says, especially considering that many individuals had not been encouraged to apply for clerkships and thought themselves unqualified. The experience fueled Julie's passion for working on behalf of underrepresented persons, like members of minority and lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender groups.
Knowing that she had reached a plateau in her work there, Julie was ready to move on from Stanford Law School to pursue her doctorate in Higher Education. An undergraduate advisor at UNR had shared details with Julie about her own wonderful experience at TC. Furthermore, Julie was "attracted to the tenet of blending theory and practice," and was interested in the curricular offerings as well as the enthusiasm and reputation of the faculty. It took some adjusting for her once she began her coursework at the College, considering the administrative and financial issues that she needed to sort out, but she credits several persons, including Janice Robinson, Anna Neumann, Kevin Dougherty, and Greg Anderson, for helping to make the transition smoother. These individuals, says Julie, "totally changed my life. They helped me to come into my own as an emerging scholar. [They are] great mentors, and each one has given me the opportunity to better myself and has helped me with my career." Thinking about her TC experience thus far "gives me chills," Julie expresses, and she delights in "the smorgasbord of things academically and intellectually to choose from" at the school.
While her first year expenses were subsidized by departmental and TC scholarships, she began to worry as she weighed the options for financing her education in the years to come. In order to avoid substantial debt, she feared that she would need to work full-time and attend school on a part-time basis, a situation that she believed would distract from her studies. "I felt like my potential was impacted and infringed upon," she remembers. Overcome by discouragement, her resourcefulness buoyed her to begin an Internet search for funding sources. Just when she thought that all hope had been lost, she came across the Web site of the Point Foundation. Founded in 2001, the Point Foundation is the first nationwide LGBT scholarship foundation granting scholarships to undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students of distinction. The mission of the Foundation is to provide financial support, mentoring and hope to meritorious students who are marginalized because of either their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Julie knew that this would be the ideal answer to her financial worries, and applied in April 2003. By June, she had yet to hear back and wondered what she would do to pay her tuition for the 2003-04 school year. Shortly thereafter, she received an e-mail from the Foundation informing her that she had been selected as one of 25 semi-finalists out of the 300 applications received. Then, another e-mail was sent, announcing that she was one of a now narrowed pool of 10 finalists. She was interviewed by phone, and, having impressed the judges during that round, was flown to San Francisco for a final interview with a panel of eight. In the end, Julie was awarded one of four Point Foundation scholarships. It underwrites much of her academic expenses, including her housing, medical insurance, books, and tuition and fees that are not covered by her departmental scholarship.
Just as important, Julie says that through the Foundation she "now [has] a venue for emotional support." That is something that she has missed out on in many ways since coming out in1994 while still an UNR student. Her parents cut her off both financially and emotionally, and she worked several jobs-Home Depot cashier, banking assistant, and surgical scrub technician to name only a few-to finance the remainder of her undergraduate studies. Although her relationship with her family continues to be somewhat strained, she says that she hopes that her parents will one day see her for the person she is and focus on her dedication to helping others.
Helping others is something that Julie plans to do by dedicating her work to combating homophobia and heterosexualism. Her dissertation research will address the effects of personal life traumas on the lives of gay scholars and how they have successfully overcome such adversity because of their resiliency. She intends to study the how and why behind people's survival despite traumatic circumstances. For Julie, this research is of a personal nature: she herself survived the trauma of her family's violent reaction when she came out almost 10 years ago, yet she also cites her father's ability to overcome his personal ordeal of sustaining severe burns following an electrocution as an inspiration for her study as well as for her life.
Julie sees her future as one that reflects the successful integration of her passions for LGBT issues and higher education. Just like those at TC whom she says "totally changed my life," Julie wants to do the same by altering negative stereotypes about the gay community. Moreover, she is committed to making the pursuit of knowledge an educational experience that can be shared by all, regardless of individual differences, if persons are but embraced for helping to create the unique mosaic that is the global community.