Some people possess the innate ability to be leaders, and Christy Bagwell is a prime example of this breed. A Masters candidate in the Politics and Education program, this Nashville native's goal to "go back to my community and make a difference" is one that is both admirable and socially-responsible. But then again, Christy has always sought to make an impact on society by becoming actively engaged with it. As an undergraduate majoring in sociology at Vanderbilt University with a minor in women's studies, she always knew that her long-range goals involved blending public service and policy. Her commitment to these fields as well as to education led her to service projects, such as in Kansas City, Missouri as well as on a Native American reservation in Oklahoma, where her roles positioned her in work reflective of her primary interests.
After graduating from VU, she re-located to the northeast to work in a Boston-based law firm as a research assistant. Christy had thought that the only way to influence policy was by becoming a lawyer, and in fact, planned to attend law school; however, she realized while at the firm that being a lawyer was "a different thing" from what she had previously believed. Recognizing that practicing law did not align with her goals led Christy to participate in an AmeriCorps afterschool program in Spanish Harlem. During the day she found herself acting as a teaching assistant in the classroom, but her afternoons were filled with providing hands-on learning for elementary students in the areas of academics, physical fitness, and character development.
After a year with AmeriCorps, Christy began her graduate studies at TC. She chose the institution because it offers a program that is tailored to her combined interests in politics, policy, and education. She is particularly intrigued by state-level politics and their influence on education, such as school districts under mayoral and non-traditional superintendent control. In fact, her Master's thesis will examine the demographic patterns of 60 to 100 large school districts within which there are very high minority student enrollments, but which primarily non-minority superintendents oversee. This is fascinating, she says, given the racial contexts of these districts. Most of the available data on this topic are qualitative in nature, but Christy wants to see if there is a large, demographic pattern between race and governance changes by taking a quantitative approach.
Many people also recognize Christy from her desk in the Department of Human Development for which she works as Academic Secretary. Now that she is going into her second year in the position, she cites the opportunity to "get to know professors on a personal basis" as one of the best aspects of this experience. "It's added a completely different element to my TC experience," says Christy. Seeing the research produced by the Department's scholars and how important it is to the field, she says, helps her to "understand more about the day-to-day lives of professors." She also states that she enjoys working with students and helping them because she remembers what it is like to be a newcomer to the College. And, in addition to the help that she offers to visitors to her office, she continues to be a resource after her 9-5 hours as a teaching assistant for Amy Wells' Education and Public Policy course.
Considering her visibility in the administrative happenings of TC as well as her course of study, it is no wonder that Christy also serves as president of TC's Student Senate. "It has provided a different dimension to my life, and educational skills and knowledge that I couldn't get anywhere else." This role enables her to see the politics of TC, and moreover, to be part of the decision-making processes about issues that affect the College community. "Sitting with the President and the Dean as a colleague has been a phenomenal growing experience," says Christy. Currently, she participates on the Long-Range Budget Planning Committee as the only student representative, is involved with the Committee on Community and Diversity, and is one of two students assisting to plan the College's activities for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.
With plans to graduate in June 2004, Christy wants to do work in Nashville that is "a mix of advocacy, community organizing, and policy work." She wants to represent parent and community interests at the sate level with an academic perspective, and would like to work in either a government or policy-oriented position while laying the foundation for her own non-profit that seeks to lobby on behalf of these groups. This role--one that she says is "something between academic and practitioner"--is what Christy envisions as the path for her future, and just as her instincts have accurately guided her to the point where she is today, they tell her that this is a journey that she is "ready to begin . . . back home in Tennessee."
Published Monday, Oct. 6, 2003