After earning her undergraduate degree in Business Information Systems from the University of Maryland, Azsaneé Truss took a job as a technology advisory consultant with a global accounting firm. She won plaudits for her documentation of data flows and development of risk exposure remediation strategies. The pay was handsome. And Truss, by her own account was miserable.
As she pondered what she really wanted to do with her life, Truss thought about a lifelong friend who, without a college degree, was struggling to support herself and two children. She thought about her own younger brother, diagnosed with autism and for the most part non-verbal, who was benefiting from educational technologies that helped him express himself and learn. And it came to her that what she really wanted was to help people by working in education.
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Teachers College, known for its emphasis on equity, and with a highly regarded master’s degree program in Instructional Technology and Media, was the obvious place to build on her skills. Truss expected to pursue a career designing online K-12 curricula — but not long after arriving at TC, she discovered the Media & Social Change Lab (MASCLab) — a multidisciplinary hub that offers faculty and students a platform for telling stories.
“MASCLab basically gave me a home to experiment, try new projects and consider what I’d like to change about the world and how I could go about changing it,” she says. “It was a space to do lots of cool stuff while I figured things out.”
Truss used MASCLab to produce a prototype for multi-modal magazine that outlined the connections between multimodal methods and youth participatory action research, through which young people identify and conduct research on problems relevant to their own lives, and advocate for change based on their findings. She became interested in critical media literacy — understanding, and challenging, the power structures that shape media representations — and in exploring how identities inform the way types of media literacy practices are taught. And one day, over lunch, MASCLab co-adviser Detra Price-Dennis, Associate Professor of Education, made a radical suggestion. “She said, ‘I think you may be an academic,’” Truss recalls. “I thought she was joking.”
MASCLab basically gave me a home to experiment, try new projects and consider what I’d like to change about the world and how I could go about changing it.
The more she thought about it, though, the more the idea spoke to her. There were a lot of pieces to her life — her love of dance, collaging, painting and music — that hadn’t been finding expression in her career plan. She also felt that being an education technology specialist, while interesting and valuable, wouldn’t allow her to address social justice issues as directly as she wanted.
This fall, Truss will enter the Ph.D. program in Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication, with a concentration on Media Literacy. Her research will focus on mitigating educational inequity by exploring means to counter the consequences of class, race and the digital divide.
With all due respect to risk exposure remediation, Truss now knows where her destiny rests.
“I realized that multi-modal scholarship is my gig,” she says — and proudly declares, “I am going to be a college professor.”