Office Hours: April McFadden
April McFadden @avrilreigns
Education Policy M.Ed. Student at University of Illinois at Chicago
What inspired you to attend grad school?
I always knew if I were to get an advanced degree, it would be after a gap year. I never had a clear plan on what degree I would pursue. Working for an education nonprofit spiked my interest in education policy. I always knew I would work for the improvement of young people. It became more apparent to me that I needed to understand Chicago’s complex educational landscape in order to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?
A professor I really respected told me I made a “sharp” comment. Statements like that motivated me in undergrad. It affirmed my thoughts and empowered me to speak more. I often underestimate my intelligence; I don’t give myself enough credit. Reflecting on statements like that throughout my life motivate me.
If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be?
"These Worries" - Kid Cudi x Mary J. Blige
What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?
Writing. My time in j-school (Northwestern University - Medill School of Journalism, it has a lengthy name and I don’t care) killed my confidence. I didn’t have supportive/affirming professors until my senior year and by then it was too late. So writing is a painful process for me. Currently, my strategy for writing is a stream of consciousness and I edit once the flow ends.
How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?
Full disclosure - I identify as a cisgender heterosexual Black woman. I think I’m first-gen but my grandparents were teachers in Alabama so their credentials are unknown to me. I don’t really claim that label as much. Since my experience is confined to the classroom, I can only speak to that experience rather than institutionally. I’m always hyper aware of moments of White Tears, white guilt, white saviorism, and voyeurism. I’m more apt to check it in class than at work. At work you have to avoid it or find ways to address it subtly; in class you can go for it. I’ve been fortunate to have professors back me up at UIC. It can be exhausting.
How do you intend to use your degree in the future?
Ultimately I want to help parents be better advocates for their children by making education policy more accessible. I’m hoping to blend my graduate studies and communications background to break down the complex education policy process and its far-reaching effects to equip parents and students -- principally Black -- with information.
What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
Balancing full-time work and school is a challenge, but it can be done. Routines are everything and try to get involved with the school beyond the classroom. There are a lot of resources -- from people to events -- to tap into. Don’t let your 9 - 5 stop you from tapping into the full experience. Another thing--know that sometimes you’re going to take that personal day to finish an assignment. Or you may not finish all of your reading as thoroughly as you would have liked. Give yourself some grace and make sure your professor knows you are working full-time.
Follow April on Twitter and Instagram: @avrilreigns
Personal website: masteringmac.com