“I went to Bush for thirteen years on scholarship. When I look back, I think about how fortunate I was that there were folks generous enough to facilitate that opportunity for me. That is a huge driver in my commitment to making sure that meaningful experiences are available to folks in settings other than private schools.”
As an associate professor at the University of Alabama, Michael Lawson ’88 does research on how students’ engagement beyond the classroom is vital to their education. Lawson was a lifer at Bush and a musician after college. He studied Family Studies in Ohio and as part of that experience, spent two years doing field work in low-income African American communities in Cincinnati. Lawson found that comprehensive communities of care (programs addressing a full spectrum of issues, from physical health to emotional wellness, that work with the full community, not just those in crisis) are vital in all parts of life, especially education. “So much of education is about more than formal academics says Lawson; “Shining a light on the importance of activities that foster personal, social, and moral development is at the centerpiece of what I do.”
Michael worked with the organization Communities in Schools for a decade, connecting low-income schools to community resources through grant-funded projects. He also worked to empower parents to be involved in their students’ educations. But as the avenues for funding changed, so did Michael’s approach. He went back to school for his doctorate in education at the University of California, Davis, and focused his research on educational policy. Now, he works on developing community-based empowerment initiatives, programs that help build support networks for parents and students.
Michael explains that he learned about this model of support at Bush where his parents and his friends’ parents were a big part of his life. His time at Bush also illuminated the power and importance of non-traditional educational opportunities outside of the classroom. “A Bush education is about so much more than school” he recalls.
One of the key components of Michael’s current work is better understanding how to prepare students for a future we can’t yet imagine. WIth this in mind, he believes it is essential that teachers provide students with the skills they’ll need to face novelty and ambiguity. At Bush, he says, faculty and staff were constantly helping students e become creative, flexible, and adaptable. “One of the things I appreciated the most about Bush was the emphasis on mistake-driven learning. It was very clear that the process of inquiry was always more important than the outcome.”
In Michael’s doctorate program, a professor asked students to define the latin word for education, ēducātiō. “The meaning of the Latin root is “to bring out” which tends to be the exact opposite of top-down traditional learning. The moment I saw that up on the board I was like, wow, that was really what my experience at Bush was about. This one little word crystallized my own experience and captured what I’m trying to do in my own work.”