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Understand, Communicate, Connect: Delrisha White, EPM'19

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Education Policy and Management reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Delrisha White

Photo by Jill Anderson

The Intellectual Contribution Award is an honor that recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. The award will be presented at Convocation on May 29.

When Delrisha White entered HGSE as a student in the Education Policy and Management (EPM) Program, she came with a vision for an education system where young people, particularly from poor and trauma-impacted communities, are not retraumatized in their learning communities. And she envisioned making this system a reality through policy.

“When I arrived at HGSE I was certain that I would be pursuing a career in policy to some degree,” White says. “My interest is in creating policies to better support young people…. These policies might include mandated trainings that direct-service professionals in schools have available to them, inclusive curricula that reflects diverse life experiences for students to learn to cope through course content, and real-time professional coaching for teachers and school employees.”

Although the policy field is full of competing interests, White remains steadfast in her beliefs and sees her critical listening skills and ability to look at issues from multiple perspectives as key to future success.

“I ask a lot of questions about what led someone to subscribe to their belief system or set of values,” says White. “I think this level of curiosity will help serve me as a leader and voice in the sector, because as I work to deepen my understanding of the fundamental issues within a community from all perspectives, I will become stronger at building coalitions and bridges across differences.”

White’s ability to connect and communicate with her classmates did not go unnoticed by her peers and faculty, who honored her with the Intellectual Contribution Award for EPM.

"Delrisha has been a relentless contributor to the HGSE community. She regularly assumes a leadership role by convening spaces for discussion, reflection, and study that create valuable learning opportunities for herself and others,” says Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp, faculty director of EPM. “It truly has been a privilege for me to know and work with Delrisha this year.”

Here, White reflects on her year at HGSE and looks at her future in education:

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?
I came into this school with strong skills in family and community engagement — so I thought. However, taking Karen Mapp’s The Why, What, and How of School, Family, and Community Partnerships has pushed me to think about what family and community “engagement” even means. I now realize that I am excellent at building relationships with families, but I have some work to do in building parent leaders who are empowered to lead in their children’s educational journeys and schools.

I came to HGSE a really strong leader in many domains of my life, but taking Professor Monica Higgins’ Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning has given me tools to lead with and not lead over others. We examined concrete examples of poor and dynamic leadership at the organizational level. Although intuitively I’d like to think I would’ve been conscious of my blind spots before taking this class, I can certainly say that I am hyperaware of how I enter a space as a leader coming into an organization from the outside.

Finally, after taking James Honan’s Managing Financial Resources in Nonprofit Organizations, I was able to connect a lot of dots from the nonprofit I was working at in Silicon Valley prior to coming to HGSE. Through his guest speakers, and conversations outside of class, I’ve been pushed to think about ways to be a strong financial leader in this education policy space.

I’ve learned so much from many different professors, including some whose classes I didn’t have the opportunity to take.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? I stayed connected with my network of friends. I was lucky to live on campus, and as a result I’ve developed a strong community where I live. I also made a conscious decision to involve myself in many different organizations, including the Black Student Unions, the Education Policy and Management advisory board, and Harvard’s Graduate Student Union. Beyond my formal commitments, though, I talked to a lot of people from various backgrounds. I listened to their stories and histories. I learned about what the world is like from their point of view. This place is a mosaic of incredible life journeys. I’m privileged to have the opportunity to be on this path with some incredible people. This alone leaves me feeling incredibly inspired.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Pace yourself. There’s a lot to take in, and at several different points you might find yourself burning out if you move too fast. It happened to me toward the end, and I saw it happen to everyone around me. That said, this environment is so rich with experiences and opportunity, don’t be afraid to try new things. Try a club or organization, try a class at another school, try leadership on, push yourself to meet different people. The trying is the best part here! Finally, be yourself — you will attract everything that is meant for you. It will not serve you comparing yourself to others. There is no shortage of opportunity in this place. This year, focus on you!

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … I had the opportunity to lead a training for the prison volunteers at the Petey Greene Program, and I was able to bring my brother’s experience as an incarcerated person into the room. With his permission, I had interviewed him in preparation for the training, recorded it, and played it for the attendees. Not only was the room receptive to his experience, but he was proud that someone would listen — a privilege many incarcerated people never get. I’m a firm believer that learning can happen anywhere and from anyone. This was a dream actualized that I never could have predicted I’d have the opportunity to facilitate at Harvard.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … Me. As social as I am (and have been this year) I know how to depart from a group and spend time by myself, away from the crowd, and have the best time ever — by myself.

Read about the other recipients of the Intellectual Contribution Award and learn more about HGSE Commencement 2019.