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Informing and Uplifting: Dustin Liu, HEP'21

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Higher Education reflects on his time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Dustin Liu and family

Dustin Liu: "My childhood bedroom became my HGSE classroom this year – and with that, my family became my learning community." L-r: "Mom (Wenshu Lin), Me (Dustin Liu), my brother (Nelson Liu) and my Dad (Shihchi Liu)."

Photo courtesy of Dustin Liu

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes 12 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Dustin Liu will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for the Higher Education Program (HEP) at HGSE's Virtual Commencement on May 27.

Senior Lecturer Francesca Purcell, faculty director of HEP, comments on Liu's selection: “Dustin’s tremendous sense of curiosity and intellectual engagement, his deep level of caring, and his joyful disposition regularly informed and uplifted all of us who have had the pleasure of interacting with him. In his many roles at HGSE — student, TF, mentor, volunteer — he always brings enriching perspectives and pushes the boundaries to elevate the discussions taking place in classrooms, in hallways, and in Zoom rooms. He does so with a generosity of spirit and openness that further helps everyone feel included and welcome. I have no doubt that Dustin will positively influence the field of higher education in significant ways for years to come.”

We spoke to Liu about his time at HGSE, his future plans, and how the pandemic has changed the education landscape:

What does this photo mean to you?  

My childhood bedroom became my HGSE classroom this year — and with that, my family became my learning community. The kitchen table became the library, the living room a study lounge. Lectures would be followed by family movie nights and home cooked meals where I would often excitedly share a new concept I learned in class. Class presentations were first rehearsed in our living room and our dining room table has been covered with readings, post-its and highlighters. My family knows more than they ever needed to know about credentialing, transformative learning, facilitation, the future of higher education, and a variety of topics that I had the chance to explore during my time at HGSE. They have supported me through every aspect of this program, and I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my family.

In this year of remote learning, what were some of the ways you were able to connect with your peers?

Virtual Appian Way has exceeded any expectations I had at the start of this year. There are individuals who I have never met in person that I consider some of my most valued friendships after various Zoom study rooms, group projects, and myriad virtual happy hours. I will miss the ability to teleport to events all around the world. Eliminating the need to commute or travel, I have been able to work on projects and workshops from Boston to Mexico to Malaysia and more. This year has made me so deeply appreciate snail mail. Getting books sent to my door and handwritten notes from peers in my program will forever be valued artifacts from my time at HGSE. Even though we were in some cases thousands of miles apart, it feels like my community was (and will always be) truly a click away.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?

Without a doubt, [Lecturer] Alexis Redding has significantly shaped my experience at HGSE. She demonstrates in each and every moment immense care in the creation of spaces where learning, growth, and joy are possible. I saw this firsthand as a student in H205: College Student Development, where I remember leaving each class excited to dive into my readings, eager to learn, appreciating the challenging activities and most importantly feeling as though I was part of a loving community. She helped me find my voice in graduate school in the classroom when I was hesitant to participate. I saw this through an independent study I conducted with Alexis where she encouraged my voice as a scholar and scaffolded my confidence to pursue difficult questions. To be treated as a thought partner with ideas worth sharing by a professor you admire is a gift that I can only hope to one day extend. I felt this through the opportunities I have had to serve as Alexis’ Teaching Fellow across three different courses. Through these courses, I have the great honor of seeing firsthand the care and effort she places into mentorship, teaching and advising. I feel lucky to be one of the many students who have been touched by her magic. I feel grounded by the gravity of her mentorship, supported in my convictions as a researcher, and deeply moved by the ways her being has played such an important role in my life.

"This experience of leaning into spaces of learning during this time of social isolation has reminded me the power of education to bring people together and provide the conditions for deep human connection."

What are your post-HGSE plans?

This summer, I will continue my time with the HGSE community as a lead teaching fellow for the How People Learn course. After the summer, I will be embarking on a year of self-directed learning in hopes of exploring the question: “What makes transformative learning possible?” I am always excited when I hear about a learning experience that was “life changing.” My plan is to join organizations that deliver these experiences and work on short term projects in order to better understand the magic of these programs. I’m also excited to return to HGSE as a teaching fellow for Professor Alexis Redding.

What is something that you learned this year that you will take with you throughout your career in education? 

A “meta-lesson” that has emerged throughout all of my coursework is the capacity to tie theory to practice. How People Learn was a formative experience that allowed me to think how I could apply theoretical learnings in a learner-centered way. In H205: College Student Development, this was deepened through the concepts of theory splicing and Knefelkamp’s Practice-to-Theory-to-Practice Model. I feel so grateful that every course that I took provided me the opportunity to apply my learning to real life problems. Through this training, I feel prepared to make connections between the abstract concepts I learned in the classroom and learning environments. This perspective will not only influence the ways in which I teach through the incorporation of authentic assessments, but furthermore has allowed me to confidently take what I have learned at HGSE into new learning environments.

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

The pandemic has reaffirmed to me the power of human connection and how educational environments provide the container for those relational interactions. In this moment of disconnection, learning experiences and classrooms have been crucial spaces where I still felt deep connections with others. This experience of leaning into spaces of learning during this time of social isolation has reminded me the power of education to bring people together and provide the conditions for deep human connection. In my future practice, I feel energized to pursue cultivating learning environments that allow for this sense of connection and hope to continue exploring what conditions make this possible.