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Affiliation: Doctoral Student (Stewart successfully passed the defense of her PhD dissertation in fall 2010)

Program: PhD, Educational Policy and Theory

Education: BA, St. John Fisher College (History): M.S., University of Minnesota at Mankato (Women’s Studies)

Background: Taught college courses, public school (seventh grade), community education, and alternative education

Career Goal: Tenure-track faculty position at a research university

Dissertation Title: Social Capital, Interdistrict Transfer, & Middle Class Education: Experiences from a Voluntary Program

Dissertation Sponsor: Kara Finnigan, associate professor in educational policy at the Warner School; Committee Members: Brian Brent, Earl B. Taylor Professor and associate dean for graduate studies at the Warner School, and Jennifer Jellison Holme, assistant professor in educational policy and planning at The University of Texas at Austin

Finnigan, K.S., & Stewart, T. (2009). “Leading Change Under Pressure: An Examination of Principal Leadership in Low-Performing Schools” The Journal of School Leadership, 19(5), 586-618.

Brent, B.O., Finnigan, K.S., Stewart, T. (2009). “Do you have their support?” How to make informed decisions using focus groups. School Business Affairs, 75(1), 14-17.
Tricia Stewart


Tricia Stewart

Tricia Stewart’s journey to being in education was nontraditional, but what has swept her there is her passion for making a difference.

Her interest in helping people, both younger students and older adults, succeed was transferred to education from social programming after she began working in alternative education.

A pivotal moment in Stewart’s career was when she helped an 84-year-old adult, whose lifelong goal it was to get his high school diploma, obtain his General Equivalency Diploma (GED). “This helped cement what people had been telling me for a long time—that I should become a teacher,” says Stewart.

At different points throughout her life, people reiterated to Stewart that she should be a teacher and encouraged her to further her education. “The universe kept putting me on the same path to education,” recalls Stewart, who has since taught middle school, college, and community education students, as well as students pursuing their GED.

After becoming a certified teacher and having taught middle school in two different school districts, she matriculated into Warner’s PhD program in educational policy and theory. Her desire to help people carries over into her doctoral work today as she strives to help others understand what educational policy is and how they can impact change.

“Educational policy is a place where you can make larger change than just the pebble in the pond,” says Stewart. “Every issue in education is a policy issue at either the local, state, or federal level, and people don’t have a clear understanding of that. I think that as more people get exposed to policy courses, they are really impressed by how much they enjoy and learn from it—I think that is the unknown, hidden little gem of educational policy—and when most people get a little bit of it, they like it a lot.”

Stewart, who successfully passed the defense of her PhD dissertation this fall, focuses her research on social class and social capital in the Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program in Rochester, N.Y. This program, the oldest of eight voluntary school desegregation programs in the country, provides minority students from the city access to suburban schools. Through her work, she looked at how social class, family of origin, and social capital allowed some people in the program to be more successful than others.

Stewart collected data through surveys and phenomenological interviews, where she interviewed graduates three times—the first time to focus on their life history, the second time to focus on their experiences during the program, and the third time to focus on the meaning they made from that experience.

In her research, she used a mixed methods study to understand the experiences of graduates from this program who now reside up and down the northeast coast. Her aim was to provide information that will inform this type of interdistrict choice policy and make policy recommendations based on the experiences of these graduates.

While the focus of her doctoral work has been on urban and suburban schooling, her aspiration to make a difference in education also extends to rural schools, not surprising since she grew up with a rural school K-12 education.

When Stewart graduates in 2011, she hopes to combine her passion for helping others with her knowledge of education policies to create systemic change in K-12 schools.

“If in 10, 15, or 20 years from now, somebody said ‘that Tricia Stewart made a difference in education,’ that would be meaningful for me,” she adds.

(Published November 2010)

Tags: educational leadership, educational policy, educational policy and theory