Michael Gendernalik: Theorizing an Educational Framework

Michael Gendernalik combines their* professional passions and personal interests in their work to help create a defined standard for the Gephardt Institute’s educational practices. Michael is a second-year graduate student at the Brown School and Gephardt Fellow for Civic Education. Their work with Theresa Kouo (Assistant Director for Civic Engagement Education) centers around the pedagogical approach that the institute takes in its educational programming across a wide range of initiatives. Michael shared their thoughts on their work and approach to civic engagement.

Tell us about your graduate program and academic interests.
Michael: I am currently in the Brown School working on my Masters in Social Work with a concentration in children, youth, and families and a specialization in sexual health and education. My main interest is sexuality education and talking with youth about sexuality and identity. I want to work with LGBTQ youth to affirm their sexual orientations and gender identities.

Please share an overview of your fellowship.
Michael: In my first year at the Gephardt Institute, I worked with the Civic Scholars Program as a co-facilitator with Stefani Weeden-Smith. Now I’m working on curriculum on a more theoretical level. This year, we’ve had the single overarching goal of developing a pedagogical standard across all of our educational presentations and training programs. The institute is trying to be more intentional about how we teach. Last semester, I conducted interviews with all staff members who do programmatic, educational work to get a sense of what they needed and what they thought we were missing. From there, we began to develop guardrails and frameworks to define our theoretical approach to education. This semester, I compiled data from the interviews, and I was able to identify four broad educational theories that kept showing up across the board: 21st Century Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, Popular Education, Experiential Learning, and Social Justice Education. We’re now in the process of considering these theories and determining what is most important in each of them to the Gephardt Institute. I’m currently working to compile documents and literature on these pedagogical theories.

How do you see this work fitting in with and expanding on the scope of the Gephardt Institute’s mission and programs?
Michael: I like to use the analogy of riding a bike and picking up pieces along the way. If we’re not thinking about method and approach, that can get dangerous. Now, we’re thinking intentionally about the technique that it takes to ride the bike. Having a standard theoretical approach will enable us to better measure the effectiveness of how we’re educating. This also creates continuity across every person in the office and ensures that the students and community members whom our programs serve get a similar educational experience with the institute every time, regardless of who leads the program.

What have you gained by participating in the fellowship on a personal level? On a professional level?
Michael: The two are closely connected. I’ve learned how to be self-reflective on the identities I hold and the privileges I bring with me into spaces, as well as how they affect my ability to facilitate and be an educator. The Gephardt Institute has provided the framework to think about these personal aspects of my work intentionally and repeatedly. These personal discoveries have bled into how I work on a professional level. I am currently creating a curriculum for the organization I work for now, and the knowledge that I’ve gained by researching educational theories at the Gephardt Institute has shaped my work.

What do you enjoy most about working at the Gephardt Institute?
Michael: The people. Every time I come here, there is someone I can chat with, check in with, or have a laugh with. The people here are the most grounding folks I’ve met at WashU, and it’s where I started to meet people when I first moved to Missouri.

What advice would you give to other graduate students interested in getting involved in civic and community engagement?
Michael: In order to engage, you have to do a lot of internal check-ins and develop an understanding of yourself. My advice would be to think seriously about how you’re benefiting the community and make sure you’re putting the community’s needs before your personal desires. You have to know what you’re bringing into the room and know who you are in order to effectively serve other people.

Anything else you’d like to share?
Michael: I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had here to grow. I’ve enjoyed having different roles, from facilitator to outside thinker, and I’ve been able to craft my own path and had people in my corner along the way who believed in and shared my vision.

The Gephardt Institute is currently hiring graduate fellows. Learn more here.

*To learn more about gender neutral pronoun usage, click here.

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Michael Gendernalik: A Closer Look

Favorite movie of 2017? Get Out was one of my favorites. I also recommend The Big Sick.
Favorite restaurant in St. Louis? Lona’s Lil Eats
Do you have a secret talent? I’m good at starting campfires, and people are usually surprised to learn that I can use a pottery wheel.
Are you a cat or dog person? I just adopted a dog named Pickle!