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Profile: Tammy Schwartz

Date: June 26, 2000
Story and photo by: Dawn Fuller
Phone: 513-556-1823
Archive: Profiles

UC doctoral student Tammy Schwartz remembers hiding her Appalachian heritage from high school peers and still feels the sting of negative stereotypes. Now, 18 years after her earlier school days, Schwartz is earning recognition for research that is leading her back to that painful past.

Tammy Schwartz

Schwartz is one of 35 doctoral students around the nation to be selected from 600 applicants for the 2000 Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship Program. The fellowship provides both financial and professional support and is awarded to scholars who are working to bring a fresh perspective to the art of teaching and learning. She will receive $20,000 to support the completion of her dissertation in the College of Education.

Schwartz's dissertation is titled Urban Appalachian Girls: Writing and Identity. The Cincinnati native grew up in Price Hill, a community that welcomed Appalachians when they migrated to the city to find industrial jobs in the '40s and '50s.

It was when Schwartz left "the hill" to attend high school that she says she was singled out for being different. "It didn't matter whether they knew me a week or a month they were placing labels on me. It's not a difference that is celebrated, it's a difference that is ridiculed with names like 'hillbilly' and 'redneck.'"

Because of the stigma, Schwartz says she tried to hide her heritage and says she now wishes she had explored and celebrated her family history. "I would stay away from my grandmother because she embarrassed me. Now that she has passed away, I wish I could go back to her."

"I just feel for these kids because we don't see the riches...the strong kin reliance...that's a positive thing. Why don't we build on that in the schools? Why don't we have more family and community members involved within the school?"

Through her research, Schwartz is exploring her own identity and building strong connections with other urban Appalachian girls in the community, as well as reaching out to their teachers.

"Tammy Schwartz's work is unique in that it combines educational research with community advocacy," says Schwartz's advisor Deborah Hicks, associate professor of teacher education. "The prestigious dissertation fellowship she has received speaks to the possibility of doing high quality doctoral research studies that also serve urban youth and communities. It is to Tammy Schwartz's credit that her work has achieved national recognition through its dual research and action agendas. This is the kind of work that will make a difference locally in urban communities as it contributes to a wider understanding of educational theory, research and practice."

Schwartz's research is done in conjunction with the Urban Appalachian Council (UAC), a non profit organization founded in Cincinnati in 1974 to promote positive recognition and improve the quality of life for Appalachian migrants and their descendants in Greater Cincinnati. UAC provides a broad spectrum of programs, services, research and advocacy efforts targeted primarily to Cincinnati neighborhoods which are predominantly Appalachian and low-income, including Price Hill where Schwartz is doing her research. A key element of UAC's work is to promote positive images, oppose negative stereotypes and reinforce pride in Appalachian heritage within both the urban Appalachian and wider community.

In addition to support for her research, the Spencer Dissertation Fellowship also provides for the Fellows to meet and discuss their findings. Schwartz will attend three forums organized and funded by the Spencer Foundation, with the third forum held at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association April 10-14, 2001 in Seattle.

Schwartz, who lives in Westwood, plans to finish her dissertation by spring or summer of 2001. She says she will continue to be an advocate for poor and urban children and will further her research focusing on literacy and social justice.

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