Scholars at Work

Public Scholar Profile: Maurice Dolberry

Maurice Dolberry

For me, this is what engaged public scholarship is all about: working as a conduit and a facilitator for communication between the ‘ivory tower’ academic world and the other publics that it is attempting to serve, and then being a part of the actions that each group takes as they inform and learn from each other.

Maurice Dolberry is the first UW student to complete the graduate Certificate in Public Scholarship (CPS) through the Simpson Center. Dolberry, who entered the program in Fall 2011, completed his Certificate in Spring 2013 with the guidance of his CPS portfolio advisor Ralina Joseph (Communication).  This year Dolberry is continuing as a doctoral student in Curriculum & Instruction/Multicultural Education in the UW College of Education. As part of the certificate program, Dolberry worked closely with Joseph and fellow CPS student Melanie Hernandez (English) to lay the groundwork for a sustainable partnership between the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) and the graduate and undergraduate sections of UW Black Cultural Studies courses. Prior to entering the PhD program, he spent three years as a middle school educator and eight years as a high school educator in various roles, including science teacher, math teacher, dean of students, and director of diversity.

On behalf of the Simpson Center, Amanda Swain recently talked with Dolberry about why he chose to pursue a Certificate in Public Scholarship in conjunction with his doctoral studies.

AS: How did you become interested in public scholarship?

MD: I got interested in public scholarship before I even knew what it was. Back when I was working in school administration in the early 2000s, I was introduced to all different types of magazines, books, and journal articles that were aimed at improving education. One thing I learned very quickly was that if the work came from a source whose title began with “Journal of…” or if the author had “PhD” after his or her name, it was probably useless to me as a teacher and administrator. All these articles and all of this research being done at schools, on schools, and for schools, and so much of it wasn’t even written for people in those schools! I always thought it was crazy for some university, college, or think-tank to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and all those hours conducting research on school communities, only to report their findings in some journal the school would never subscribe to and in language the students, parents, teachers, and administrators they studied couldn’t even understand.  What good is that? My background is in the so called “hard sciences” – my Bachelor’s degree is in biology – so I always thought that if I were ever to conduct social research, I would follow a basic rule in responsible science experimentation: report findings and conclusions in ways the people involved in your study will find useful and accessible. Honestly, I didn’t learn about how that was a vital tenet of public scholarship until I started reading more about it on the Simpson Center’s website. 

Why did you decide to pursue a Certificate in Public Scholarship?

It was just that: my experiences with all that inaccessible scholarship as an educator, reading about the Certificate on the website when I was considering applying for the program, and then attending the informational meeting.  It basically happened in that order.  The first one happened about ten years prior to the second and third ones, though!

When I decided to earn a PhD in education, I went in with the idea that I’d do research that was culturally responsive, socially just, and informed by – not just “on” – the communities I’d be serving.  And that last one is really important. I look at education researchers and their research as “serving” communities or publics and, again, the fact that serving publics is foundational to the CPS’s conception of public scholarship attracted me to it. Those factors combined made the Certificate in Public Scholarship really appealing to me.

“Public scholarship” seems to mean something different to everyone who uses the term. On your CPS portfolio webpage, you offer the following: “When my academic career is all said and done, I want to have helped it get said, and have worked to get it done.  For me, this is what engaged public scholarship is all about: working as a conduit and a facilitator for communication between the ‘ivory tower’ academic world and the other publics that it is attempting to serve, and then being a part of the actions that each group takes as they inform and learn from each other. …” Would you say this is how you define “public scholarship”?

Well, I would say this is how I define my role as a public scholar. There’s room in public scholarship for people who have a variety of ideas about how to engage in it. I think there are basic premises – like cultural relevance and responsiveness, a commitment to social justice, and the production of scholarship that is useful and accessible to all participants – that must be a part of everyone’s definition. But I think public scholars can define how their work is “scholarship for the public” on an individual and case-by-case basis. We all have different roles to play as public scholars.

 Tell us about your involvement developing the partnership between Ralina Joseph’s Black Cultural Studies classes and the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM).

I was the beneficiary of Ralina’s commitment to service-learning and her excellent ideas for engaging in it. She created the partnerships between the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), Thurgood Marshall Elementary School (TMES), and her class. Knowing my experiences in education and teacher training, as well as my expertise in social media, Ralina recognized that the collaboration would be a great fit for the school, the museum, her class, and for me as a culminating CPS project.

I had two primary roles as a research assistant with two groups of students from Ralina’s Black Cultural Studies class. One group of students worked with 1st and 2nd graders at TMES. Working in pairs, they were assigned a classroom in which they taught one-period lessons on Black history each Wednesday morning. The resources they used were NAAM’s “story trunks,” which are literal trunks that contain resources for teachers that help bring lessons about Black history to students. So one part of my job was to prepare the students in my Black Cultural Studies (BCS) group to become one-day-per-week elementary school teachers. I made daily observations, provided feedback, helped them prepare lesson plans, and assigned and graded their final portfolios.

The “public scholarship” part involved how I facilitated communication between the BCS students and NAAM.  We operated under the premise that we were not only teaching elementary school students Black history, but we were also acting on behalf of NAAM by using their resources in ways that were congruent with how they wanted them to be used to educate the community.  I wanted the BCS students to understand that we weren’t taking the story trunks to TMES, nor were we taking NAAM into TMES. We were partnering the UW with NAAM and TMES so that each entity could inform the other on how to teach Black history to children, do service-learning, properly use community resources, and engage college students who are interested in education. In addition, we wanted to leave each entity with an important aspect of our research. For the UW, we were able to leave a model for a viable service-learning project; for TMES, we provided a template for how to involve college students in classrooms; and for NAAM, each teaching pair left a portfolio in the story trunks detailing how they used – effectively and otherwise – the trunks as educational resources.

My work with the public relations BCS group was a lot less complex, but just as important. These students worked with NAAM staff to help publicize museum events in the local community and on UW’s campus – to multiple publics. My primary involvement with this group was helping them move beyond marketing events and into conducting action research on the effectiveness of their efforts. Because NAAM has a small staff, they don’t have a full marketing and research team that can readily perform these tasks. So outside of helping the PR group assess the marketing groundwork they did, I also helped them develop and implement social media strategies for improving NAAM’s online presence, including tutorials on electronically monitoring their efficacy without over-dedicating valuable staff time that could be spent elsewhere.

What are your plans post-Certificate? What kinds of public scholarship projects will you continue to work on?

I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and I’ve always considered myself a teacher first, so I plan to teach in a college of education. I also want to do educational consulting in schools, school districts, or any type of educational institution. I consider both university research and consultant work as public scholarship, because I will be engaging various publics in the ways I’ve described previously. Finally, I also want to work as a public intellectual. I enjoy how scholars like MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, Huffington Post’s Marc Lamont Hill, and Hayden Planetarium’s Neil deGrasse Tyson use their scholarship to help inform and create dialogues between publics, including academia. I’d love to do media work like them.

My own scholarship will continue to focus on improving K – 12 education, specifically for deprivileged students and teachers. My dissertation research is on improving STEM education in schools through teaching educators and how to employ a hip hop-based epistemological model. While there are obvious connections to being culturally responsive to Black and Brown students in inner cities, what I’m researching secondarily is also how this paradigm could improve education for all students. So I’ll always look first toward engaging underserved publics in my work, but I also look forward to helping other publics as well.

Interested in knowing more? Contact Maurice at or follow him on Twitter @MDEduc8r.

Interview conducted by Amanda Swain. Amanda is a recent PhD graduate of the UW Department of History, an alum of the Institute on the Public Humanities for Doctoral Students, and a former director of the Arizona Humanities Council and Humanities Washington.


Learn more about the graduate Certificate in Public Scholarship.