SO Cocktails With— Dr Saran Stewart

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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Dr Saran Stewart is a senior lecturer of Comparative Higher Education in the School of Education at the University of The West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus. She also serves as deputy dean, Quality Assurance and Undergraduate Matters (Humanities), in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. Along with numerous accolades, she has received the 2017 and 2018 Principal's Awards for Most Outstanding Researcher and Best Research Publication from The UWI. We catch up with the young, smart and accomplished researcher and lecturer by the cabana pool bar at the Spanish Court hotel.

What's your beverage of choice?

Baileys Rum Cream: It's creamy, smooth and comforting like an ice cream sundae (without the cherry on top).

You've received a number of awards, including The Best Research Publication from the UWI, for your paper “Schooling and Coloniality: Conditions Underlying 'Extra Lessons' in Jamaica”. How did these awards make you feel?

The awards are symbolic of the larger sacrifices made “behind the scenes” to conduct the research. I am humbled that The UWI acknowledged my research and overall dedication to access, equity and inclusion in higher education.

To date, which award or accomplishment has been the most significant?

This year in Mexico City, I was selected as a 2018 African Diaspora Emerging Scholar by the Comparative and International Education Society. As a result of this award, I was invited to serve a three-year term as an Early Career Fellow with the African Diaspora, International Research Network through the World Education Research Association.

What were the main findings of your study re: the prevalence of extra lessons in the Jamaican school system?

I completed data collection after visiting 79 high schools and surveyed over 1,600 students across Jamaica's 14 parishes. After which I conducted in-depth focus groups and one-on-one interviews with 62 participants, and observed both in-class and after-school extra lessons. The data illustrated a historical pattern of social stratification and the lasting impact of a British inherited examination-driven system. Essentially, extra lessons in Jamaica thrive because of two factors: a) unsatisfactory conditions of learning, especially in less-resourced schools; and b) the social mobility drive leading parents to provide an advantage for their children even in traditionally elite schools.

Who/what inspires you and why?

My source of inspiration is shared between my daughters and my father: My daughters are the reason that I wake up at 5:00 am — get them out to school, rush to work, leave at 1:30 pm to start pick-up, drop them home, head back to work, head home, get them to bed and work until midnight to do it all over again. I do have tremendous help from my husband David and my family, especially my parents – it takes a village. I also work this hard so that they may experience equity as a woman in both schooling and the workplace. My second source is my Pops (aka Daddy) Carvel Stewart. He is the drop-everything-he-is-doing-to-help-you type of father. The reach-into-his-pocket-for-the-last-dollar type of dad. My father is the epitome of a social activist — he has dedicated his life not only to his family (which is his core) but to the betterment of social justice for Jamaicans.

Which high school did you attend?

Campion College.

Who was your most memorable teacher?

Hands down Mr Russell Bell. He was my extra lessons mathematics teacher. I was failing maths by the time I was in third form (now grade 9 - I just dated myself) and my Pops enrolled me with Mr B. In a year, I sat the national math exam and earned a distinction. I have written about him and his legendary wizardry powers to transform not only mathematics passes but lives. We also collaborate on outreach initiatives to transform the landscape of mathematics (which is largely considered a gatekeeper to higher education).

You've presented at a number of conferences and symposiums this year. How important is it for an academic to participate in such events?

Being a comparative higher education scholar, my research affords me the opportunity to travel the world and study access, equity and inclusion across multiple higher education systems. So far this year, I have had the opportunity to be a keynote speaker in The Hague and New York City; present papers and chair panels in Mexico, Colorado, and Cape Town. In November I will present four papers at the Association for the Study of Higher Education, then I head to Salzburg for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as one of the invited scholars of the Salzburg Global Seminar. It is critical for an academic to disseminate their research and I find it even more important for us in the Caribbean to share our work with the world. It is dually beneficial as the academic receives professional development and opportunities to better shape their craft. My keynote opportunities are a direct outcome of presenting research at multiple conferences throughout the world each year.

What has been your experience as a woman in academia?

Women in academia are often derogatorily accused of being “too assertive” or “too aggressive” because they take a position or stance and voice their opinion firmly even if they voice it alone. I am unapologetic about those two assertions of me as I was raised to know my worth and never apologize for that.

What are you currently researching?

I'm a millennial! So I am researching everything to do with access, equity and inclusion in higher education. My upcoming edited volume (2019) on decolonising methodologies has some incredible chapters from colleagues at UWI, Mona and the University of Toronto. I also have been writing about the work-life balance of women academics who must often choose between having a family or becoming an academic. Last but not least, my focus has been on a forthcoming book with Mr Bell on our four-year longitudinal study implementing the Bell Model in under-resourced high schools.

Hardcover or paperback?

I love hardcover books. There is something about a good hardcover book that feels great when reading. My two daughters also love hardcover books; they are more indestructible.

Which app can't you live without?

My Google calendar. I wear many professional hats — mother, wife, deputy dean, senior lecturer and researcher. Therefore, I have to be organised in order to be one step ahead of my schedule and to-do list.

Heels or flats?

Definitely heels! I'm 5' 3.5” on a good day. The extra inches from the heels add definition to the calves and the “false” appearance of height! LOL.

Jeans or LBD?

I'm a mom and an international researcher, hence always on the go. I'll pack an LBD but I'm always in jeans.

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