My Journey to The George Washington University

Last month I spoke to the Dean’s Council at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development about the story of my journey to GW. I thought I would share some of that story here on my blog as well:

My name is Oliver Crocco but you can call me Ozzie. I’m a first year doctoral student in the Human and Organizational Learning program and a Graduate Research Assistant here at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Last week I attended a book launch of Harvard professor Tom Herir’s (former US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs) new book “How did you get here? Students with disabilities and their journeys to Harvard.” In the book, Herir and his coauthor Laura Schifter interviewed 12 people with disabilities and asked them how they got to Harvard.

It’s a powerful concept for a book. Not all of us have identifiable disabilities but everyone has a journey. How did each one of us go from being a curious child to the position we’re in today? So today I thought I would share with you all briefly my story of “How did I get here?” to GW – and I want to focus on four pivotal moments.

Pivotal moment #1 – My Mother

The first chapter of Herir’s book about students with disabilities studying at Harvard is aptly titled “My Mother.”

I grew up with dyslexia. Language seemed impossible for me to grasp, so much so that my mother called English was my second language. I was homeschooled through seventh grade where my mother taught me how to read using clay. In 8th grade, I attended The Lewis School of Princeton, which is a private school in Princeton that supports students primarily with language-based learning differences. They always called them “differences” instead of “disabilities.” I’ve come to do the same.

The support of my mother along with many others in my early life allowed my natural curiosity to flourish. She helped preserve a love of learning in my life. This is rare considering how much our society makes us hate learning or see learning merely as a means to an end. And in my case as a dyslexic, I was primed to despise reading and learning as our society made it out to be. Thankfully my mother and my experiences at the Lewis School preserved my love of learning and I continued to see it as an end in itself and not a frustrating and boring means to another end. As a result of my learning differences, I also developed other skills and interests, which Malcolm Gladwell talks about in the book David and Goliath.

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Pivotal moment #2  – Life in Thailand

After I graduated from college, I decided somewhat precariously to move to Thailand to become a Residential Life Assistant and Instructor at Payap University in Chiang Mai.

I thrived. Thai food, motorcycles, ultimate frisbee, Thai language, culture, faith, Buddhism, living in the moment, you name it. I had a powerful two years in Thailand and loved every minute of it. That’s not to say my time wasn’t full of perpetual blunders, misunderstandings, failures, and frustrations. It was. But I managed with an abundance of support and forgiveness.

I blogged all the time those first two years and my sister published the posts into a little book. It’s such a treasure to go back and see how I made meaning of my experiences then. I began to learn just how big and wonderful the world is.

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Pivotal Moment #3 – Going to Harvard

The third pivotal moment for me came while studying my Ed.M. in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard. I studied and learned from so many awesome scholars like Bob Kegan, Rick Weissbourd, and Bruno dell Chiesa. My favorite part about being at Harvard, though, was not the classes but my classmates. Whether at a beer garden or burrito joint, I learned so much from our conversations. GK Chesterton talks about creating spaces “for good things to run wild,” and Harvard did this to perfection.

It was at Harvard that I finally began working through my people-pleasing, which I felt was plaguing my life up to that point. I also began to see more and more how interconnected the world is. By the time I finished my time at Harvard I was positive I wanted to pursue doctoral studies. I loved the inquiry, research, evidence, and learning how to ask and answer questions.

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Pivotal Moment #4 –  A phone call

In 2012, I returned to Thailand as the Head of International Campus Life and Lecturer in General Education. My research interests began expanding. I presented at several conferences in the region including a UNESCO conference in Bangkok at which my paper was later published.

As I began looking for doctoral programs, the obvious choice was to work with the top scholar in the field of Southeast Asian education development at the University of Minnesota. I knew him and had worked with him on a few things including a book chapter that is being published later this year.

However, I wanted to look at a few other schools, especially close to my home in New Jersey, seeing as I had been away for so many years. Also, finances were of utmost importance. For graduate study to be a possibility it had to be financially viable. I applied to a short list of universities that would allow me to work with people with whom I had similar research interests.

One day at 2:00 in the afternoon, which was 2:00 in the morning for people in the US, I got a phone call from a very gregarious European woman named Dr. Maria Cseh. I was so glad she called because her work on international human resource development had intrigued me when I was looking for doctoral programs. We talked for a while and eventually they offered me admission to the doctoral program as a Graduate Research Assistant. Truly, Dr. Cseh’s intentionality, relational nature, and the Graduate Research Assistant position made up the linchpin in my decision making process. And I’m so thankful to be here at GW today.

Now, as I think about graduating from GW in 2018, I will be pursuing jobs where I can lead a life of research, teaching, publication, and service. My hope is to use my energy, skills, knowledge, and attitude to serve others and the world as a whole.

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There are no simple answers to question “How did you get here?” And I’m not sure how the next chapter will go. That’s okay. I have been privileged, lucky, honored, and blessed to have had these experiences and people in my life thus far, and whatever happens I hope to share those with others along the journey.

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