Major Insight Episode 16 Empowering Others Through Education and Democracy

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Megan Cremeans wants to cause social and political change by exploring the ways in which democracy and education are inseparably intertwined. As an integrated social studies education and political science major, she uses applied policy to find practical ways to fight inequality and injustice, especially in schools where she researches public school funding disparities in Ohio.

On this episode, Megan also talks about representing and empowering students across campus, her rewarding experiences as a student teacher, and how college has helped her become a better leader.

Featured Majors:

Integrated Social Studies Education, Political Science

Featured Organizations & Awards:

Miami University Board of Trustees, Governmental Relations Network, Janus Steering Committee, Council for the Social Studies, Armstrong Student Center Board, Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Prize

Career Clusters:

Education, Nonprofit and Human Services

Law and Government

Full Episode Also Available on YouTube

Music: “Only Knows” by Broke For Free

Read the transcript

James Loy: Major Insight is a production of Miami University. This is where we showcase successful students, their promising new research and its relevance in our world.

James Loy: Megan Cremeans is interested in causing social and political change by exploring the ways in which democracy and education are inseparably intertwined. As a double major in integrated social studies education and political science, she uses the applied side of policy to find practical ways to fight inequality and injustice, especially in schools where she researches public school funding disparities in Ohio. And on this episode, Megan also talks with Major Insight host Peter Everett about representing and empowering students across campus, her rewarding experiences as a student teacher, and how college has helped her become a better leader.

Peter Everett: Hi Megan. Thank you so much for joining us on Major Insight today.

Megan Cremeans: Awesome. Thank you.

Peter Everett: So just for the audience, just tell us what your major is and your academic interests and maybe some of the orgs you're involvement.

Megan Cremeans: Yeah. My name is Megan Cremeans. I am a senior majoring in political science and AYA social studies education with a minor in history. And I am involved in all kinds of things around campus. First and foremost, I am a student on the Miami University Board of Trustees, which is the governing body for the university, but I'm also involved in clubs like the Government Relations Network, Janus, the council for the social studies, and the Armstrong Student Center Board.

Peter Everett: Wow, that's quite a bit on your plate there.

Megan Cremeans: I try to stay busy.

Peter Everett: So on the Miami Board of Trustees position, so what exactly does that entail?

Megan Cremeans: Yeah, it's a really unique position. Every Ohio public university has a board of trustees that govern the decisions made by the university. And on each one of these, there are two students who are appointed by the governor. And I am one of those two. My sophomore year, I applied to be a student trustee and Governor Kasich appointed me in February of my sophomore year. And so for two years then I get to sit on the board and provide some students insights, some student perspective, and make sure that there's a student voice being heard in the room. Everyone on the board loves Miami and Miami's a priority, but they're so far removed from Miami. So many of them are older, have moved on in their careers and they're trying to give back. And I think it's important to showcase that student perspective while they're making those decisions.

Peter Everett: Sure. Any major decisions you can talk about that maybe you had some input in or-

Megan Cremeans: I think there's really great things happening in Miami all the time. The one that we just wrapped up was our strategic plan, which many people know that the United States is facing a lot of troubles when it comes to higher education, especially in Ohio. We're looking at the costs of higher education increasing. While in Ohio, the population of students going to college is decreasing. And so that's kind of a mismatch economically. And Miami University's strategic plan has every intention and it will make sure that Miami can succeed in this challenging time while becoming a really great university - greater than we are now - and making sure that students' needs are met and that the state's needs are met as well.

Peter Everett: Awesome. So I guess with your political science major, how exactly is maybe your academic studies, your academic interest maybe inform your role on the board of trustees or how does that influence things?

Megan Cremeans: Yeah, I come with a political science and education background, so I'm interested in how policy works, but I'm also very interested in education in the more practical applied side of policy. So when I'm on the board, I'm of course thinking about like as a student, what type of decisions benefit me. But at the same time, like as someone who understands political science and who understands the governing process, I can accept that sometimes what's popular isn't always right, or sometimes things make better sense economically than others.

Peter Everett: So the key to success is compromise.

Megan Cremeans: Yeah, for sure.

Peter Everett: Which is maybe something everybody could learn a little bit from, right?

Megan Cremeans: Definitely. Yeah.

Peter Everett: Also, I noticed you won the Goldman Prize.

Megan Cremeans: Yes. Yeah.

Peter Everett: And could you talk about maybe how that experience was and maybe what that research was that you got the Goldman Prize?

Megan Cremeans: Yeah, that was really a rewarding experience. I received the Goldman Prize this year, which is Miami University's largest prize for an undergraduate student to conduct research or any sort of project. And mine is titled, loosely, Combating Injustice in School Funding. And where that comes from is growing up, I was educated and raised in an Appalachian school in part of rural and Appalachian Ohio. And my opportunities were a bit different from my peers when I got to Miami. And so I got really interested in educational equity and whether opportunities for everyone are really equal or if that's just a goal or if we should try and reach that goal. And so my project funded through the Goldman kind of looks at that.

Peter Everett: Okay. So maybe I know that some people might think, "Okay, that's like a utopian vision and it's just something to strive for, but maybe not something where we're going to really achieve. It's not realistic." Would you agree with that or would you say that, okay... Maybe go into your project a little more detail. Is there a way to actually achieve that more utopian vision?

Megan Cremeans: Well, my thought is I have to bring it up... I'm a political science major. I have to bring it back to the law. And there's an Ohio Supreme Court case called DeRolph versus the state of Ohio, which ruled that Ohio school funding system is unconstitutional. And so they called on the lawmakers to make a change to have thorough and equitable systems according to the Ohio constitution. And I think that if you push hard enough and enough people are able to tell their stories, our lawmakers will do us right and make those changes.

Peter Everett: And that's at a local government level, correct?

Megan Cremeans: That's the state government.

Peter Everett: So there is definitely a more advocacy where those legislators that are closer to you and close to your community are the ones that are really going to be able to make that change because maybe the federal government can't.

Megan Cremeans: Yeah. Well schools are up to the state to fund. And so I think that state and local governments are where change is made and especially in education. So I'm really happy to be working with different state legislators and have the voice of ... or have the ear of certain legislators.

Peter Everett: That's just refreshing for me just because I'm a history major as well. I do a lot of stuff with political science organizations. And a lot of times students are really it... They're advocating for federal policies and the federal government to step in. But I think sometimes the state governments get ignored. So it's really refreshing to hear there's some research and there's some people focused on reaching out to the state governments and working with the state governments.

Megan Cremeans: I am a huge fan of state and local government. I will get on that soapbox every day.

Peter Everett: Oh, that's awesome. So I guess maybe that work within the school funding. So that school funding work, is that something you're trying to apply directly as you maybe work in Talawanda or is that maybe something you could bring even into your board of trustees position? Like maybe how does that research or that passion and that background maybe feed into those projects?

Megan Cremeans: Yeah. I think one interesting thing about school funding is that it impacts everybody. Everyone who goes to a public school or is around a public school is impacted by how their public schools funded. So in my case, I'm student teaching right now in Talawanda, which is the local high school. And I'm having a blast. And they're really pretty well funded, which is exciting. And those students have a lot of opportunities within their school. But at the same time, with my background, I'm able to recognize inequities in funding as well as inequities in personal lives and experiences outside of the classroom. And so I hope as a student teacher, later a teacher, or later whatever I want to do as well as on the board of trustees, I'm able to kind of speak to these inequities and injustices that people face and fight for people to have more equitable opportunities.

Peter Everett: Sure. So I guess how does that work more on like a practical level, for example, when a teacher learns that maybe a student has problems at home, like one of the parents went to prison or there's abuse or there's some other types of those kinds of inequities that maybe the school can't directly control. Maybe how does that research that you're doing, really maybe speak to that or maybe try to rectify that in some ways. Is that what you're talking about with inequities outside of the classroom?

Megan Cremeans: Inequities, I'm largely speaking financially.

Peter Everett: Financially. Okay.

Megan Cremeans: I am the numbers kind of inequities. But you're right. There's all kinds of things. Students are human beings too. I think we forget that a lot. We see them as a test score, and being an education major, I've been able to see the humanity that is in our schools outside of the policy.

Peter Everett: Yeah. I just ask that because I was part of a student org for a while called Clubhouse where we would pick up kids from the low income housing, like, apartment complexes and trailer parks around Oxford. And we would like tutor them and bring them in, feed them dinner, that kind of stuff. And they would tell me their stories about what's going on in their lives. And so it was a lot of that kind of stuff.

Megan Cremeans: So my research is focused on the States funding, but truly I'm gathering stories from people about their own experiences. So I will talk to a mom who will say, "I have to send my kids to the public school because they give my kids free breakfast and lunch, and I can't afford to do any other meals." Or I'm working with a parent who will say something like, "I had to have my daughter in the public school system because otherwise she has special needs that would never be met." And so those types of things of course we have, and schools provide a lot of wraparound services outside of education that benefit our country and our kids.

Peter Everett: And all that just really underscores the need for that equitable funding that your advocating really.

Megan Cremeans: Yes. Yes. I think so. I think so.

Peter Everett: Cool. That's awesome. So I guess as you're achieving all this, as you're working on the board of trustees, as you're involved with all these student organizations, how is Miami and your experience here really equipped you to succeed in those realms and really a push yourself to that next level?

Megan Cremeans: Yeah, I keep getting this question, I'm towards the end. I'm a senior and people keep asking like, "Oh, what are you going to do next?" And I have tons of options, which is really exciting. But I've been like thrilled to tell people I'm really confident in my Miami education. You could put me anywhere and I think I could, I could do it based on my experiences and my academic preparation. I have the skills to succeed in the workforce no matter what that is.

Peter Everett: I'd say the same, be honest. It's been a really fun ride so far. I'm not as quite as far along as you are, but it's exciting stuff. And I guess especially I think my professors personally have really had a big impact I think is really where it comes down to for me. But if you had to give advice to any incoming Miami students who are thinking about coming to Miami and thinking about really maybe trying to realize their passions here, what kind of advice would you give them?

Megan Cremeans: Oh my gosh. So much advice. First of all, say yes, come to Miami. Second of all, say yes and just keep saying yes. The best thing that I did when I started college was I just said yes to everything and some of the stuff didn't work out, and I eventually didn't do it or I said I'm going to pursue something else. But I said yes to all kinds of stuff I wouldn't have normally gotten myself into and without that I wouldn't have become so diverse in my interests. I'm more empathetic. I'm definitely a better leader and I'm so grateful for just the capacity and the ability to say yes.

Peter Everett: And I guess maybe could you give a picture maybe your kind of mindset coming into college versus what your mindset looks like now?

Megan Cremeans: Yeah, big changes. I had a lot of room for growth coming in, which I didn't realize because when you're a senior in high school you're like, "I'm king of the world. Who cares?" And that's normal, that's fine. But I came in and I was actually kind of bitter about coming to Miami. Miami was my last choice on my list. I didn't want to be here, but it was my most financially affordable option, and I can't even afford to come here and still here I am because that's the most affordable option. And now I am one of the many kids that say Miami wasn't my first choice, but I really wish it was. I really wish that I would have been 100% behind being here and would have thrown myself into it first because it took me a little while, took me about three semesters before I was like, "Wait, this is my home," and to take advantage of all the opportunities here.

Megan Cremeans: You talked about your professors. Professors and people who work here, staff and faculty have made all the difference in my life. They have completely given me every opportunity. They have sat down with me and talked to me about my aspirations and my goals and tried to help me come up with ways to get there. And there is no straight path, and they have been so influential. And then like you, I've gotten involved, made tons of friends and gotten to do cool things like podcasts and made up stuff to do.

Peter Everett: We are pretty cool, I guess.

Megan Cremeans: It is cool, and it's been great. And reflecting back, I'm so grateful for the growth and for someone and so many people being patient with me and being willing to put their faith in me as a person to kind of get it in gear and get stuff done.

Peter Everett: I really liked what you said about there's no straight path. I think a lot of people when they come to college they're thinking, "Oh, here's my track to become a lawyer or a doctor," or this major does like, "Oh, you get a history major, you're going to teach." Which I know you're an education major, you're definitely advocating for teachers. But I think that there's kind of these preconceptions that I think college helps disabuse you of.

Megan Cremeans: Yes. I think I was explaining to my kids today they were like, "Is college or high school harder?" And I was like, "Well, I think they're kind of equally hard for different reasons." High school you have all the social problems.

Peter Everett: All the busy work too.

Megan Cremeans: All the busy work, which I don't assign. And then in college, you are financially independent, you have all these different things going on. And it's just a different kind of hard. But I said, "In high school, your worldview is this big." And I like held my hands up to my... And then it grows a little and it grows a little and it grows a little and it's like I'm a senior and I still don't have 360 vision. But I see so much of the world now and it's because there is no straight path. I can just kind of see it so much more and learn that it wasn't A to B to C to D. It's been lots of jumping and learning along the way and it's been great.

Peter Everett: Well, achieving that 360 vision, I think that's another one of those ideals that we can keep grabbing for just like equitable funding work. And I guess believing it's possible is really what makes it possible.

Megan Cremeans: Right. Right.

Peter Everett: So that's amazing. And I think it's really cool the kind of perspective you can give to your kids that you're teaching and everything.

Megan Cremeans: Oh my gosh, they're so sweet. They're great.

Peter Everett: Oh yeah. No, I had the same experience when I was working with them too, bringing them up. They're.... People underestimate how awesome kids can be, I think.

Megan Cremeans: Yes.

Peter Everett: Yeah. How's how student teaching for you?

Megan Cremeans: So much fun. I teach psychology all day long and it is a blast. I like teaching psychology because it's like immediately relevant to kids' lives. When you are 16 years old, the most important person in your life is you, and so they love learning about themselves and learning about the reasons why they are the way that they are according to psychology or the reasons why their friends say that or their parents say that or how their parents decisions impact them. And they share their stories and our conversations are great.

Megan Cremeans: It's a mostly discussion-based classroom. It's highly democratic. It's really inquiry based. It's great.

Peter Everett: You're teaching high school.

Megan Cremeans: Yes. 11th and 12th graders.

Peter Everett: I'd say it'd be weird for fifth graders be having a philosophical discussion maybe, but-

Megan Cremeans: No, fifth graders are very philosophical. I'm pro philosophy in fifth grade.

Peter Everett: Pro philosophy and fifth grade. That might be like a running position maybe. Have you thought about politics at all maybe in the future or just going to stick with teaching? What do you think?

Megan Cremeans: So my biggest thing is I'm interested in making change. Period. And probably through education policy. But I don't think that you have to be a politician to make a change. I think that you have to be someone who's invested in your community and who's willing to put in the work. And I don't know that you have to run the office to do that. Not saying I won't run for office, but I'm just saying I want to make change however I can.

Peter Everett: That's awesome. And again, I guess to come back to that no one straight path again. That's a running theme.

Megan Cremeans: Yes, the world is open and I'm going to take advantage of it.

Peter Everett: Wow. So if you had to pick one of the most impactful teaching experiences, interactions with the kids, something you can share, something that really maybe changed your perspective. Because I think that's what you're talking about with being empathetic and really kind of opening up your mind. What would be something that you could share or you'd like to share?

Megan Cremeans: Yeah, so I went into student teaching not sure if I was going to like it. I was still like at a point where like I don't know if I want to teach. I don't know if I want to be in classrooms. And on the first day I decided I was going to help my classroom teacher however I could. But I kind of wanted to be in charge, and we talked about it and he was like, "No, I think that's good experience for you. What do you want to do?" And I was like, "Well my big thing is I want to have the Wonder Wall." He's like, "What's the Wonder Wall?" And I said-

Peter Everett: What is the Wonder Wall?

Megan Cremeans: I know. I want to have a bulletin board in the class with all of the students' questions on it, and I am committed to answering them. That's what school is for is to have your questions answered, they think. It's really about a lot more than that. And then on the first and second day they wrote up their questions and they voted on their favorite ones. And so on the second day I was amazed by the questions that they're curious about. And it was things like, why do we trust people, and why did my dad leave my family but I still love him? And why do I have nightmares? Why am I anxious? And we're hitting all of these questions through the course content, but they're curious about it. And we'll talk about and they'll be like, "Wait, that's on the Wonder Wall." I'm like, "I know you designed the curriculum. We're coming back to you and your interests, and school's really about you."

Megan Cremeans: And so we'll be doing an activity. I'm like, "Yeah, that's on the Wonder Wall. You guys wanted to know that." And they're like, "Oh my gosh." The other day we answered, "Why do people stay in toxic relationships?" And they like wrote letters to people in toxic relationships, and they were like, "I can't believe this is it." And I'm like, "Yeah, there's no one right answer. But psychology would say that this is why." And so that's been really impactful to like tie the curriculum into their lives and see the light bulbs go off.

Peter Everett: Yeah, I'm sure that's changed their perspective too. So that gift that you had with professors building on you at Miami and your experiences here and that broadening of your perspective. Now you're passing that on to the next generation of those kids. And I think that's what teaching really is about. So I think you're hitting the nail on the head. So if you had to pick something about Miami, a Miami experience or maybe just a program Miami, has that really maybe catapulted you to where you are today, what would it be?

Megan Cremeans: I think it comes down to time in the classroom. I think when people think about college, they start worrying about like dining halls and clubs and all of this stuff. That's also incredibly important. But learning things in the classroom and then applying it outside of the classroom has been extraordinary influential. So without my experiences in the classroom, I couldn't do what I do outside of the classroom.

Peter Everett: Sure. Maybe I've talked to some of my professors about this. I think some kids come into college with the mentality, "Oh, this is a transaction. I'm paying money in exchange for a degree." I think that that mentality you really want is, "I come to college for the privilege to learn and a passion for learning." I think maybe that's another way of putting what you said, but that's something that's really struck home for me. And I've had to develop that within myself because I had the wrong perspective. I was definitely thinking, "Oh, I'm just here to get my degree, and then make some money, get a job." But it's really learning for the sake of learning itself.

Megan Cremeans: There's a joy in learning. You have to find it and find what you're passionate about. And I'm so glad I did. And you too. That's great.

Peter Everett: Thanks. Thank you so much for coming in, Megan. It's been a great interview.

Megan Cremeans: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

James Loy: Megan Cremeans is a double major in integrated social studies education and political science, and she plans to graduate this spring. If you've enjoyed this episode of Major Insight, please share with a friend, with students, or with anyone who hopes to make a powerful impact on their world. You can find more episodes right now on Apple Podcasts and wherever podcasts are found.


Featured Majors: 

Integrated Social Studies Education, Political Science

Featured Organizations & Awards:

Miami University Board of Trustees, Governmental Relations Network, Janus Steering Committee, Council for the Social Studies, Armstrong Student Center Board, Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Prize

Career Clusters:

Education, Nonprofit and Human Services

Law and Government