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Home | Episode #27
The Unconventional Present
April 12 2019 | Student Producer:

Noah Pallmeyer
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The Unconventional Present
Dr. Tiffany Stewart recalls her educational journey plagued by issues of being a minority, yet eased by the support of her grandparents. (8 minutes)

One of the things that a lot of people don't know is that I was raised by my grandparents. My mother had me at a young age and she was in the military and she was like, hmm, should I leave the military to care for my kid or should I just stay? And, but she was stationed in Germany. So my grandparents decided that, hey, we're going to keep her and you go ahead to Germany and finish out your deployment and when you come back you can get her little, did they know that 18 years later I will still be there. So I'm extremely grateful for my grandparents because as a young African American girl growing up in Macon, Georgia, my skills and actually my interest was in science and at that time, you know, I got a lot of, well that's not what black kids do.

You don't do science. You sing dance, rap, you do everything but do science. And you know, little at the time did I know that was like, Ooh, maybe it's just not for me, but my grandmother was, 'No! you're going to be a doctor. That's what you're going to be. You're going to be a doctor. "And I was like, I'm good at what I do. I get my A's and everything, but I don't know whether I'm brilliant enough to be a doctor. So of course doing a, um, growing up, you pretty much, it's okay, you're going to be a doctor, you're going to be a doctor. And it was like, okay, all right, I guess. But it's just not, I don't think that I was going to do that. So my, so fast forward to 2001 I graduated and I decided to go to Howard University, a historically black college and university in DC.

And so when I first entered Howard University, my major was going to be nursing or physician assistant because you know, that's what I'm going to do. I think I'm talented but I'm don't think I'm necessarily talented enough to be a doctor or anything like that. I just want to get through my four years and go and make my money and help with my grandparents. So my uncle at a time was an associate chemists or lecturer at Howard University and, he was in the chemistry department, so he was like, Hey, apply for this scholarship for the chemistry department. Okay, fine, I'll do that. I don't really have a chemistry background. Took maybe one course, if you want to call it a course, in high school. And so it was a blessing that I ever received a full ride to Howard University. So I was like, I'll just get past my first year and just transfer over to the physician assistant program.

So, stayed a semester in chemistry and was like, okay, maybe this is something that I can do along the time my grandparents, especially my grandmother is like, "You can do it, you're going to be a doctor." And I was like, you know, in four years I will get a job and go on about my business because I don't think this is going to be for me. So sure enough, graduated in 2005 and guess who end off in a graduate program at the University of Arkansas. Me, (lol) the person who say I will never be a doctor in anything. So got there had sort of some issues. Imagine, you know, it wasn't my first time being a minorty, because I played the piano and I was classically trained, so I was always the minority and in the room who would thought a little black girl would know about Mozart or anything like that.

So, but still it was a awkward moment because the population that was there, I really just didn't think that I had the support or people necessarily believed in me necessarily because I don't, there's half, there was some sort of miscommunication or things like that. She was coming from a HBCU, what is a HBCU? Do they let white people in do they? (lol) And so, and it was like white people do go to HBCU's and , we very much get the same education that you guys get. In your universities. So things didn't quite work out and I'm like, oh, maybe I was not meant to be a doctor, but my grandparents continue to encourage me. And then, 2010 who's back in a Ph.D program. Me. So I ended up graduating in 2017 in September with a Ph.D. Unfortunately, my grandparents did not make it to see me.

So how I can tie this back around to the unconventional present, is that a lot of times when people think of presents, they think of just monetary things and just, Oh, I can get this coat, or I'll get a bottle of perfume Or if you're a Gamer, I get this new PlayStation or something like that. But people don't necessarily think of a gift as in, actually time and sacrifice. um My grandparents definitely sacrifice a lot. They were not necessarily healthy, especially to run around with such a busy-body kid. I was on academics teams. I played the piano, I was always in some summer camp. I was very much a busy-body and you know, they were sick and a lot of times when they didn't feel good, they actually put what was going on with them on a hold to make sure that I was good.

5:30 in the morning, every morning I can expect to have somebody up making breakfast and things like that. And to me that was a gift that at the time that I didn't necessarily appreciate. So it's something that I like, I truly understand and this is the best gift that I had when I didn't necessarily have faith in me. My grandparents had faith in me. And so in return, the gift that I want to give them is that when I eventually go back to their grave site to actually take a bound copy of my dissertation to the grave and be like, we did it. So my advice to all the young men and young ladies, no matter what race, no matter what gender or creed or anything, is that, you know, you can, you can do it. You really can do it.