Student Spotlight: 2017’s Keaton Wadzinski

A new student’s voice for education reform hits the University

To hear the Office of Admissions tell it, each successive class attending the University seems more impressive than the last. But even beyond the always rising average SAT scores and ever-climbing GPAs, students entering the University boast a myriad of accomplishments.

For Keaton Wadzinski, a rising first-year Engineering student and Jefferson Scholar, the upcoming school year serves as a new beginning, but also as an opportunity to continue the work that he has been doing to promote education reform.

In high school, Wadzinski frequently tutored his peers free of charge, was invited by the Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner to speak on several panels discussing education reform and began an activist club called “What Is School For?”

Though the club never took off in the way he originally hoped, he said, it led him to Student Voice, a national organization whose mission is similar to WISF: activating the student voice in education through community engagement. Through Student Voice, Wadzinski is currently leading an online project for students, educators and community members that provides resources for implementing student voice in schools.

“At the late middle school, high school and late secondary school [years], there is a need for more freedom for students,” Wadzinski said. “Students should be encouraged to explore their interests instead of having to do a set curriculum. We have to encourage students to discover their passion, and students aren’t engaged because we aren’t engaging them.”

He plans to continue working with Student Voice and has already spoken to members of the group about possibly starting a chapter at the University.

“I am really looking forward to … the student engagement dynamic that goes all the way back to Jefferson — students as an integral part of education, instead of someone below administrators,” he said.

At the collegiate level, Wadzinski said he believes it is important for universities to value things other than test scores, find a way to stabilize tuition and develop Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are widely accessible courses targeted to public audiences around the globe.

“People could talk all day about how big of a problem we have with standardized testing and dropout rates and things like that, but my opinion is that until you provide alternatives to what we have in place we aren’t going to get anything done,” Wadzinski said.

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