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Meet an Alumna: Valerie Lott

Posted by on Friday, May 13, 2022 in Alumni, .

Valerie Lott, M.Ed. 2018, on how the CDA program contributed to her continued learning

Valerie Lott is a December 2018 graduate of the CDA program. She currently is completing her final year of law school at Elon University and aspires to be a civil rights attorney. Before coming to Peabody, Lott studied Education at Louisiana Tech. 

Vanderbilt Peabody College’s emphasis on education is what drew her to the CDA program. Originally, Valerie Lott came to CDA looking to contribute to the reimagination of public schools and thought this degree was better suited than a policy degree for those purposes because of the practicum and final project opportunities over doing a thesis. However, it was in her final semester she realized she would like to go to law school and it was the “choose your own adventure” style of the program that allowed her to pursue more education with confidence.

Consistent with her expectations of the program, Valerie found the final project to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of her experience in CDA. For her final project, she developed a curriculum for 8th grade students to learn about Nashville’s civil rights history with the goal of increasing sense of spatial awareness and ties to the community since nearly all the middle school students she worked with through another job had no knowledge of this history.

Acknowledging the limits of her knowledge, Lott sought out Dr. Rip Patton, a civil rights activist and veteran of the Freedom Riders, to collaborate on the project to make sure the curriculum was accurate and empowering. Alongside building a curriculum, Valerie and Dr. Patton also created a children’s book depicting Nashville’s history. Their book was picked up by an agent and at this moment is being distributed to publishing houses in the U.S. to find the right publisher.

Reflecting on the program, Valerie says CDA’s required theory courses inform a lot of her perspective, “It has helped me have a better approach to understanding the law in a different way because I’m thinking of the theories from CDA.” Two classes that really impacted her thinking were Theories of Inequality with Dr. Barnes and Program Evaluation with Dr. Suiter. She notes, “[Program Evaluation] is a skill that I put on my resume and share in an interview to show what CDA actually was.”

Since finishing the CDA program, one of her most recent positions was working as a fellow at the NAACP. She notes, “I have the language from CDA that helps me better understand civil rights cases and how to approach legal issues within an organization that was founded by a multiracial group of people.” Further, she explained that CDA helped her think about the contextual histories of why certain laws exist.  She says, “I’ll raise my hand in class and can say from an informed place that this is the history so let’s ask these questions of the law. If it weren’t for CDA, I wouldn’t be able to bring that to the classroom. Right now, I’m doing that in my First Amendment speech class.”

Overall, Valerie sees one of the main outcomes of the CDA program is to prepare people to ask hard questions and create a personal method for how to work with partners in communities in effective and intentional ways. Last, Valerie left a bit of advice for any prospective and current CDA students. “Ask the hard questions. If you feel like something in your practicum or final project or thesis is meaningful, though it may not be the easiest thing to do, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If you’re told no, it’s ok to keep trying. CDA is about being creative about change. I’m really thankful my project ended up as it did.”


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