Kristen Chmielewski

Kristen Chmielewski, Ph.D. student, Schools, Culture and Society Program

Explores disability history


What is your degree program and expected graduation date? I’m a PhD candidate in Schools, Culture, and Society with an expected graduation date of May 2019.

Please describe your research: My dissertation is a historical examination of how narratives of disability affected the careers and experiences of city teachers between 1930 and 1970. I analyzed archival sources from New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit and found that school and city leaders explicitly linked good teaching with lack of a disability, requiring that teaching candidates pass extensive medical examinations and meet strict physical standards in order to enter and remain in the classroom.In simple terms, why does this research matter? Exploring how school leaders have historically manipulated and constructed narratives of disability expands our understanding of how schools have attempted to define and promote standards of normality in teachers and in students, in ways that affected everyone—disabled or nondisabled—in the city school system while contributing to discrimination against disabled individuals.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? From day one! I have been Dr. Ogren’s research assistant for a number of semesters, which helped me to develop the skills and confidence to conduct my own archival research.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? My University of Iowa MA thesis committee’s excitement about and investment in my research interests fueled my desire to pursue a PhD. My dissertation research has lead to presentations at national and international conferences, as well as an early career researcher award. My research has provided me a strong sense of purpose within my program as well as a wider network within my field.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I hope to become faculty member and to be able to divide up my time between teaching and continuing to explore how historical and current societal definitions and ideas about disability shape the experiences and stigmatization of disabled individuals.

Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. Christine Ogren

Hometown: West Dundee, Illinois



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