Ryan Harrison has seen the best and the worst of the educational system.
The 27-year-old graduate director of Sacramento State’s Associated Students Inc. attended a public school where violence was the norm. Then he transferred to a private high school where the greatest danger he faced was from the power mower he used to cut the school’s grass to help pay the steep tuition.
Harrison parlayed his academic and athletic talents to enter UC Davis, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Upon graduation he was offered a management position at Target, segued to the state Senate as a security specialist and thence to Sacramento State, where he expects to graduate this spring with a master’s degree in criminal justice.
He’s also teaching a supplemental introductory criminal justice class, working 20 hours per week for ASI, in return for which he receives a modest stipend. He also works 25 hours per week as a staff member for Jerome Horton, chairman of the state Board of Equalization. “I assist with the tax appeals briefs under the supervision of the tax attorneys on his staff,” he says. “I also help organize community events in his Los Angeles district.”
Harrison’s graduate GPA is 3.75 and he plans to attend McGeorge School of Law. But rather than practice criminal or civil law, he intends to become a public policy specialist in education.
The ambitious young man cites the nexus between education and incarceration in this society where a disproportionate percentage of African-American youths are destined for jail or prison. “I appreciate the value of education because it has made a difference in my and my twin brother’s life,” he says.
His father, a college graduate and special-education teacher, emphasizes the importance of schooling. His older brother spent most of his life behind bars because he didn’t heed that advice, which Harrison sees as the ultimate object lesson.
That’s one of the reasons he has mentored younger students and why he enjoys teaching. Everyone has the potential to learn, he believes, citing those instructors who inspired him. “I try to make my classes relevant to the lives of my students,” he says, noting that they almost always respond.
His overarching goal is “to help improve the circumstances and chances for people who are often ignored or disregarded as incorrigibles in our society.” Having benefitted from a quality education, he says: “Everybody should know how this feels and I want to be a part of making that happen.”