Amazing Students Profiles

Jason Mizell

Jason Mizell

Jason Mizell, a Ph.D. student in Language and Literacy Education, is passionate about identifying inequities in education and helping those impacted to acquire the tools they need to rectify those inequities.


Cleveland, GA

High School:

White County High School

Degree objective:

Ph.D. Language and Literacy Education (Focus area: TESOL and World Languages)

Other degrees:

Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Columbus State University, Georgia
Master of Arts/Bilingual-Multicultural Education
University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut

Expected graduation:

May 2019

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

I started my journey toward earning a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education with a focus in TESOL and World Languages in fall 2015. My dream became possible when I garnered a Graduate School assistantship award. This award has allowed me to study full time and also to work with some of the most respected professionals in education, namely Dr. Ruth Harman (TESOL and World Languages), Dr. Kevin Burke (English Education), Dr. Usree Bhattacharya (TESOL and World Languages), Dr. Donna Alvermann (Literacies and Children’s Literature), Dr. Linda Harklau (TESOL and World Languages), and Dr. Peter Smagorinsky (English Education).

Under the tutelage of each of these outstanding professors, in my short time at UGA I have had the opportunity and privilege to apply for and gain a Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute grant, as well as a Graduate School summer research grant to support a project to be carried out in Ecuador during Summer 2017. My research will entail using Systemic Functional Linguistics as an integral part of Youth Participatory Action Research.

In addition, I was fortunate enough to win UGA Graduate School travel funding that allowed me to attend and present at the American Association of Applied Linguistics 2017 conference. My presentation dealt with (a) how to use Systemic Functional Linguistics as a tool to interpret silences and (b) how SFL can be used to provide marginalized students knowledge about hegemonic language systems.

During my first semester at UGA, I was privileged to work with and learn from Dr. Smagorinsky. Dr. Smagorinsky is the faculty advisor for the student-run Journal of Language and Literacy Education ( and an expert in sociocultural theory. Under his tutelage, I was able to learn how journals are edited and also how academic articles are composed. Not only is he an outstanding professor, but also he is a fantastic, open and caring person who does what he can to support his students. During this same semester, I had the pleasure of participating in an introductory Ph.D. seminar that allowed me not only to read but also to meet and interview nationally known literacy and TESOL professors. Dr. Ruth Harman, one of the nation’s top SFL scholars and a leader in content-based literacy for second language learners, led this course. She made this course come alive by inviting world-renowned professors into our class. In addition, her knowledge of SFL and her passion for working with multi-lingual and bi-dialectical students fortified my interest in finding ways to provide access to educational opportunities for all students. Dr. Harman not only talked about working toward educational equity for all students, she lived it through her community outreach efforts. Her dedication motivated me to ask her to serve as the chair of my dissertation committee.

Over the last year, Dr. Harman and I have worked closely with Dr. Kevin Burke using Youth Participatory Action Research. YPAR works to center the voices and lived experiences of youth. Simply put, the needs of young people are valued in regards to the communities in which they live. We first used this approach last summer when we took part in a UGA-Clarke County School District collaborative summer camp, Camp DIVE. Dr. Burke and Dr. Harman made this approach come alive. Since then, I have developed a passion for using YPAR and SFL to work with students here in Clarke County and also in Ecuador. Due to the work that we have engaged in over the last year, I have been apprenticed in writing several co-authored pieces currently under review and a forthcoming singularly authored piece. Another benefit of working with this dynamic team is that we have entered into discussion with the Athens Housing Authority to develop a plan that will allow us to use one of its community centers. Once this plan is finalized, we will be able to offer courses at the center that will meet the needs of their community members and UGA students. If this transpires, we will be able to fulfill what I see as the principal part of the university’s mission, namely to “enhance the well-being of the citizens of Georgia through their roles in economic, social and community development.” The possibility of opening a YPAR-inspired community center to serve Athens youth is what truly motivates me to continue fighting for educational equity.

Current Employment:

Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant, Department of Language and Literacy Education (TESOL and World Languages)

Family Ties to UGA:

My siblings and I are all first-generation college graduates. One of my sisters completed her B.A. in journalism at UGA.

I chose to attend UGA because…

When I began my search for a high-quality and innovative Ph.D. program I looked for programs that involved an element of community service and also one in which the professors would take a personal interest in nurturing students. During the recruitment process, I was invited to campus to meet with various professors and students in the Language and Literacy Department. What impressed me the most was the sense of community that I felt among the department’s Ph.D. students. They were a very supportive group and spoke highly of the professors in the department. In addition, the professors whom I had a chance to meet that weekend also impressed me. They all took a personal interest in me and what I wanted to get out of the program. Yes, they are also very highly regarded nationally, but honestly, that is not what most impressed me. I expected nothing less. What I value most about education at all levels is how willing educators are to invest themselves into the mentoring of their students. The Ph.D. students whom I met and also the professors with whom I spoke showed me in their actions and words that LLED was a department that truly cared about its students and their success.

So, why did I choose UGA? They made me feel at home, cared for and about.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

I love to attend talks by internationally renowned researchers! The talks that have been sponsored have allowed me personally to meet some of the best-known researchers and authors in multicultural education, Spanish linguistics, critical race theory, reading education and language acquisition. I also must admit that I love to visit the Curriculum Materials Library in Aderhold. Ms. Carla Buss is a godsend! She and her team do everything within their power to help us with our research!

When I have free time, I like…

When I am not studying and/or researching, I love to spend time with my family (my son, my spouse and our golden retriever). We love to walk and bike together around campus. UGA has some of the best walking and biking paths that I have ever seen on a campus. In addition, I enjoy tutoring a very special young person at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary. Now that I am in graduate school full time, one of the things that I miss is working with elementary school students. Tutoring has helped to fill that void.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

When I was an undergraduate, I moved to Ecuador in order to study its political system. That was the first time that I had ever left the United States. It was a trip that changed my life and opened my eyes to how others in the world live and view the world. I encourage everyone to live outside of the United States for at least a year. When you are able truly to immerse yourself in another language and culture, you learn about yourself and the world.

My favorite place to study is…

I love to study in my office on the third floor of Aderhold. Our faculty members basically have an open-door policy, they are always willing to talk with us about our projects and to share theirs. In addition, when I need to bounce ideas off someone else, I have access to some of the brightest Ph.D. students anywhere in the world.

My favorite professor is…

Fortunately, I cannot select just one professor. I am blessed to work with and study under several exceptional professors:

Dr. Ruth Harman (TESOL and World Languages) is a model as a brilliant SFL scholar and passionate fighter for educational and social equity for multi-lingual and bi-dialectal speakers.

Dr. Kevin Burke (English Education) stands out as one of the most dynamic critical and practical theorists that I have ever had the privilege to work with.

Dr. Usree Bhattacharya (TESOL and World Languages), a new and powerful addition to LLED; her insight into how language ideologies impact learning has led me to revise some of my thoughts about teaching and learning.

Dr. Donna Alvermann (Literacies and Children’s Literature), one of the best literacy and digital researchers in the nation; her willingness to share her expertise has added to my understand of the teaching of literacy.

Dr. Linda Harklau (TESOL and World Languages), a thoughtful and caring TESOL professor who taught me how to take advantage of UGA’s incredible research databases; she took the time to show me how to mine for quality information.

Dr. Peter Smagorinsky (English Education), a personable and nationally renowned Vygotsky scholar. Even before I joined the LLED family, he willingly shared his insight and research into socio-cultural theory and particularly Vygotsky’s defectology.

LLED has some of the most talented and personable professors in the world!

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

I would love to spend the afternoon with Gloria Ladson-Billing, Lisa Delpit and M.A.K. Halliday. I would love to have all three of them in conversation about how to advocate and achieve educational equity for all.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… remake the world so that everyone would receive what they need to be truly happy and productive. This would be a world rooted in equity, one in which MLK’s dream could be accomplished; a world in which everyone will not be judged or have resources allocated based on the “color of their skin [or socio-economic status], but by the content of their character.”

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… open a series of K-16 schools and communities worldwide that would be dedicated to the education of foster children and others who have been marginalized. I would love to create communities that are dedicated to accepting and nourishing people, no matter where they come from, their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, linguistic background, sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

I am passionate about not only identifying inequities in education, but also helping those impacted to acquire the tools they need to rectify those inequities. All of my research and studies are directed toward helping to disrupt hegemonic power structures that produce inequities.

After graduation, I plan to…

Once I have my Ph.D., I would like to become a university professor who works with linguistically and culturally minoritized students and those who wish to teach them. I don’t believe that I need to give minoritized students a voice. They already have one. What I would like to do is help them to obtain a platform that they can use to have their voices heard. In addition to becoming a professor, I would like to open a community center that serves linguistically and culturally minoritized students and their families.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

The experience that I will always remember is attending my first American Association of Applied Linguistics conference with my UGA family. At AAAL, Dr. Harman introduced me to some of the top SFL researchers and professors in the world. They treated me as an equal! I believe this happened because Dr. Harman always treats me as a valued member of her research team and family.