Yvette PyeCareer Profile: Yvette Pye

Yvette Pye is a licensed elementary teacher from Chicago turned geography Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota (M.A. 2000). Winner of a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation’s International Program of Peace and Cooperation, Yvette researches urban social geography, youth development, and faith-based community movements. In addition to her coursework, she is an administrative assistant in the Borchert Map Library and a graduate research assistant with the African American Task Force at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. She resides in St. Paul with her husband and two sons.

This profile was published in 2004. Yvette is currently the Core Assistant Professor in the Doctor of Education in Leadership Program at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. 

AAG: What inspired your research in urban social geography?

Yvette: The question I pursued in my master’s thesis grew from curiosity about a groundbreaking revitalization project in the Greater Roseland Community of Chicago that got national publicity. Although Roseland is twelve miles south of Chicago’s Central Business District (CBD) it was cut off from the rest of Chicago’s South Side due to ”block busting,” ”redlining,“ ”white flight,“ and the construction of a major expressway.

AAG: What were some of the problems there?

Yvette: Given Greater Roseland’s proximity to the CBD, in strictly spacial terms it wouldn‘t be considered an inner city area— but it had inner city characteristics including a disadvantaged and segregated minority population, increasing household impoverishment, a 4% residential vacancy rate, and many abandoned residential and commercial properties. The Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, led a major community revitalization and education effort to combat Roseland’s decay. I wanted to understand how this community transformation prioritized local youth development. My questions now lean toward how urban ministries—faith-based organizations—affect academic achievement of youth, particularly youth of color.

AAG: How did you end up in geography?

Yvette: Reflecting on my own life and how I approached those critical self-defining questions of: Who am I? What has been my life’s trajectory and how is it that I was born where I was born, the color I was born? How did the ghetto get its form? How did it come to be—this black belt where I lived, and what forces colluded to create it? I think I wound up in geography because I was asking questions about my region, my community, and myself.

AAG: Does geography bring a unique perspective to research on education?

Yvette: Geographers pay more attention to the connectedness between the individual to community to region to nation to global. We tend to think about how those things are interconnected. One thing my work points out is that the struggles of the marginalized in urban areas are ultimately those of our global society. Put another way, when one suffers we all suffer.

AAG: How does that understanding contribute to education?

Yvette: It is to the advantage of all that youth living in urban areas have the tools and resources needed to develop to their full potential, regardless of race or class. As global citizens it should matter to us what happens in the inner city. Young people there are marginalized on several fronts [including age and race]—for me as a geographer, I see they are also marginalized spatially. Their location in the inner cities brings a whole new set of considerations— barriers even. For us not to pay attention to those areas is a neglect which really does have ramifications globally.

AAG: What does this mean for geography education?

Yvette: We should think about real ways to introduce geographic concepts in elementary schools, rather than lumping them in with social studies, and we should recruit in inner city schools.

AAG: What else can we as AAG members do?

Yvette: Another issue to talk about as a discipline, is what can we do to address the isolation of graduate students of color.

AAG: How do you deal with the isolation?

Yvette: As a member of AAG, I can build professional relationships. And it’s refreshing to know I have a venue to share my research and develop questions—it’s a network. We need to think intentionally about how to encourage diversity in our membership. Starting with networking and support might go a long way towards the persistence of people of color in their [higher education] programs.

AAG: What will you do after you finish your Ph.D.?

Yvette: I hope to be a development research specialist for educational and ministerial institutions, to develop best practices in youth development and share them with educational and faith-based community organizations.

AAG: Do you see yourself as a role model?

Yvette: I hope to be. I really do. I hope that I’m proficient enough in what I do that it can help somebody and inspire somebody to transcend their given geography.

Dr. Patricia Solis, 2004