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Drew Schwartz: Seeking Societal Change Through Empowerment

Drew Schwartz: Seeking Societal Change Through Empowerment

For 2001 UAA Baseball Most Valuable Player Drew Schwartz, Emory University set him on a path of looking for the underlying reasons in any conflict. “Studying philosophy at Emory helped open every single door in my life,” he commented. “I don’t just look at the surface of what people say. Instead, I try to ask — what are they thinking and feeling? Their assumptions, often unquestioned, can either open or close doors in their lives.”

Schwartz, who is currently pursuing his doctorate in educational leadership at University of California-San Diego, has gained valuable experience in conflict resolution through his time in Israel and in Ferguson, Missouri.

Growing up in St. Louis, Schwartz’s family had all attended Washington University. “I wanted the southern version of that,” he said. “I wanted to go to a reputable academic school with a little better weather for baseball.”

It was a time of transition for the Emory baseball program as Mike Twardoski joined the staff as an outfielder’s coach in Schwartz’s sophomore year. “He was fresh out of the Red Sox organization and knew how to build us up and keep the atmosphere light. We were on a friend level, but then he became the head coach the following year.”

“Baseball, Emory, and the UAA was an outlet for me when I had a bad day, whether it was a fight with my girlfriend or a poor grade on a test,” he recalled. “I loved that I could just swing and use all my energy to take out all of my frustration. Talking about it makes me literally want to hit a baseball again right now!”

“He always had the passion,” Twardoski recollected. “Drew didn’t know what he was going to do after college. He didn’t know how to direct that passion other than in education. The one thing about him is that his strong personality and his persistence were always there. I never had a doubt he would be successful in whatever he did.”

He found great success on the diamond. In his sophomore season, Schwartz recorded a .531 on-base percentage and a then school-record 36 walks. In his junior and senior seasons, he stole 28 and 29 bases, respectively. He earned first team All-Association honors as a junior before garnering MVP honors as a senior with an impressive display in the 2001 UAA Baseball Championship. Schwartz batted .588 (10-for-17) with three doubles, eight runs scored, and eight stolen bases. He recorded a .765 slugging percentage and a tournament-best .720 on-base percentage in leading the Eagles to the UAA title.

“I remember early in that tournament, I struck out against one of the top pitchers in the league and when I came back to the dugout, I heard one of the other team's players make a negative comment about Coach T,” he stated. “I looked up to him and that didn't sit well with me. Hearing that comment really pumped me up and I smacked a line drive my next time up. After that, I remember being on the base paths a lot and always getting the green light to steal bases. I was really trying to help the team in every way I could. It was so great to be a part of that team.”

“Drew worked so hard everywhere,” Twardoski recalled. “He was very strong and was a force in the weight room. Outside of baseball and training, we talked a lot his junior and senior seasons about his future. With him, it was never about being a doctor or a lawyer. I kept telling him that with his personality and work ethic, he would be very successful and happy.”

One summer after college, Schwartz spent a summer playing baseball and sightseeing in Israel. It turned out to be a country that would play a critical role in his determining what to do with his life.

He spent several years teaching including two years in Manor, Texas. “I had been substitute teaching and working at a gym when I got an interview for a full-time teaching position,” he remembered. “I went to the interview in a suit and tie with an empty briefcase. It was on Halloween and the people interviewing me were dressed up as the devil, an angel, and Little Bo Peep. I told them, ‘I am having trouble taking you guys seriously.’ They laughed and said they appreciated me being real and authentic.”

He returned to St. Louis and taught for three years in Ferguson. “The students were amazing. It was obvious they were not holding themselves back, but were being held back by the systemic barriers not of their own making,” he remarked. “As much as I loved the students, I had to take a step back if I wanted to help change the system. That’s when I returned to Israel to take a government and conflict resolution program.”

Schwartz earned his master’s degree in the program at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, the first private institution of higher education in Israel, which began in 1994. “I learned a lot and took copious notes,” he said. “One of the courses was called ‘Negotiation with Terrorists’ taught by the head negotiator for Israel. He was a huge, muscular guy with a shaved head and was the real deal. One time he made a minor mistake and I questioned him. ‘Did you mean this instead of that?’ He took one step toward me, pushed me, and said, ‘No, I didn’t mean that. I thought you were stronger than that.’ He was only half-joking. He was teaching about negotiation right there.”

One of Schwartz’s favorite professors was world-renowned scholar Eran Halperin, who studies emotions and emotional barriers to conflict resolution. “He is as down-to-earth as can be, just like Coach T,” Schwartz commented. “He must have thought I was nutty when I walked into his office and told him I needed to do an internship with him. We ended up working together on multiple projects. I learned that it is not just a person’s thoughts that underlie what we see on the surface, but by understanding emotions, we can see the derivation of why people act the way they act. We can only map out the causes for some of society's ails. We can begin to craft the blueprint for solutions.”

“Drew was obviously much more mature than most other students in his class, and had this very unique ability to integrate deep theoretical knowledge in psychology with high moral values and great motivation to actually use his knowledge and abilities in order to address highly important real world questions,” Halperin remarked. “I wish I could keep him here in Israel as a PhD student!”

He returned to St. Louis after earning his master’s degree, this time teaching schools how to be positive and proactive around behavior, building a positive climate and culture. In the summer of 2014, Schwartz returned to Israel for a classmate’s wedding. “We were standing on top of the Ritz Carlton right outside Tel Aviv with champagne glasses in our hands,” he recollected. “We looked up and saw a rocket that seemed to be coming right at us. It was such a juxtaposition between the joy of the wedding and the possibility that we may die! For the next couple of weeks, we stayed in bomb shelters.”

From Israel, he visited Africa for the first time as another friend of his from the IDC program had moved there. “Some flights out were canceled, but mine wasn’t so I got to leave Israel and try to make sense of the chaotic mess I had just seen. I had never experienced that when I was actually living in Israel,” he said.

South Africa was another powerful experience for Schwartz. “I got emotional when I got to Robben Island and saw Nelson Mandela’s jail cell,” he remarked. “I was transfixed on the window he looked out of for so many years. I was fixated on that window, my own experiences, and the grit and determination he personified in staying positive.”

Two weeks later, his return to Ferguson from South Africa proved to be even more dramatic. “I get back to Ferguson and Michael Brown is tragically killed. Ferguson is where I taught. I was wondering what was going on in the world,” he stated. “In the span of one month, I'd seen a triange of destruction and possibility. First, Israel and the bomb shelter. Then seeing Mandela’s jail cell in South Africa, and now the shooting in the city in which I taught. I wondered, ‘What is the meaning of all this?’”

At that point, Schwartz believed he knew his calling. “I knew it was important to look below the surface of events and to incorporate cognitive and emotional dimensions in solutions. Not too many people had the tools I learned in Israel,” he commented. “I knew I had to do something. I had an idea, using the resources I had, to help others talk about and process what was going on.”

He founded a program called Gateway2Change to help offer positive outlets to heal a broken community with the help of area student and educational leaders. The goal was to allow students to have a space to tackle issues like race in a positive and forward thinking manner. “We led schools through things that I had been taught in Israel,” he remarked. “The students thrived talking about, and taking, positive actions in the community. People's hearts are in the right place and they need constructive outlets. These 14-to-18-year old leaders can infuse their enthusiasm and energy into a vision and buld the 'impossible.'" 

While many educators and programs focus on the negative aspects of society, Schwartz believes in the complete opposite approach which he calls strengths and purpose based solutions. “Instead of focusing exclusively on deficits, it can illuminate new possibilities when we get real clear about the strengths and visions of different people, schools, or businesses,” he said. “We use that as a springboard and build on those strengths to think aspirationally about what they want to accomplish. We can all learn this and apply it to different contexts- schools, businesses, interpersonal relationships. More often than not, dissention in the world, on any level, is a symptom of someone’s underlying needs not being met. We can bring people together and make connections to learn about those needs, such as the need to be heard, validated, feel connected, experience trust and the like. Strategies that work in once place or country can work in another. Similarly, strategies from one discipline, like psychology, can work in other disciplines like education or business.”

Late in 2016, Schwartz moved to San Diego to pursue his doctorate in educational leadership at University of California-San Diego. “One of my goals is to shift the paradigm in education to one that is more focused on empowering people’s strengths, purpose, and mindset as a driving force to solve society’s problems,” he stated.

“I cannot say enough about Drew,” Twardowski concluded. “He is a superstar and always does what right.”

For more information on Drew Schwartz and his work, view his web site

Click on Drew's photo below to hear his story: