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updated February 28, 2009


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Fall 2008 - Spring 2009

Spring 2009

New Degree Candidate - Spring '09

Nancy Wanjiku Gachigo

I was born and bred in the suburbs of Nairobi City in Kenya. During my Primary and Secondary School years I never imagined that someday I would become a teacher I thought my career would go towards the hospitality industry.  When I Wanjiku Gachigojoined University I ended up taking courses in Education and that changed my career to becoming a teacher.

After completing my undergraduate studies I worked with an NGO which works with marginalized communities in Arid and Semi-arid regions in Kenya. We carried out evaluations on the host organization’s programmes in the regions where it operates. It was during this time that I realized the part that culture plays in relation to distribution of resources on gender basis, education being inclusive.

I later moved to South Sudan where I worked as a teacher in a Girls Secondary School. This would be my first hands-on experience on International Education. I realized culture and policies have a lot to do with the gender disparities in relation to the distribution of resources, Education being Key. The solution to these problems linked to culture can only be solved using a cultural perspective.

In CIE I hope to gain an understanding on how by studying the same cultures we can get solutions to the problems culture creates with respect to offering equal opportunities for all despite their gender differences. I also hope to learn more about other cultures in relation to Education from the diverse CIE community.[2-09]

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Fall 2008

New Students Join CIE

In September, CIE welcomed eight new students from Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Japan and the U.S. They bring a wide diversity of experience as educators who have worked in Afghanistan, The Gambia, South Sudan, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Niger, Mali, Tunisia, and Senegal as well as in their home countries. There are two Master's candidates and six Doctoral candidates. Their experience brings fresh perspectives to add to the diverse community already at CIE.

Left to Right: Gopal Midha, Alicia Fitzpatrick, Satomi Kamei,
Nina Papadopoulos, Karla Sarr, Mohammad Vahidi
Not Shown: Sarah Kahando, Rebecca Paulson

Gopal Midha

I was born in New Delhi, India in a middle class family. My parents stretched themselves to provide me the best schooling that they could afford and these initial grounding years helped me get to the right  college and then later do my MBAGopal Midha.

The MBA opened doors to the corporate world. I worked in Banking for almost 8 years - working in retail, technology, international banking and even ecommerce. It was around October 2005 that I felt that my banking days were over. I wanted to grow and contribute to other lives in a more positive way. This led to a sabbatical where I explored serious cinema and education as options for a new way of working life. I made a few short films and then began to search for an opportunity to teach. I quit my job and was lucky to find a school that allowed me to teach even though I had no teaching credentials. Going back to school and teaching Maths and English to sixth-graders brought me closer in touch with myself. I began to explore how and why we learn and is there a way that the present education system can be changed drastically to allow each one of us reach our potential. I also worked with Pratham, an Indian NGO,  for a few weeks training teachers.Further, I did a brief study on what the Indian government does to provide education. I am still searching for options that could shake the existing structure and wash away the conventional rote-and-learn methods.

I am fortunate to come to UMass to get a much wider and deeper view of issues linked to education and what has worked and not worked in trying to resolve them. I hope to grow; try out different things, make mistakes and learn. Hopefully, this would help me develop unusual ways of changing the way education happens.

Satomi Kamei

Growing up in Japan, a small and homogeneous country, I have been always curious about the outside world and wanted to learn about different countries, peoples, and their cultures since I was a child. So, as an undergraduate, I majored in English and studied American culture. Acquiring English language skills totally opened up my world! Learning different features and diverse cultures of this country truly fascinated me as well. When I was a junior, however, I developed a strong interest in Southeast Asia. Then, this new geographical attraction expanded to the area of international development soon after. As a Satomi Kameiresult, I enrolled a master’s program in development studies at Ohio University with Southeast Asia being my area concentration. Moreover, I became concerned with environmental issues in developing nations during the course and thus completed a second master’s degree in environmental geography in 1992.

Since then, I have worked in the field of international development in Washington, DC, African countries, and Afghanistan within a framework of Japan’s official development assistance (ODA). I have been mostly engaged in education program implementation and management as well as active dialogue and coordination of development assistance with other development agencies. I have found this profession extremely challenging but equally rewarding. My life has been a continuous learning process even after I left school because of my engagement in the filed. Assigned to new posts, programs, interacting, working with various people with different backgrounds and confronting new challenges, my inquiries and learning have never stopped!

I feel extremely fortunate that I am now at CIE and have the opportunity for further contemplation and learning about international development and education in a new environment. I am finding out every day that the Center is an amazingly diverse and stimulating learning community, and I am truly excited about being a part of it. During my time here, I desire to grow and become a competent and thoughtful practitioner so that I can return to join the efforts to bring about more positive changes wherever desired with the local population on the ground. I very much look forward to carrying out my aspiration here at CIE!

Alicia Fitzpatrick

In 2000, I began my teaching career in The Gambia, West Africa. It was during my time there as a math and science teacher that my educational platform and pedagogical practices started to develop, along with my ardor for teaching. While teaching, I also collaborated with the Alicia FitzpatrickMinistry of Education in Girls’ Education programs and conducted teacher trainings on classroom management.

After my Peace Corps experience, I had the honor to continue my teaching career on the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. Teaching in The Gambia and in Zuni offered a series of unique and common challenges. While teaching in both regions, I witnessed the disconnect between my students’ identities and the educational system; primarily within the context of the national standards. As a teacher in both regions, I felt it was my responsibility to develop curricula that respected and honored the identities of those with whom I worked in order to guide students in a meaningful learning experience. I was able to further explore these ideas and the implications by conducting Participatory Action Research with my Zuni students. The process of this research ultimately led me to CIE!

During my time as a high school science teacher in Zuni, I earned a MAT-Secondary Education from Western New Mexico University and a M.S. in International Community Economic Development as a Peace Corps Fellow at Southern New Hampshire University. The two programs, balanced in theory and methods, started my process of critical reflection on my positionalities and the implications of my practice. I came to CIE to continue this reflective process, to bridge my education and development background, and to join this wonderful community of learners and practitioners while I focus on participatory approaches to youth international development.  

Mohammad Hossain Vahidi

Salam to all! I was born in Baghlan Province, Afghanistan. I studied until grade 4 in Kabul and then after the Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1981, my family took me to Iran.  We lived in Iran as refugees for 25 years where I did my schooling.  At the same time I had to earn money by working hard at different jobs, from teaching English to construction. Mohammad VahidiThis working alongside studying taught me independence and self-reliance, and I appreciated the value of putting effort in doing things to get results. Due to this perseverance and effort I graduated from the university and got my MA in Adult Education.   While working for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2001, my friends and I established a teacher-training center to train teachers for Afghan refugee schools in Tehran.  We believed that a sustainable long-term development could be achieved only through providing quality education for our children.

In 2002, by invitation from the Ministry of Education I went back to Afghanistan to work as the Academic Deputy Director in Teacher Education Department. For 6 years, I was involved in managing the development of policies, plans and projects for teacher education particularly the five-year strategic plan for the Teacher Education Department where I developed a good understanding of the situation and challenges of education in general, and teacher education in particular.

I have been teaching in in-service teacher training in Kabul and also teaching in Kateb Institute for Higher Education (private) and so I have delved into the teaching profession which has helped me even more to understand the ups and downs of education in Afghanistan.

Due to my interest in teaching and learning and systems development on the one hand, and on the other, knowing the role of professional teachers in providing our children with quality education, which in turn helps us achieve the long-term development of Afghanistan, I decided to get deeper insight into education by studying other countries’ experiences in this regard. I have observed the teacher education systems in Japan and India, which has broadened my knowledge of the alternative ways of educating teachers that can be applicable in Afghanistan. 

I found myself here in the U.S. in a different world of teaching and learning.  Learning is an enjoyable, multi-dimensional phenomenon that can happen in the best way by motivating the students and involving them in exploration and experiences.

Nina Papadopoulos

I arrive at CIE via Kampala Uganda where I worked for nearly three years leading an Nina Papadopouloseducation and child labor project. The project focused on children and young people affected by the bitter civil war in the Northern region of the country.  Previously, I worked on girls’ education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before getting into the education sector I worked on gender issues in southern Africa, specifically inheritance rights in Malawi and Zimbabwe. My Masters degree is in International Development from the School for International Service (SIS) at American University in Washington, DC with a concentration in non-formal education and gender.

Two important themes of my work have always been importance of coordination of education actors and their efforts as well as the need to look creatively and critically at how to develop and offer education opportunities to children and young people that are denied access, whether they are girls, heading households, or working to support their families.

After working on capacity building and education initiatives in under-resourced and conflict affected areas for over eight years, it feels like a gift to be at CIE and have the time and space ahead of me to step back, reflect, and analyze more deeply the field of comparative education. I have been very fortunate to have worked with gifted and innovative people and groups throughout my professional career, from who I have learned a great deal. While at CIE, I hope I will be able to organize and make sense of that learning in order to improve my ability to contribute to meaningful social change around education.

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Karla Sarr
My first introduction to international education and development work was as a study abroad student to Dakar, Senegal in 2000.  That experience opened up a path of self-discovery, exploration and constant learning, primarily in West and Central Africa. Throughout these experiences, education and cross-cultural interactions have been obvious and exciting recurring themes.

Upon graduation from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service where I majored in Culture and Politics and obtained a Certificate in African Studies, I joined the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a regional center within the National Defense University. In this capacity, I promoted a sense of community among participants and served as support staff for seminars in Washington, DC and various sites on the African Continent. I was greatly influenced by the
Karla SarrAfrica Center’s ability to open and encourage dialogue among seminar participants who were as diverse as Ministers of Defense and representatives of civil society. My work at the Africa Center showed me the numerous forms that education can take and the breadth of its reach.

It soon became clear that I needed to respond to the urge to join the Peace Corps. I left in June 2003 for Gabon where I worked as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language in local middle schools and high schools. When I left my post in June 2005, I left behind a group of students who not only enjoyed speaking English but who had improved their self-esteem and developed a strong support group among their peers. Subsequently, the group named their English club after me: The Karla G. English Club.  Recent reports show that the club is still alive and well!

In 2006, after a few months of substitute teaching and tutoring in my hometown of Windsor, Connecticut, I returned to Senegal to the NGO, Africa Consultants International/Baobab Center, which was founded by Lillian Baer, a CIE graduate. During my two years as the Study Abroad Coordinator, we received an average of 15-20 programs a year, ranging from faculty led short-term programs to year-long university sponsored programs. Under my leadership, the study abroad program expanded its serving learning focus and multiplied opportunities for Senegalese students to participate in ACI activities, including academic coursework. In addition, my work at the Baobab Center exposed me to numerous projects focused on community health and awareness-raising. After two years, it was clear to me that I needed a more extensive theoretical framework for my work in study abroad and that I might wish to reorient my efforts towards project work. What better place to pursue these objectives than at CIE!

Additionally, being back in Senegal was a sort of homecoming where I reconnected with staff at the Baobab Center, family and friends, including an old friend who liked to wear a Yankees hat. This friend and I were married in August of 2007 in the presence of my family who came to Senegal for the occasion.