Category Archives: Reflections

Andrea Welsh’s Experience as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow

Andrea Welsh, SFS ’17, holds a Master’s of Global Human Development. 

The Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship was launched in 2012 under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in order to support the development of foreign government ministries and institutions with the day-to-day support of a special assistant. The program places Fellows in a variety of public policy areas including economic development, education, environment, gender equality, justice, and public health. Today, there are currently Fellows serving in Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Samoa, Cote D’Ivoire, Ukraine, Guatemala, Peru, Malawi, and Chile.

As a graduate of Georgetown’s Master of Global Human Development program, I was excited to apply my international development and public policy experience to work in a foreign government. My goal was to identify an opportunity that offered direct experience with the process to develop and create public policy at the country-level and in order to learn how the international community can provide more effective support during this process.

In September 2017, I was fortunate to be selected as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow with the assignment to serve in Myanmar’s Ministry of Education in the Department of Technical and Vocational Education and Training. In my role as a Fellow, I directly advise the senior leadership of the Department on policy reform, build project management capacity of civil service staff, establish and maintain effective working relationships with international development partners, and implement gender-focused mainstreaming and integration initiatives. This work aims to support the Department’s goal of improving the national education system in order to provide future generations of students with improved economic and career opportunities.

As part of my Fellowship, I am also engaged in a research project which focuses on the experience of our female students and teachers by examining the types of technical education they pursue, cultural and/or social barriers that arise while developing a technical skill, and employment opportunities upon graduation.

I live in Nay Pyi Taw which has served as the country’s administrative capital since 2005. Due to the importance of engaging students and teachers in effective policy reform, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the country visiting our schools. These visits have provided invaluable insights and unique perspectives which have guided our reform efforts to diversify course offerings, reform existing curriculum and create new curriculum, and expand linkages with private sector actors to open professional opportunities for our students.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have applied my education from the School of Foreign Service to serve as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow. It has further reinforced my belief in the critical need to build and maintain strong government institutions. As I prepare for my placement to conclude in the coming months, I am confident that the experiences and lessons I have learned as a Fellow will guide my work in public service.


Andrea Welsh (SFS GHD 2017) currently serves as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow in Myanmar’s Ministry of Education. For more information regarding the Fulbright Public Policy Fellow, please visit

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections

Neil Noronha’s Experience as a Luce Scholar

You know you have lived in New Delhi for a year when you are accustomed to Delhi Belly and all of its gastronomical unpleasantries. For me, the last bout of it occurred when, out of dire thirst from walking around in the scorching heat, I decided to drink “pineapple” juice from a local “raswala” (juice man). The color of the drink, which I had seen him make, was red, not yellow as is typical of pineapple juice. But, I did not care; I needed something refreshing. After drinking half the cup, I realized right then that I would pay for that decision. Luckily, however, I had gotten Delhi Belly before, so I was well prepared to handle it. Ultimately, this experience typifies a LUCE year, one in which the scholars learn how to adapt to and immerse themselves into a new cultural environment.

I applied to the Henry Luce Scholars Program as a post-Obama Administration job.  As a political appointee, you always realize that your time in the U.S. government has an end date. For each presidential administration when your party is in power, you usually serve maximum anywhere between 4 and 8 years. Even if Secretary Clinton had won the 2016 Presidential Election, there was no guarantee that I would be asked to stay. I needed a backup plan.

This fellowship appealed to me because I saw it as an unconventional job that allowed me to break out of the D.C. bubble. Throughout college and the first two and half years of my career, I had only known one thing: public service in the U.S. government. Adding the fact that I had grown up in the D.C. area, having gone to Gonzaga College High School and Georgetown University, a temporary separation from my relationship with the Nation’s Capital seemed appropriate. And, with a fellowship whose criteria for eligibility includes having limited or no prior familiarity with Asia, the Henry Luce Scholars Program was perfect for me.

The yearlong Henry Luce Scholars Program is unique within the fellowship world. I see it as a combination of the Fulbright Scholarship and the Princeton in Asia (PIA) Fellowship. On the one hand, its scholars are afforded exciting professional opportunities in the Asia as they are matched with organizations directly tied to their academic field of interest. On the other hand, the Asia Foundation, the in-country support to the Henry Luce Foundation for this program, offers language stipends to ensure scholars are best positioned to fully assimilate into the culture of their placement country. Similar to those of both the Fulbright and PIA, the LUCE cohort comprises of a diverse group of individuals, whose ages ranged from 21 to 29, whose colleges included Emory and Rice as well as Yale, and whose interests varied from environmental science to journalism.

Neil in kurta, celebrating Diwali at a friend’s place.

As I reflect back on my time in New Delhi, I relish how much I grew over the year. Academically, I can now speak intelligibly about Indian domestic politics and foreign policy agenda. When I arrived in the country 14 months ago, I knew nothing about the country from those perspectives. Professionally, I learned how to operate within the think tank space and released three publications, one of which later culminated into a roundtable discussion. Personally, I became resilient, developing the ability to weather challenges that come from living abroad, such as not being able to celebrate Thanksgiving or other momentous occasions with your family and friends back in the U.S.

Most importantly, I connected with my ethnic heritage, developing stronger cultural and linguistic ties with Indian society. Before my LUCE year, I knew only one Bollywood film, the importance of only two actors, and two phrases in Hindi (tum pagal ho and tum bakari ho; “you are mad” and “you are a goat”). Over the course of the year, I watched roughly 6-10 Hindi films, learned about more Bollywood stars, including an actress with whose husband I played basketball consistently, and talked to my parents intermittently in Hindi. While I don’t think this fellowship has lit a fire in my heart to become a South Asian regional expert, it has made gain a greater appreciation for the country from which my parents emigrated in the 1980s.

I really wished that more students at Georgetown University knew about the Henry Luce Scholars Program. It is not just for the SFSers like myself. All majors and professional interests are welcomed. In fact, this year’s LUCE cohort includes a metalsmith. At the same time, I realize that now as an alumnus, I have an obligation to be like a televangelist and convince other students and alumni to apply for this opportunity. The Henry Luce Scholars Program changed my life and I am sure it will do the same from you (See I could be the next Joel Osteen). You certainly won’t regret it—even if your stomach does!

Neil Noronha graduated from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service both with his BSFS in International Economics (’14) and his MA in Security Studies (’16). At Georgetown, he was a member of the Georgetown University Student Association and Carroll Fellows Initiative. He also participated in numerous internships, to include working at the FBI, U.S. Embassy in Panama for the Department of State, Treasury Department, White House, and Goldman Sachs.  Neil spent two and half years in the Obama Administration, both at the Department of Defense and on the National Security Council Staff before spending the 2017-18 academic year in New Delhi, India, working for Carnegie India and studying Hindi as part of the Henry Luce Scholars Program. Currently, he serves as a congressional fellow with the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, covering foreign policy and defense issues in the role of a legislative assistant for Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections

Alex Villec’s Fulbright ETA Experience

Already abroad in Rwanda at the time of application [for a Princeton in Africa Fellowship], I was drawn to better understand the social and political climate from a different region of the world and to immerse myself in the mechanics of language acquisition, teaching English on one side and learning Chinese on the other.

Over a year in Kenya and two in Rwanda, I had nurtured a growing interest in China’s role on the African continent. From Nairobi’s side-streets and Kigali’s casino to large-scale infrastructure projects anywhere from Burundi to Botswana, I could observe firsthand how China continues to shape Africa’s future through investment, economic development, and more recently through political and military influence as well. As I stepped back, I began to see Africa as a massive region where the overlap and divergence of American and Chinese interests can be uniquely understood. Zooming in, I imagined the school as an institution offering glimpses into how stories are told, how important social questions are understood, and how values are communicated. Against the backdrop of an affinity for language, this is why I applied to be an ETA. As for location, Taiwan was well-suited to my interests: one hundred miles from Mainland China and with its international legitimacy in legal limbo, Taiwan represents one unique vantage point from which to understand Beijing’s growing influence both regionally and beyond.

The Fulbright experience has been meaningful on multiple levels. First, it has provided an opportunity to directly appreciate my privilege as a native English-speaker; it is a privilege to occupy this position in large part by virtue of the circumstances in which I was raised. I am not a professional teacher, and while I may have grown in this area over the last year, I am consistently humbled by the chance first and foremost to share my cultural background in my native language in the classroom each day.

Second, this year has enabled me to grow personally in realms trained by the classroom environment in particular. Every day we have the opportunity – and just as often, the need – to hone qualities like patience, compassion, empathy, creativity, spontaneity, composure, and positivity across boundaries of age, culture, and ability. This year has also brought greater attention to the subtle art of cross-cultural communication. The relationship between Fulbright ETAs and our local co-teaching partners is professional in nature, and yet develops in a environment not accompanied by some of the normal fixtures of an office environment such as performance reviews and clearly defined management structures. As a result, the onus falls on ETAs and our co-teachers to establish norms of communication and effective collaboration. In this vein, creating systems in the midst of significant autonomy has been a valuable professional growth opportunity.

Come July, I will leave Taiwan even more committed to understanding how divergent interests, opinions, and visions for the future can be reconciled in ways that make the world a safer, more open-minded, and more prosperous place. Informed by countless interactions at the personal level as a Fulbright ETA, this year has in turn reaffirmed my drive to explore these differences at the policy level, and to this end, I will be pursuing graduate studies in international affairs upon my return.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections, Uncategorized

Yasmin Faruki’s Boren Experience

People tend to say that college is the “best time of your life,” but I would have to disagree. When I stopped to reflect and write about my experience in Amman, Jordan, as a Boren Fellow, I realize that I am actually living my best life. I have never been placed in an environment where I am constantly stimulated. Everyday I find myself challenged, curious, and conscientious of my surroundings in ways I never could as a resident of DC.

I applied for the Boren Fellowship with two goals in mind: improve my Arabic language skills to a level of professional proficiency and gain hands-on experience working in the development field. In the first half of my fellowship, I interned with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on a project focused on improving social cohesion between Syrian refugees and Jordanians in host refugee communities. Of the approximate 640,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan, over 80% of the population resides outside of camps. As a graduate student focused on national security policy in the Middle East, I felt it was important for me to gain exposure to the development field and population displacement in particular, as these issues are closely tied to national security. Interning with the office was not only a great opportunity to gain expertise on a topic at the nexus of national security and development, but also test my Arabic skills in a professional context and learn the day-to-day dynamics of a large international bureaucracy. After seven months serving with the organization, here are my key takeaways:

●      The UN faces the same problems as any other large bureaucracy.

●      You need people on the ground in order to inform policy.

●      International staff and national staff do not always get along.

●      Private sector organizations have much more influence on the public sector than before.

●      The development field can be disheartening, but the work ultimately matters.

In addition to my internship with UNDP, I study Arabic at the Sijaal Institute, a language and cultural center housed in Jabal Amman, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. I enjoy the method of instruction at Sijaal because it combines formal Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) with the Jordanian dialect, or ammiya. Unlike at Georgetown, where I was learning how to debate BBC’s headlines from the comfort of a classroom, my greatest language gains here have been made outside the classroom: watching Jordanian comedy shows, haggling for groceries in the souks downtown, and learning the best comebacks in Jordanian street slang. I have gained a new appreciation for studying dialects because it enables you to build closer relationships with people and integrate into communities outside the typical expat bubble. Still, after three years of intensive Arabic study and almost a year living abroad in Jordan, I admit that studying the Arabic language is as rewarding as it is mentally numbing and frustrating at times.

Outside of my program, I have found that one of the biggest challenges in living abroad has been confronting my own identity. As a brown-skinned, female daughter of a Bangladeshi immigrant, with an Arabic name, I am constantly thinking about what it means to be part of a community and have a sense of belonging. In both Amman and DC, I am constantly asked, “Where are you really from?” In the US, my fellow Americans tell me that I look “exotic” or have a strange name and must have origins outside the country. In Jordan, people assume that I am Arab due to my appearance, Arabic name, passable Arabic accent, or some combination thereof. When I tell Jordanians that I was born and raised in America, people say, “But your name is Arabic. Your face is not American. Where are your mother and father from?” In the perspective of my Jordanian friends, maybe I would appear more American if I had a lighter complexion or Anglo-Saxon name who talked about American football and loved hot dogs. I am often assured that I am not the “stereotypical” American expat, as though that should be some sort of compliment. Why shouldn’t I represent the stereotypical American? As a US citizen, I feel just as “American” as any other American, but I recognize that my country does not always live up its reputation as a proud nation of immigrants. At the same time, I am learning not to presume that all Jordanians are religious or socially conservative, as often portrayed in the media. Overall, living abroad has reinforced the importance of thinking about how the aspects of our identity that we cannot control — heritage, ethnicity, race — shape perceptions of belonging and nationality in a given community.

I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to live abroad in Amman, Jordan, as a Boren Fellow. I know I will look back on this time as one of the most formative in my life, both personally and professionally.

Yasmin’s personal blog about her experience in Jordan can be found here:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections, Uncategorized

Madison Fisher’s Fulbright Experience in Amman, Jordan

“So why are you here?” It’s a question I get all the time living in Amman and I can recognize why. I run around the city with a mess of blond curly hair, a cross around my neck, and functional but far from fluent Arabic. Understandably, people get curious. I am grateful that Fulbright placed me at my school, the Islamic Educational College for Girls in Jabal Amman, one of the oldest and most well-respected secondary schools in Jordan. Several members of the Jordanian royal family even studied there at one time or another. The school had their first Fulbrighter the previous year, an Iraqi-Muslim-American woman, who they adored. I was a little nervous to come to my school as the only Westerner and non-Muslim faculty member; would they accept me? Fortunately, the community welcomed me with open arms as a part of the family before they got to know me, but eventually my curious colleagues also asked, “Maddie, why are you here?” While my reasons for applying for Fulbright in Jordan are not immediately obvious, to me it makes perfect sense. I am interested in interfaith studies, particularly Christian-Muslim relations, and my school is a great opportunity for me to engage in informal interfaith dialogue and learn more about Islam in a non-academic setting. I am proud to wear a replica of the cross of my church in Maryland, where the church community sponsors a Syrian refugee family to live on church property. It reminds me that my faith calls on me to love everyone, always, with no agenda or exception. I appreciate when people ask me why I chose Jordan because it gives me an opportunity to explain that I happen to share a lot of the same values that are prevalent in Jordan’s Muslim-majority culture and that studying Islam and my conversations with Muslim friends help me to grow in my faith as a Christian.

I love living this life where my existence confuses people. I’ve learned cultural exchange takes many forms. I once played tug-of-war twice in one week as a twenty-two year old (at my Arabic institute and at a charity bazaar at my school). At the end of lessons, where I volunteer-teach refugee girls, I reward good behavior by teaching  them dances I learned doing Rangila at Georgetown. In turn, they teach me debkeh dance steps, which I later practice as I dance around the teacher’s room at my school. Sometimes my best Arabic lessons happen when I throw on a fluorescent yellow construction vest to join hundreds of people, mostly Jordanians, to speed walk around Amman with friends.

Being a Fulbright ETA is wonderful because my teaching responsibilities are part-time,  enabling me to engage with other activities outside of my formal assignment. I also intern at Jordan’s Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, helping research and write reports on different religious groups in Jordan as well as assisting with events the institute hosts. Participating in social justice and interfaith programs at Georgetown was something I loved and now I get to continue to utilize my dialogue skills through both my work at my school and my internship. It has been a great experience to do research with the goal of disseminating a crucial truth about religion: there is no single story of how people living in Jordan worship. This is so important to me because the goal of Fulbright is to increase mutual understanding between the people of United States and people from other countries through international exchange. Often, my least favorite question to answer is where I am from because, even though I am grateful for my country, I frequently do not agree with the government. With many historical and recent US policy decisions that cause hurt and displacement in the Middle East, I can mourn with my friends in Jordan as we cry out for justice and peace. When there are hateful campaigns in the West like “Punish a Muslim Day,” I denounce these events and promise to share my experience in Jordan back home to aid in the  fight to end Islamophobia. Being a Fulbrighter in a region where US policies are often unpopular, I have the opportunity to be an unofficial representative of the US government and show that there is also no single story of what it means to be an American–the American people are not our administration nor its policies.

I first heard about the Fulbright Program the fall of my first year at Georgetown when Jordan Denari-Duffner, who I look up to for her work at the Bridge Initiative and the Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding, walked into my Arabic class to say hello to my professor after returning from her tenure as a Fulbrighter to Jordan. I scribbled into my Arabic notebook, “Figure out what Fulbright is and then apply for it after graduation.” Five years later I am still studying Arabic while in Amman, thanks to having the Critical Language Enhancement Award. This part of my grant allows me to take Arabic classes and receive tutoring in order to strengthen my colloquial, spoken Arabic. I would highly encourage anyone who is passionate about education or researching in a specific country to apply for Fulbright. While my experience with Fulbright has been pretty ideal, it is also important to note that this is due to a lot of things that are out of my control. There are so many more challenges that my friends face because they are people of color, are at schools where they have to fight to be respected and given meaningful work, identify as queer, practice a religion that is not officially recognized, or live in an area with less Fulbrighters in close proximity. I have learned so much throughout my time in Jordan and it is an honor to be a part of a network of American Fulbrighters in the MENA region and MENA region Fulbrighters in the US.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections

Matthew Hinson’s Rangel Fellowship Experience

Matt Hinson is a member of the SFS Class of 2017 and a 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow. As an International History major at Georgetown, Matt also worked at the Library of Congress, the Clinton Foundation, and served as an editorial fellow with the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. As a Rangel Fellow, Matthew worked in the office of Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge on foreign affairs issues before beginning his graduate studies at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Matt is currently a first year MPA candidate concentrating in International Security Policy and European Studies and will be working at the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) section at the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, Austria, this summer. Here are Matt’s reflections as Rangel Fellow so far:

As one of the few fellowships that offers employment in the federal government after completing graduate school, the Rangel Fellowship differs from other programs in that it is difficult to separate from politics. Reflecting on my first year in the program, most of my thoughts surround what the Foreign Service will look like when I join in two years.

These reflections are not based on disdain for the President or my political party affiliation but rather about the fact that I’m now forced to watch policy changes because they could affect my career trajectory, which becomes increasingly precarious every day.

Every week or so, one can open the New York Times, Washington Post, or Foreign Policy (the SFS student’s favorite trio of news publications) to find an article lamenting the new administration’s radical changes to the Department of State. These stories detail the exodus of career ambassadors, the reorganization of the Department’s bureaus and offices, and downsizing of the Foreign Service, and the reduced role of the United States in multilateral agreements. As someone planning to join the State Department in less than two years, I find these stories alarming.

News about the Foreign Service’s culling does not trouble me because I’m worried I’ll be out of a job. The decisions are disturbing because they seem to contradict every piece of conventional wisdom regarding American foreign policy that I studied at Georgetown (and now at Columbia). 9 million American citizens live in foreign countries—not counting those who reside in the United States but are currently traveling abroad—all of whom require consular assistance. On top of that, the demand for visas to the U.S. increases every year. Factoring in diplomats who work to manage international crises and strengthen bilateral relations, the numbers would suggest that a bigger Foreign Service is necessary to manage the workload, not a shrunken one.

I don’t expect to personally have a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy. As entry-level officers, my colleagues and I in the Rangel & Pickering programs will start out as lowly bureaucrats posted in remote locations. But one doesn’t have to be an ambassador to care about the changes being made to the State Department. Before graduating Georgetown, I wrote an article in The Hoya about why philosophy is important for foreign policy. The goal of the article was to demonstrate how multidimensional global issues can be, a view I’m not sure the administration grasps.

Just as it was interesting to be a member of the Class of 2017 – the first class to enter Georgetown in Obama’s America and exit into Trump’s America, entering the Foreign Service in this particular era will be interesting too.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections, Uncategorized

You’re off the Treadmill: A Reflection by Mathew Quallen SFS’16

Matthew Quallen is a 2016 graduate of the School of Foreign Service, where he majored in International History, and currently the holder of a two-year Marshall Scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom.  During his time at Georgetown, Matthew worked at the Supreme Court, the Brookings Institution, and served as a member of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation.  In Britain, Matthew has just completed an MA in History at the University of Manchester, with a concentration in the Lancashire Cotton Famine — an economic crisis in Britain resulting from the American Civil War.  This year, Matthew will study for an MSc. in Law, Anthropology and Society at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Here are Mathew’s reflections on his time as a Marshall Scholar thus far:

Almost every organizational orientation involves a stock phrase—a set of words repeated reluctantly but reliably, like a cliché. At orientations for new Marshall Scholars, that slogan is “you’re off the treadmill”.

“You’re off the treadmill”—it has the sort of clarity that comes from being evocative but vague, like saying the rat race is over. Off the treadmill, fine. But still running? What does it mean to have been running without moving? And what constituted the treadmill in the first place?

Without dwelling too deeply on a metaphor, I want to think about what it says about a fellowship. Because the concept of being off the treadmill suggests a rupture of some kind: that there is something different about being on the treadmill and being off of it, and that being on a fellowship reflects this difference.

The most significant difference suggested by the metaphor, and the most relatable across postgraduate life general, is a change of direction. Treadmills tell us where to run—forward (but ultimately, without advancing). By contrast, the runner in the world has to decide where to go. In the context of the Marshall, I’ve found this to reflect a lack of close management and the disappearance of many signposts for success. One may study at any university they choose. As long as one completes their proposed course of study, they are welcome—within reason—to do what they please. Especially living abroad, there are fewer structures to guide one’s choices. It is up to the recipient to decide whether they would rather study, vacation, learn a new skill, try a new sport, learn a language, or whittle away months at a gym.

To a limited degree, freedom is natural on a fellowship. For many fellowship recipients, the year, two years, or even three spent abroad is a hiatus, a waystation—remove the fellowship and you might simply leapfrog to the next step. A sense of freedom can be one of the most rewarding parts of a fellowship—if leveraged. I chose to spend several months studying the medieval history of the book. I will likely publish in the field. But medieval history is not and will never be my profession.

Despite the advertisement, this apparent directionlessness is available to undergraduates as well. And students in high school for that matter. What it really represents is an increasingly variable blueprint for success—getting good marks in a good program is wonderful, but it is not revered as success. Grades will come less often and mean less. Nobody will tell you what to do. There is no treadmill on offer, and being off the treadmill requires not only selecting, but often designing one’s own destination.

In truth, I am skeptical of the idea that fellowships take people off the treadmill. I think they largely aim to select those who have made the decision, at least at some point, to forgo the treadmill—in other words, to eschew a typical path to success (say, consulting at Georgetown) and do something different. Something, usually, they designed themselves—be it a role as an advocate, a topic of research, or an organization built from the ground up. At Georgetown, we should aim to be off the treadmill already.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections

A Deep Reverence for Truth – A Reflection by Michael Meaney

Below is a reflection by Michael Meaney, who is currently studying at The University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Here, Michael shares a few of his thoughts on conducting research and searching for truth during his time at Cambridge.

Academic research is fundamentally about the pursuit of truth. And though it may silly or obvious to affirm this, the truth matters. In an age of fake news, scientific illiteracy, and our self-designed reality cocoons of social media, a firm commitment to the truth and the process by which to discover is of the utmost importance.

It was my time as a John Carroll Fellow at Georgetown University that planted the seeds of my own commitment to pursuing the truth. Participating in undergraduate research with Fr. Matt Carnes and as a Raines Fellow exposed me to the contested nature of truth in academic disciplines. “Established truth,” at least in the social sciences, is never really established. Assumptions,
access to data, and methods design are the essential components of deriving conclusions. These components change over time and are inherently political, meaning we need to interrogate and probe any truth dujour.

The extraordinary opportunity to pursue research at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar has brought the contingency of truth into sharper relief. In my own field of education, where the paradigm wars still rage, the seeming incompatibility of quantitative and qualitative methods belies a more problematic reality: what “works” on average for the group may not be sufficient for an individual, or perhaps many individual students. Educators are thus faced with a choice: should I focus my concerns on accomplishing the greatest amount of good for the average student? Or, should I concern myself with exploring with great care and detail the individual experience of a single learner, who, in and of themselves – because each student’s life is equally worthy and valuable – deserves tremendous attention and focus on their needs?

Educators concerned with what works on average might focus on the total achievement increase for a certain class observed after a certain pedagogical intervention; for example, a science experiment where students are assigned to work in groups. If the post-intervention class assessment score increased, on average, by ten percent, an educator might conclude that the intervention was successful. This kind of analysis might neglect, however, the minimal improvement demonstrated by a single student, whom we’ll call Jenny. Jenny might have increased her score by only one percent, or perhaps not at all.

The intervention for her was not successful. Group work typically requires some degree of extroversion. Jenny, a bit shy, might have found the activity anxiety-inducing and distracting, and was thus unable to gain much from the exercise. If the ten percent improvement research results were published, schools across a particular country might be inclined to try this new intervention that “works,” while at the same time, students like Jenny across that country would be disadvantaged because of it.

On the other hand, educators concerned with the individual student experience might focus on Jenny at the expense of the average student, for whom the intervention was successful. With a more critical perspective, an educator might assess the intervention as being biased toward extroverts, a character trait suited to those fluent in a culture’s native language and who identify with a racially dominant group. In this light, the intervention, rather than marking an improvement in overall pedagogy for students, might instead represent a tool for social and cultural reproduction of privilege, at the expense of Jenny and other students.

What is perhaps most difficult about this thought experiment is that both circumstances could accurately reflect reality: a singular, empirically valid reality that holds within it contradictory and incompatible truths, reflective of differing individual experiences. The choice of whose experiences to focus on is central to my own research. I am interested in Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, and their implications for educational equity. When MOOCs began making international headlines in 2012, the group intended to benefit the most were traditionally underrepresented learners on university campuses, in the United States and around the world. I seek determine whether and how MOOCs have achieved their stated goal of “democratizing” higher education for traditionally underrepresented learners. Where my research departs from existing literature is that the population of learners I am interested in are those specifically not well-represented in existing research.

To date, learning analytics of massive data sets from MOOCs have focused on behavior patterns of average MOOC users and/or completers. The group is composed disproportionately of white, well-educated, employed men. I am interested in applying learning analytics to massive data sets of user behavior for traditionally underrepresented learners. While these datasets will not be as large as those used in studies that focus on broader segments of MOOC users, the sample sizes and data will be large enough to draw meaningful and significant conclusions. As I delve into these complicated matters, I know I am not alone. My colleagues in the education faculty similarly grapple with near-impossible to solve questions. My fellow Gates Cambridge peers do the same across fields ranging from political theory in film to infectious disease modeling to particle physics. Some fields are more exact than others, but all are contested, unsettled, and evolving.

There are no absolutely right answers, just difficult dimensions and terrain to navigate. It is both maddening and humbling. Each hard-earned citation is a literal footnote, a mere fragment of insight toward some far-off conclusion. But this also underscores the beautiful realization of one’s own limited impact as an individual; that we are part of a larger story of people working to do good in the world, seekers of truth spanning back generations, trying to make incremental progress. As individuals, we are only capable of so much, but as community we can – and must – make meaningful progress toward the further uncovering truth.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections

A Reflection on the Mitchell Scholarship

From Peter Prindiville (SFS ’14) who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Ireland on a George Mitchell Scholarship:

I graduated from the School of Foreign Service in 2014. After teaching high school for two years and earning a master’s degree from Notre Dame, I moved to Ireland to pursue further graduate studies on a George Mitchell Scholarship.

I am working on an MA in history at University College Cork, one of the constituent campuses of the National University of Ireland. The fellowship, as well as graduate education in Ireland, provides a considerable degree of flexibility and freedom. Simply put, I’ve been able to make the year what I wanted it to be. This freedom has made my time in Ireland quite fulfilling and formative, both professionally and personally, and is a hallmark of the Mitchell. The fellowship is intended to create an environment in which the recipients can grow personally while also making connections with and developing a love for the island of Ireland.
This broad mission and the myriad ways it is interpreted and lived out by different Mitchells allows for an experience somewhat unique among fellowships on the isles. Some of my fellow Mitchells have spent their time writing plays, working on business plans, or making doctoral applications. I’ve spent most of my time reading, writing, and travelling. Despite our different paths, we’ve each developed close, personal bonds to the island that will endure long after we leave.
Engaging this place on such an intimate level has been another gift of the year. The island is a beautiful and complex place. Living amidst the Irish milieu has encouraged me to confront challenging issues inherent to the Irish context—mores of belonging and community in a rapidly changing society, efforts to work for justice and equality informed by a national history replete with systemic oppression, and the duties a state has to its young people—that have helped me reflect critically on my own beliefs as an American.
The last thought I’ll leave with you can be summed in a simple Irish phrase: craic. It has a broad range of meaning, from “fun” or “good conversation” to “what’s happening?” In each of its uses, though, craic expresses a foundational cultural custom: the Irish are super chill. To sit for two hours in conversation with a friend down at the local pub over a pint of Murphy’s or Guinness isn’t lost time and it doesn’t need to be planned on Facebook—it’s friendship and it should happen on a whim. Things will get done, but maybe not in the next ten minutes. Business hours are broadly defined. The schedule is often not quite helpful in determining when a bus will actually arrive—or the national bus system just shuts down for almost three weeks and few people seem to care.
Things move at a different pace here. The Washingtonian in me was frustrated by all this at first. Nine months of slow acculturation, however, have encouraged me to take a step back, chill out a bit, and enjoy some good craic. For that, I’m quite grateful.
Read more about Peter’s Mitchell story here

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections

Alejandra Baez’s Experience with the Pickering Fellowship

From Alejandra Baez (SFS ’16) who is currently preparing for her career in the Foreign Service as a Pickering fellow:
I was exposed to the Pickering Fellowship through a few of my sisters in Delta Phi Epsilon Foreign Service Sorority. I was a sophomore, and the girls that I knew were seniors at the time. They were recipients, so they were invaluable resources that I turned to for help with the interview process as well as to understand the extent of the fellowship and commitment to the Foreign Service.
For a long time before learning about the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, I knew that I had a love for travel, learning languages, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, combating inequality and fighting for social justice. Throughout college, I felt drawn to topics of international development and human rights, especially. So my biggest question was how do I build a career from all of these interests? Even more importantly, what job would PAY me to do some or all of these things? In the back of my head, I had played around with the idea of diplomacy but didn’t think seriously about it UNTIL I met these women. They exposed me to the fellowship, but also to the US Foreign Service which I began to consider as a professional career path. 
As a Pickering Fellow, I have a contract with the State Department to enter the Foreign Service upon receiving a master’s degree and to serve at least 5 years as a Foreign Service Officer. Fellows receive scholarships towards tuition for two years of study and complete two internships with the State Department (one domestic and one overseas) in preparation for entering the Foreign Service. This past summer, I interned with the Political Section at the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States. And this upcoming summer, I will be interning with the Public Affairs Section at U.S. Embassy Bogotá in Colombia.
My experience with the Pickering Fellowship has been extremely formative and uplifting. The program entails financial sponsorship for two years of study, yes, but I appreciate much more the mentorships and networks that came with the fellowship. The whole purpose and mission of the Pickering and Rangel fellowships is to increase the diversity in our Foreign Service in order to accurately represent our multicultural population. It is important to show an interest in international affairs and a dedication to serving the United States. An important component of the fellowship is that you are connected to current and past Foreign Service Officers (including some ambassadors!) and also to peers who are also pursuing the same career as you and have struggled in similar ways that you might have: being a women, low-income, first-generation, a person of color, etc. My cohort has become an essential support group for me. The sense of community is important as you will be faced with incredibly important decisions such as where to go for grad school, which regions of the world to work in, how to manage a work-life balance, and how to start a family abroad in the future, for instance. All of these choices are a part of joining the Foreign Service; they are difficult choices to make so having the Pickering community around me to ask for advice was invaluable.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Reflections