Penn GSE Internships Making Global Impact on Education Development

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820
Media Contact:Kat Stein | | 215-898-9642August 6, 2012

Studying abroad can take students to new places – both literally and figuratively. But, there are more benefits than just adding stamps to one’s passport.  As many students at Penn are discovering, international travel and helping others in the global community serve as building blocks to a solid future.

As a part of Penn’s global engagement, the Graduate School of Education’s International Educational Development Program offers overseas internships with organizations from Chile to Mozambique to Thailand.

Dan Wagner, a professor in Penn GSE and director of IEDP, says that education is a global enterprise that varies from one society to the next. 

“At Penn, we are committed to global engagement, the notion that academic work needs to connect with policy and practice across the world,” he says.

Designed to prepare students with the skills required in an era of globalization for education and development, IEDP at Penn GSE gives students:

  • A knowledge of the history of international development institutions.
  • The ability to understand issues of educational policy and practice from a comparative and international perspective and within specific cultural contexts.
  • An enhanced understanding of the role of local, national and international politics, policies and priorities of educational change.
  • The ability to apply academic knowledge to policy and practice in applied settings.

In addition, the students develop a variety of research and evaluation skills to examine educational issues and assess the value of programs in cross-national contexts. 

But the skills the students gain encompass much more.

As a part of her internship, IEDP student Maria Alejandra Aguirre Villarreal, 25, is working on a regional pilot study of 13 countries in Latin America.  She’s interning with the UNESCO Regional Bureau of Education for Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Santiago, Chile.

A native of Cartagena, Colombia, her focus within the IEDP program is education in Latin America.

While she’s refining her research skills during the summer months, she’s also learning about the availability of and quality of the data and how day-to-day operational obstacles have to be overcome.  Villarreal says while her internship is challenging, it’s also very rewarding.

“International travel experience can be very enriching,” she says. “It will make you grow not only as a graduate student, as a researcher or as a development worker, it will also make you grow as a person that needs to solve the surprise factors that you will encounter in the journey. The experience takes you out of your comfort zone and puts you in a different reality, culture and environment.”

Nearly 8,000 miles away, Amy Descovich is interning at the Center for Educational Initiatives – Step by Step, in Sarajevo. The center is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leading educational-reform organizations. 

After graduation, Descovich plans to work for an international non-governmental organization and serve as the voice for local NGOs, promoting the value of local knowledge that often gets lost at the international level.

So far, Descovich, a Glen Mills, Pa., native, has written a literature review of Professional Learning Communities to support an initiative in Bosnia.  She’s also spent a lot of time interviewing teachers, principals, students, parents, journalists, shopkeepers, young adults and representatives for both international and local non-governmental organizations about the state of education in that country. 

In addition, Descovich has learned about the importance of monitoring and evaluation to successful grant writing.  From this internship, she has seen the challenges that non-governmental organizations face daily, especially in post-conflict regions.

Her studies have focused on curriculum development and teacher education, but her internship has provided her with the opportunity to apply what she’s learned.

“This experience has been a great vehicle through which to understand, apply and practice the theory we learned during my time at Penn GSE,” Descovich says. “I am continually amazed at how applicable my coursework has been to ‘real life’ in the development world.”

More than 5,000 miles southeast, Enomoto Naoko is assigned to the UNESCO Regional Office in Bangkok, where she reviews and evaluates current and past educational initiatives, including a pilot project in Cambodia.  She’s working on the Country Literacy Acceleration Plan, which is designed to help countries map areas in need of literacy development and to help government officials achieve literacy goals.

Naoko, a 31-year-old Tokyo native, says that working with people from different cultures is essential for her future work in international educational development.  Her team at UNESCO consists of Taiwanese, Canadian, Nepali and Thai people. 

Often, the students’ experiences outside the office are just as important as inside.  When she’s off duty, Naoko participates in many volunteer activities, like animal rescue.  Conducted by the UNESCO Bangkok office and local organizations, these local rescue efforts not only allow Naoko to get to know people who live nearby, but also it serves as a team-building exercise outside of the typical work environment. 

About 6,000 miles to the north and east, Boran Choi is in Paris, working for the directorate of education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.  Choi’s academic focus is early-childhood care and development, children’s cognitive development and international education policy and development.

A 25-year-old native of Seoul, Choi is involved in the Innovative Teaching for Effective Learning project and analyzes innovation in math and science teaching for young children.  She’s researching successful pre-school and primary-school science, technology, engineering and math projects and programs in developing countries.

Choi’s working on her research and analytical skills at OECD.  More important, she says, she is developing her interpersonal and negotiating skills through networking.

“Working at an international organization has given me a chance to work with people from all over the world,” Choi says.  “And I’ve been able to have a look at interesting studies and programs, not just from one specific country but from countries across the globe.”

Meanwhile, Penn GSE student Anna Greenstone is in Johannesburg at the non-profit Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy.  

As a specialist in teacher education, she is working with the institute’s staff on a teacher professional-development workshop about comprehension for teachers in grades 1-3. 

Greenstone has conducted school visits and observations of in-classroom activities as well as teacher workshops.

“My internship has been a great opportunity for me to gain experience in teacher education, within a literacy organization,” she says. “I’ve definitely increased my comfort with program development and facilitation during this internship. South Africa is a complex country, and its education system has many challenges.”

Across Africa, Adilene Flores worked with the Agha Khan Foundation in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, for her summer internship.  Although Flores has just returned to the United States, she is still evaluating the documents and going through the data from her research.  She is in the midst of evaluating three adult-literacy programs. 

Her academic concentration is international educational development and multi-lingual education.  Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Flores, 24, has lived most of her life in Los Angeles.

“The more time I spend here in the U.S., I see how much I have changed because of my internship in Mozambique,” Flores says. “Now, I carry myself with much more confidence and I’m more confident in my abilities.”

Flores also picked up Portuguese and was able to learn key phrases in Swahili and other local languages. 

“I went to Mozambique without ever even trying to speak the Portuguese language.  Now, I can communicate pretty effectively in Portuguese,” Flores says. “This experience has just intensified my interest in my passion: multilingual education and in learning even more languages.”

From strengthening one’s confidence to learning new languages, Penn GSE students engaged in internships abroad are coming back with many new skills.  They also have more insights and personal reflections about themselves, their roles in global education and their own future aspirations.

Twenty-six students currently are enrolled in IEDP.