Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

FALL 2013

Dianna English (BS04)

Dianna English (BS04), who works for the U.S. State Department, has monitored criminal justice systems worldwide, established a juvenile justice program in Sudan and trained Tanzanian teachers in AIDS education.

Stacy Pancratz (BS09)

Stacy Pancratz (BS09), shown in the tea fields of Malawi, is working with a policy research organization to study innovations for combatting poverty in that southeast African nation. “We use the power of data,” she says.

Young Alumni Make a Difference in the World


By Marilyn Sherman
Young Alumni Make a Difference in the World

To make the world a better place is the life’s work of many recent graduates of the School of Education and Social Policy. These young alumni are making a difference globally — by seeking social justice, growing global engagement, researching world problems or unleashing the power of education to improve people’s lives.

Building Justice Worldwide

Social justice and human rights concerns draw many SESP graduates to work with developing nations and communities around the world. For example, Dianna English (BS04) works for the U.S. State Department to track criminal justice systems worldwide. The safety and security of citizens on the other side of the globe are her priority as a civil servant.

When South Sudan was emerging as a nation and English was its program officer in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, she dove into setting up the police service. She managed programs that trained police, advised on department structure and helped police deal with ongoing problems such as cattle raids. Now her State Department role has expanded to advising on congressional affairs on foreign assistance for criminal justice systems in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

However, English is proudest of her part in creating a juvenile justice program in Sudan. She helped establish regular monitoring and assessments that greatly decreased the number of children held in prison before trial. “It was exciting to be part of the effort … to provide security for citizens around the birth of a country,” says English.

Paving the way for her international career were Peace Corps service in Tanzania, where she trained teachers in HIV/AIDS education, and work at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, where she assisted courts worldwide with their research needs. Both her bachelor’s degree from SESP in social policy and her master’s from Yale in international relations and human security prepared her for global justice work.

“SESP allowed me to develop a critical and self-reflective lens on social change,” she says. “SESP definitely fosters a lifelong integration of social issues and the wa you think about the world. Anyone who graduates from SESP is hard-wired in that way.”

Through the years she has learned that international engagement is a dialog. “The big lesson … is not to lose sight of yourself but not to impose yourself. Understand your values. Understand you’re representing those values and hold onto those, but don’t impose them either. It is a tricky compromise,” says English, who plans to continue to advocate for justice and human rights.

Innovating on a Global Scale

For alumni like English, who studied abroad in South Africa, the roots of global engagement often take hold during the college years. Forty-three percent of SESP students study abroad to gain a global outlook and immerse themselves in a different culture. Each year, SESP experiences growing numbers of students studying abroad and growing interest in global issues.

Northwestern students have more options for international engagement because of the innovations of SESP graduate Jon Marino (BS06). When he was a student, Marino set in motion three key international programs for Northwestern. First, he co-founded the student-run Global Engagement Summit, an international conference to prepare students for leading change around the world. Then he helped to start the Center for Global Engagement, a student support center for all programs that address global change. His favorite creation of all is the Global Engagement Studies Institute, a variation of study abroad that prepares students for being embedded in community organizations worldwide.

Full of enthusiasm after study abroad in South Africa, Marino took inspiration from SESP associate professor Jody Kretzmann and pioneered new overseas opportunities for creating change. Kretzmann’s Introduction to Community Development course emphasizes the positive potential of all community members and critical thinking about public service. “Those were the two key insights that really stuck with me. They’re part of the SESP ethos,” says Marino.

Today Marino is innovating with a different kind of global spin as he directs an open education mapping resource called MapStory, which allows users to share data online. “MapStory gives people an ability to show how they’ve seen layers of the world change over time,” says Marino.

His endeavors have also included coordinating service learning programs for Chicago Public Schools and researching post-war recovery in Uganda on a Fulbright fellowship. Throughout, he has remained focused on “doing good well.” His advice on the subject is to “reflect on how what you love doing can make the world a better place.” Fortunately for Northwestern, Marino called upon his own talents to make the University a better — and more global — place.

Policy Research to Change the World

Armed with skills and sensibilities they gained at SESP, many young alumni believe they can make the world a better place through policy research. Stacy Pancratz (BS09) is one of these alumni with faith in the power of research to bring about global change. Fascinated by policy and quantitative by nature, she is in Malawi doing research for an organization trying to combat poverty.

At Innovations for Poverty Action, “we use the power of data in order to test new innovations to alleviate poverty,” Pancratz explains. The organization conducts randomized controlled trials in areas such as health, education and finance. For example, to investigate whether access to bank accounts increases wealth, she trains teams to collect and enter data. Policy evaluation is a path Pancratz wants to continue long-term.

“SESP definitely opened my eyes to the conversations that go on about different social problems. It introduced me to research about policy,” Pancratz says. One of her favorite courses was an education policy class with professor James Rosenbaum.

Pancratz had an “epiphany” about the nuances of a different culture during a Fulbright fellowship in Morocco, and along with many other SESP alumni she sees a myriad of pluses to global engagement. “I’ve always been interested in traveling, seeing new places, being challenged about why I think a certain way,” she notes. In addition, she has gained confidence in her ability to handle tough situations, such as water shortages or power failures in Malawi. Pancratz thinks everyone should go abroad to study, volunteer or see the world. “It teaches you how others think,” she says.

Fulbright Fellows: At the Forefront of Improving Lives

Fulbright fellowships have allowed select SESP graduates to take SESP’s mission of education and human development worldwide. The most prestigious international exchange program in the world, Fulbright is sponsored by the U.S. government to forge international ties through education and research.

Aria Fiat (BS13) is the latest in a string of recent SESP Fulbright fellows, all dedicated to improving lives worldwide. Fiat is teaching underprivileged minority students in France through the Fulbright program, which allows her to combine two of her passions: teaching and France. Another current fellow is Maddie Orenstein (BS10), who is in Chile studying a subject she is passionate about — access to higher education. She is researching high school students’ activism for greater college access and comparing student attitudes in Chicago and Santiago.

Last year Fulbright fellows David D’Antonio (MS11) and Jamie Hoversen (MS12) worked to improve the prospects for young people in Italy and Hungary. D’Antonio taught high school and studied the philosophy of education in at-risk schools in Naples. He also worked with a community organization on gang prevention and youth advocacy. Hoversen advised Budapest students interested in U.S. colleges and taught university classes in American culture. “I had a specific interest in the internationalization of higher education,” she explains.

Lydia Hsu (BA11), who earned teacher certification through SESP, was one of the first recipients of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Rwanda. She not only taught English to medical practitioners but also worked with the grassroots organization Solid’Africa to construct Rwanda’s first sustainable soup kitchen and establish a countrywide honor society for high-achieving high school students.

For her Fulbright fellowship in 2012, Kathryn Balestreri (BS11) participated in an effort to bring more educational opportunities to rural parts of Guatemala. She also did research to find out what motivates villagers to learn and what makes a formal education relevant to their daily lives.

Susan MacDougall’s (BS07) Fulbright fellowship in Jordan not only built cross-cultural understanding but also opened doors on her route to becoming a professor. In 2011, she researched Iraqi refugees’ social lives in Jordan and how Jordan’s policies shape their experience. Now as a graduate student at Oxford University in England, she is writing her PhD dissertation on housewives’ changing attitudes toward balancing work, family and faith.

As Fulbright fellows, these idealistic young alumni join the ranks of SESP graduates who work as public servants, innovators, researchers and educators worldwide. Whether they serve with governments, schools, nonprofits or communities, their global efforts make a world of difference.