Kathryn Balestreri (BS11) and Lydia Hsu (BA11) Win Fulbrights

Kathryn Balestreri (BS11) and Lydia Hsu (BA11) Win Fulbrights

Social policy graduate Kathryn Balestreri and teacher certification student Lydia Hsu, both 2011 Northwestern graduates, received prestigious Fulbright grants for 2011-12. The scholarships will fund Balestreri’s research on improving education in Guatemala and Hsu’s work to teach English and train hospital volunteers in Rwanda.

Kathryn Balestreri

Kathryn Balestreri
As her Fulbright project, Balestreri will participate in an effort to bring more — and improved — educational opportunities to the indigenous, rural parts of Guatemala. As a side project, she will work with the villagers directly to research what motivates them to learn and in what ways a formal education is relevant to their daily lives. “I hope to pass on my work to existing organizations in the region to ultimately improve the impact of education on every aspect of life in the country,” she says. 

She got the idea to apply for a Fulbright grant the summer after her junior year, as she reflected on the most meaningful experiences of her college years. Her trip to Guatemala with an Alternate Spring Break group in 2009, when she talked with survivors of the Guatemalan Civil War, stood out.

She had been moved by hearing survivors recount their wartime experiences. “It was one thing reading about genocide tragedies in books; it was a completely new sensation hearing them straight from the source. It didn’t feel right for me to be taking this trip to learn from the hardships of others, when the very people providing the experience and opening up their personal lives for the sake of my education didn’t have those same opportunities,” she recalls.

“My short trip to Guatemala shook my world perspective. I learned that many people living in poverty and with devastating pasts share an unflinching drive to fight and survive. These individuals cannot be healed by our sympathies or our guilt, but by our influence to channel that existing drive and unrelenting spirit into an education,” she maintains.

Because of her experience in Guatemala and also her SESP education, Balestreri says that a comfortable life in the United States will not satisfy her. “SESP has opened my eyes to a world full of need — a world ridden with perpetual inequalities and injustices. To turn my back to these challenges would be doing my education a disservice,” she says.

“SESP has given me the tools to dissect these challenges and approach them with knowledge, integrity, and confidence. It’s always a comfort to know I have a solid community of SESP folk right beside me, working towards the same goals.”

Lydia Hsu

Lydia Hsu

Hsu, a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences graduate who completed SESP’s secondary teaching program, is one of the first two recipients of a Fulbright teaching assistantship in Rwanda. While an undergraduate, she spent a summer teaching English to orphans in that country through a Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace Fellowship and a Northwestern immersion language grant. As Rwanda goes through the long process of nation rebuilding, she is using her Fulbright not only to teach English but also to create an organization that connects successful Rwandan students with businesses in need of educated employees.

From January to September 2012, she will be part of the second year of the Fulbright Student English Teaching Assistant program in Rwanda, teaching English part-time to university students and staff at the School of Nursing in Rwamagana, Rwanda. She will also continue her work with Solid'Africa to facilitate the first year of the Solid'Africa Honor Society program.

Earlier, she had worked with Solid'Africa (a Rwandan youth-led non-profit organization) to construct the first soup kitchen in Rwanda, and to develop and launch the Solid'Africa Honor Society — an educational program that trains secondary school students to volunteer in district hospitals.

“I applied for the Fulbright for another opportunity to return to Rwanda through a program that will open more doors for me to make a bigger impact in the country's educational aims. Fulbright was the next step in my study of English literature, African studies, and secondary studies to unite all of my learning and experiences through practice. I think that it is important for educators to diversify their teaching experiences and constantly challenge themselves to learn and adapt to the needs of students, and I am very much looking forward to teaching in January!” says Hsu. Last summer, through the Immersion Experience Grant and Africa Research Leadership Grant, she developed an English language curriculum for the Rwanda Multi-Learning Centre, a vocational learning school that supports genocide survivors (widows and orphans) who are unable to afford secondary or university-level education. She taught a class of 60 students, ages 20-55 years old, for two months.

During her winter quarter student teaching at Highland Park High School, Hsu developed an African Literature curriculum for a freshman seminar class. In spring quarter, she used the SESP Undergraduate Opportunity Fund grant, along with other funding, to put together a "Teaching Africa" Forum. The forum brought together 60 teachers, professors, and students to examine "Teaching Africa in Africa" and "Teaching Africa in America."

“I wanted to facilitate a dialogue about how Africa is taught in American schools by also inviting the perspectives of African students who studied in Africa,” she says. The keynote address by David Kanamugire, the Minister of Information Communications Technology (ICT) in the Office of the President of Rwanda, was followed by three African PhD students in the Program of African Studies. She also presented her African literature curriculum and introduced Ife Carruthers, an educator who supports dialogue on African studies curricula in Chicago-area high schools.

“I originally chose Rwanda as the focus of my African studies major because of the country's investment in education,” Hsu says. “The recognition of ignorance and a lack of critical thinking as main causes of the genocide has led Rwanda to universalize primary education and redevelop its curriculum to promote critical thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation. The country's investment in the bottom-up approach aligns with my own beliefs in the power of education. I wanted to witness the country's strides in educational reform and play a part in reaching its Vision 2020 goals. I hope to eventually work in curriculum development and/or teacher training with the Ministry of Education in Rwanda,” says Hsu.

“I could not be where I am without the guidance and support of incredible mentors and professors at Northwestern: Meg Kreuser, Dagny Bloland, Peg Kritzler, Dave Renz, Peter Civetta, Lynn Kelso, Brad Zakarin, Jeff Rice, Will Reno, David Easterbrook (and all of the African Library staff — Crystal, Esmeralda, Michelle!), Jonathon Glassman and Steve Hill,” Hsu adds. Her blog can be accessed at http://blog.undergradresearch.northwestern.edu/worldisabook/

Northwestern Fulbrights
Northwestern University is the second top producer of U.S. Fulbright grant recipients among the nation’s research institutions, according to a ranking published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

As of October 7, 27 Northwestern seniors, graduate students and recent alumni had been awarded prestigious Fulbright scholarships from the flagship U.S. government-sponsored program funding international research and exchange. Only the University of Michigan, with 29 recipients, exceeded Northwestern in the number of Fulbright Scholars produced.

Founded in 1946, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has given approximately 300,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. 

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/4/15