Kathryn Balestreri Wins Fulbright

Kathryn Balestreri Wins Fulbright

Recent social policy graduate Kathryn Balestreri (BS11) received a prestigious Fulbright grant for 2011-12. The scholarship will fund Balestreri’s research on improving education in Guatemala.

Kathryn Balestreri

As her primary 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 at SESP, 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.”

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 9/12/12