Brazil, Boston, and Beyond: Master’s Student Mariana SimoesBy andersji
Master’s candidate Mariana SimÃµes is no stranger to Harvard. A native of Brazil, she spent a year in Cambridge with her family as her father completed his postdoctoral degree in engineering. “I lived at 29 Garden Street, studied at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, and crossed Harvard Yard every day on the way to school,” she recalls.
A decade later, SimÃµes is trekking across the Yard once again, only now she’s on her way to classes at HGSE. “Here I am, so many years later, visiting my old neighbors and living on Oxford Street, one block away from my dad’s old office,” she marvels. “It really is a small world after all.”
SimÃµes has always liked working with young children; as a teenager in Brazil she used to serve in the nursery and teach Sunday School to toddlers. But her passion for the science of early childhood development came later, during her undergraduate studies in psychology at the Federal University of SÃ£o Carlos. “I really enjoyed learning how humans develop in the early years of our lives, and how preventive interventions can be efficient in producing positive future results,” she remembers.
Fascinated by the power of early intervention and deeply bothered by ingrained social injustices in her country, SimÃµes decided to dedicate her life to improving the outcomes of underprivileged groups and struggling youth. During her college years, she took part in various research projects related to children with learning disabilities and behavior problems. Repeatedly finding strong positive associations between lack of opportunity in impoverished communities and educational special needs, SimÃµes became interested in investigating multilevel holistic interventions that both diminish the negative effects of risks and promote protective factors, thus providing children with a greatly increased chance of healthy development.
In 2007, SimÃµes took a one-year leave of absence from her undergraduate studies to work as a research assistant at the Shriver Center of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where she participated full time in an investigation project on novel behavioral methods for teaching and evaluating children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Back in Brazil, she helped develop a computer-based program that teaches basic reading and writing skills to at-risk elementary school children from low-income communities. “Despite some expected limitations, that study was very significant and our program continues to be improved and implemented in schools across the country,” she says.
Convinced that her psychology background focused too much on individual interventions to effect substantial universal changes in Brazil, SimÃµes looked for a master’s program with a wider reach. She found it in the Ed School’s Prevention Science and Practice Program (PSP). “The first time I read its description, I immediately fell in love,” she says. “It was exactly the type of program that I needed to broaden my perspective from an individual approach to a large scale community intervention.”
SimÃµes, who is supported in her studies by a fellowship from Jorge Paulo Lemann and the Lemann family, raves about the abundance of resources at the Ed School, from libraries and electronic journals to career advisors and involved professors. “The faculty members are so approachable and so knowledgeable about their topics of interest and research,” she says. “They know how to teach effectively, they encourage our professional development, and they inspire us to become catalysts of social transformation.”
When asked to choose her favorite aspect however, she hardly hesitates. “My peers, definitely. The students here are so diverse, with so many incredible life and professional experiences. I feel really blessed with the chance to get to know lots of them, and humbled to think that these friends I’m making now will eventually be future world leaders in education.”
Her positive experience in PSP has her reformulating her short-term plans. When she arrived on campus a few months ago, SimÃµes had no intention of staying more than the time it took to get her master’s; now she’s hoping to pursue a doctoral degree. “I’ve been presented with lots of incredible opportunities here in the Boston area, all of which are encouraging reasons to stay. I still have a lot to learn, and I can’t think of a better place to be than here!”