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Commencement Marshal Ben Piper: Turning Knowledge into Practice

Just three years ago, Ben Piper, Ed.M.'04, Ed.D.'09, was busy conducting research in Malawi and unsure whether his future would lead to academia or development. But he was certain that he wanted to contribute to the improvement of education quality in the Sub-Saharan Africa. So far, he has lived up to his word as he prepares for commencement and life after his doctoral studies.

"It's quite a relief to be done," he says. "It was a long road, and many long hours, but the dissertation process creates an outcome — the thesis — that makes the process worth it in some ways."

Following commencement, Piper will continue working as a senior education research analyst for RTI International, one of the world's leading research institutes dedicated to improving the human condition by turning knowledge into practice. Having lived and worked at RTI International in Ethiopia since January while completing his dissertation, Piper manages research and education development for East African countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. He also manages early grade reading assessments and interventions.

The work is somewhat related to Piper's dissertation research, which focused on the impact of a teacher professional development program in Ethiopia on student achievement, teacher knowledge, teacher pedagogy, and teacher reflective practices. "I found that this program increased student achievement quite a bit, but that, interestingly, though the program purported to foster student-centered pedagogical skills such as group work and active learning methods, there was no more evidence of these student-centered methods in classrooms," he says, noting that instead the teachers trained by this particular in-service professional development program exhibited more knowledge of methods and a stronger ability to match methods with content. Ultimately, Piper believes that teachers were provided a broader arsenal for the improvement of instruction.

As lead marshal in the June 4 commencement, Piper feels truly honored and sees his selection as an announcement of his colleagues' support and care for the poor and disadvantaged living in Sub-Saharan Africa. "It is far less about me and much more about our collective commitment to use the training we've had to help the people most in need to improve their chances educationally," he says.

While Piper may be relieved to finally be finished with his doctorate, he will always remember HGSE as providing a "place to argue about what matters, to focus on how to create and encourage equality, and to ask good questions that demand answers with action.

"The experience has opened up many doors for me professionally," he says. "I leave with a corps of colleagues that I will turn to throughout the rest of my life and career."


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