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Commencement Marshal Sarah Dryden-Peterson: The Culture of Community

Commencement will seem like a reunion to Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Ed.D.'09, who spent the past year living and working Botswana. "I'm excited to be joining my cohort and colleagues from study group and graduating together," Dryden-Peterson says. "Although it was hard to write [my dissertation] so far away, I had so much support from advisors and doctoral colleagues so it will be nice to reconnect."

Dryden-Peterson is honored to be named a doctoral marshal upon her return. "One of the most wonderful parts of the program is getting to know the other doctoral students and getting to know their experiences, which are so diverse and rich," she says. "I learned so much from the cohort so I feel really attached to the people that I shared this experience with."

HGSE offered Dryden-Peterson the opportunity to synthesize her interest in practice and research, while continuing to travel. Much of her doctoral career has been spent traveling the globe following refugees and families in an effort to learn more about schools and how to succeed, feel at home, and find a sense of belonging in an adopted country.

Dryden-Peterson's dissertation followed African immigrants as they built a new community in two Massachusetts locations. In particular, Dryden-Peterson explored the role that schools and churches play in immigration and building a new community. Although most people might expect immigrants to be focused on finding a job or learning English, Dryden-Peterson says that many of the immigrants she interviewed felt building a new community around people to help raise their children and provide support were most important. Churches rather than schools tended to provide the likely community building support immigrants craved. "Some schools struggle to bring people together because of limited time and a focus more often on raising test scores than building relationships with parents and families," she says.

Following commencement, Dryden-Peterson will hit the road again as she journeys to the University of Toronto where she will work as a postdoctoral fellow, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Her research will examine education in post-conflict settings and the role of transnational interactions between Diasporas and local communities in educational reconstruction.

"I didn't intend to pursue an academic career but from what I witnessed [at HGSE], I've been inspired to follow that path as well," she says. "My committee members - Associate Professor Mark Warren, Professor John Willett, Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, and [Harvard Kennedy School] Professor Robert Putnam have been such wonderful models on combining scholarship with action and activism. I've been so lucky to have incredible teachers, who are models for how I want to teach."


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