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A View Towards Home: Alyssa Chan, IEP'12

Alyssa ChanIt’s hard to imagine where Alyssa Chan found the time. In addition to her full schedule of classes in the International Education Policy Program (IEP), Chan interned at UNICEF, participated in a study group on educational access and quality that applied their coursework to evaluations of a teacher accreditation program in Mexico, was on IEP’s advisory board, and led a number of outreach activities connecting her peers to the young students they hope to serve.

“Alyssa Chan exemplifies well the qualities that distinguish students and graduates of the International Education Policy Program: a strong commitment to expanding educational opportunity for the most disadvantaged children around the world, an extraordinary ethic of hard work and rigorous pursuit of academic excellence, and an understanding of leadership as service to others,” says Professor Fernando Reimers, director of IEP. “Alyssa has focused much of her intellectual work in understanding how to advance the educational chances of indigenous children in her native Canada…. She has been a steady contributor and leader in enriching the quality of the academic experience for her peers in the program.”

After graduation, Chan says she hopes to gain international experience in policy around equity and education with the aim of bringing that experience home. “I eventually plan to work in some capacity or another on large-scale changes that address the needs of marginalized youth that suffer significant inequalities in education in Canada,” she says.

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for IEP, Chan answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School? I came with the goal to either reaffirm my belief that education policy could change intrinsic motivations of societies, or accept the justification for it being impossible. If the former was true, I wanted to learn the theory, skills, and the partnerships that would contribute to this change, and if the latter was true, I had prepared myself to reconsider my long-term professional career path. I was particularly interested to acquire solutions for education inequities most associated with Indigenous communities, with the intention to transfer these practices back to the Canadian context.

Is that goal any different now? My initial goal has changed, but fortunately this change comes from understanding how truly complex the education sector is. I was adamant on returning to Ontario immediately after this year, but am allowing myself to recognize opportunities outside my own country that could be invaluable to my personal and professional growth.

Favorite class? Felipe Barrera-Osorio’s A822 course, The Consequences of Educational Policy Interventions in Developing Countries: Evidence from Recent Impact Evaluations, was not only a mouthful to say, but a challenging one to keep up with as well. While I’ve learned a great deal from courses at HGSE and HKS, A822 stands out because along with the learning, I feel I’ve also gained a different mindset in approaching novel policy initiatives in education. Felipe consistently demanded evidence – not only theory – to prove what works in educational interventions, and I find myself considering all such factors now in every journal I read or workshop I attend. The weekly provisions of coffee and snacks likely contributed to the three-hour class as well, but it is the deepened ability for critical thinking that I am most thankful to have taken away.

Is there any other professor who significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? As a professor, Fernando Reimers taught with conviction, optimism, and enthusiasm. As the IEP program director, he led with assurance, encouragement, and held high expectations for every student. Having worked closely with Fernando on the IEP advisory board, I am constantly amazed at how much he accomplishes on a day-to-day basis, let alone within a semester. He is a leader who sets the bar high, not only for himself, but for his students as well, and ensures that we all have the supports we need to get to our respective finish lines. While balancing meetings, conferences, and his own classes, he still ensures the time to attend our program events, mentor students, and every now and then invite the entire cohort to his backyard barbeque! I’ve learned a lot about leadership and inspiration through his example, and am extremely grateful to him this year.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year?   I aimed to always make time to simply sit, talk with, and listen to my colleagues. It’s difficult not to be inspired when surrounded by passionate and genuine people. A quick brunch would likely lead into a few extended hours of discussion, a casual drink often incited a collective group debate, and where two or more were gathered in Gutman, one could always be sure of learning something new.

What children’s book will you be carrying at Commencement? I feel as though many graduates will receive Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go! from family and friends, so perhaps I’ll keep a reminder of where I’ve come from instead, and hold on to a copy of Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever as a tribute to my parents. They are undoubtedly the two people that I will love forever and like for always.

For the full list of recipients, visit