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Together Again

IEP Alums Gather at Global Education Conference

Fernando ReimersWhen presenting at the first annual International Education Policy (IEP) and Global Education Conference on October 18 and 19, alumni – regardless of their occupations – utilized some tricks of the teaching trade.

Joanna Brucker, Ed.M.’09, for one, wanted to “get the blood flowing” during her presentation toward the end of the second day of the two-day conference. Brucker, an alumna of IEP and the development coordinator at Global Nomads Group, explained that she wanted participants to answer questions by walking to one side of the room if they agreed with the question posed, the other side if they disagreed. The questions addressed issues such as whether English-based global education is a discussion subject for the privileged, and whether it can be done well in under-resourced areas. This balance of lightness (the movement) and seriousness (the topic) ran throughout the conference, echoing the original purpose of the event.

According to Professor Fernando Reimers, faculty director of IEP and the organizer of the conference, he had envisioned the event as a way for alumni to reconnect, but also to have “honest conversation about what it means to expand educational opportunity.”

It would be hard to find people better suited to lead such a conversation than those at the conference. The alumni who led panels, for example, had graduated from HGSE to jobs at such organizations as the State Department and the World Bank. Many credited particular skills — and people — they had met at Harvard with lighting their path forward.

Robert Moore, Ed.M.’12, deputy to the provost and the director of institutional effectiveness at the American University of Iraq, for example, credited two HGSE classes in particular with having helped him immensely in his role. “[Professor] Fernando [Reimers]’s education policy class introduced me to things like stakeholder mapping and policy recommendations. It was really all about education leadership instead of teaching,” he said. “And financial management from [Professor] James Honan gave me the vocab of managing a budget: control systems, line items, how to get purchasing done. Within two weeks of getting to Iraq I was given control of a 4 million dollar budget. Without that class, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with the management team; now I could take the budget and run with it.”

Reimers was mentioned by many alumni. Vanessa Beary, Ed.M.’11, Ed.D.’14, called him “the world’s best connector,” adding that he doesn’t just connect people with each other, but he also connects people with opportunities. “He helped me, through mentorship, analyze different ways I can make change in the world…. There’s never been a model for me to follow. I’m not drawn to traditional problem solving,” she said. After finishing her Ed.D., Beary went on to the State Department to work as the senior adviser on youth entrepreneurship and partnerships, where she creates programs for adolescents and young adults in areas of high unemployment in Turkestan.  

Of the conference, Beary said the best parts had been plugging into the Harvard network again, and hearing many different perspectives on the challenges that the education sector faces. “No one single person is going to have a magic solution…. It’s been great to hear about how other organizations like mine are addressing these challenges. And I’m humbled to see the range of different approaches, different perspectives, different technologies that we are all using to help make communities, countries, and regions places that put children and their access to information and learning first,” she said.

Kevin Kalra, Ed.M.’13, senior project coordinator, Global Business Coalition for Education, also said that talking with his fellow alums was one of the highlights of the conference, though his main take-home message was different than Beary’s: “Education needs a compelling narrative. What’s our story, collectively as a sector? We all know that [what we are doing] is important, but how do we get the rest of the world along with us?” That finding this narrative is Kalra’s take-home makes sense, given that his organization helps companies see the importance of investing in education, and then build partnerships between the companies and the education sectors of specific countries.

Current IEP students who attended the conference mentioned Kalra’s job as one that they were excited to learn about over the weekend. Divya Sooryakumar, a current IEP student, said that she enjoyed seeing “the diversity of jobs that people can go into after this program. I didn’t even know you could do these things!” She then referred to Kalra’s job specifically.

Nicole Piedra, another current IEP master’s student, echoed this sentiment, saying that seeing the alumni made her realize “the endless array of possibilities” that would be before her after graduation. Her friend and fellow student, Chris Swimmer, nodded as Piedra spoke. The conference, he said, “is like class on steroids. Not only does everyone come from varied background, but all the alumni have gone on to do different things. They brought up a few things we’ve talked about in class, but they’ve added a realistic layer…. Being with them makes me wonder, ‘Is that what we’re going to look like in 5 or 10 years?’” He looked excited at the possibility.