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Hacking Away: Elaine Townsend, TIE'16

 Elaine Townsend, TIE'16In South Korea as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, Elaine Townsend became intrigued by the ways in which technology can aid and enhance learning.

“Online classroom management tools and my students’ music videos reimagined what a typical classroom could look like via the impact of digital technology,” she says. “I applied to HGSE to further my understanding of how technology and innovation could improve English language education.”

Townsend enrolled in the Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) Program hoping to refine her goals and career direction. Once at HGSE, she dove right in, becoming involved in numerous campus groups — including the Alumni of Color Conference, Comunidad Latinx, and the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council — making an impact on her classmates, both within and outside of TIE.

“This year’s Intellectual Contribution winner from TIE has a special distinction: She was nominated not only by our cohort, but also by a striking number of fellow students from across HGSE,” says Senior Lecturer Joe Blatt, director of TIE. “Many of our students contribute very substantially to their peers’ learning — but there was overwhelming support for Elaine Townsend.”

Praised by those who nominated her as patient, talented, creative, generous, and kind, Townsend’s peers see her as a community-builder with the “natural talent of reaching out to others to better understand their perspective, especially with those who may disagree or oppose her own views.”

These sentiments are echoed by Blatt. “Based on my own experience of Elaine, in class and in the cohort, I couldn’t agree more,” he says, noting Townsend’s commitment to HGSE’s community conversation, Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity. “Community, equity, and caring are her hallmarks, and I’m thrilled that TIE will continue to benefit from her commitment, as Elaine and fellow student Maheen Sahoo have begun building a new TIE Alumni Network.”

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

What are your goals now, at the end of your year at the Ed School? Leaving HGSE, I am eager to continue contributing to the field of education, while painfully aware that there is much work to be done. Whether creating access to resources, ideas, and opportunities or challenging attitudes and behaviors that further perpetuate systemic oppression, I believe that people can maximize social justice initiatives by designing and implementing value-based technology. In short, if you ever wonder, “What is Elaine Townsend up to these days?” know that I am attempting to hack technologies for individual and societal transformation.

What was your greatest fear before attending HGSE? I hold certain identities near and dear to my heart — as a 1.75-generation immigrant from Peru; the oldest of six children; a child of a low-income, single-parent family; a first-generation college student — the list goes on. Prior to attending HGSE, I was concerned that these identities would isolate me from my peers, who perhaps would not share similar experiences. That being said, I was pleased to find a close-knit community at HGSE that valued my experiences and identities. This community reinforced my belief that our identities shape how we navigate spaces like Harvard. They are the lenses with which we read articles, design final projects, discuss class content, etc. Thus, they are to be embraced and explored.       

What are your post-HGSE plans? My first post-HGSE plan is to get married to my sweetheart of five years, Uty — one of the greatest blessings of my life. The next step of my professional career will be conducting program and curriculum development for the Scholars’ Latino Initiative (SLI), a three-year mentoring program for Latinx high school students who are pursuing higher education. Working with SLI is one of my dream jobs as it enables me to return to my community in North Carolina and work with the most incredible students the world has ever seen.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Three classes at HGSE became my favorites because of learning experiences beautifully and intentionally shaped by inspirational faculty members. Ethnic Studies and Education revealed a history of exploitation in the United States that I never knew existed and forever shifted the way I perceive race, ethnicity, structural inequalities, social change, and the history that surrounds us. After taking Designing for Learning by Creating, I’m still drinking the Kool-Aid of tinkering and walking away with a toolbox of ideas that strategically engage students as creators rather than passive learners. As a media creator and consumer, I naturally gravitated towards Growing Up in a Media World, as we dived headfirst into examining the impact of being raised in a digital society. In addition to their great course content, Christina “V” Villarreal, Karen Brennan, and Joe Blatt modeled characteristics that I aspire to exude as a leader and educator. Thank you to V for your transformational love and passion for us individually and collectively; to Karen for being so wise, creative, caring, and approachable; and to Joe for being so incredibly meticulous, reliable, and engaging.

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … Founding Stay Woke Media, an online platform designed to spark conversation on issues of race, ethnicity, and privilege for grassroots activists, educators, and learners. #StayWoke

If you could transport one person/place/thing from HGSE to your next destination, what would it be? Since day one at HGSE’s orientation, my peers have been incredible support systems and sources of inspiration throughout my time at HGSE. I am already nostalgic for the memories we created together and wish I could take everyone home with me to North Carolina. (I’m still actively recruiting to make this dream a reality.)

Read about the other recipients of this year's Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.