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The Power of the Individual: Cara Salomone, MBE'19

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Mind, Brain, and Education reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Cara Salomone

Photo by Jill Anderson

The Intellectual Contribution Award is an honor that recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. The award will be presented at Convocation on May 29.

In her six years as an educator, Cara Salomone saw too many brilliant students turn away from their education because they didn’t learn in the ways traditional schooling valued.

“Students too often leave our schools thinking that they are bad or different because they’ve had to adjust themselves to the learning environment rather than vice versa," Salomone says. "I worked alongside many dedicated teachers who created space for the individuality of their students, but it’s hard to break the grammar of schooling when it’s pushing back against you.”

She enrolled in the Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) Program to explore how to structure learning environments toward the individual — in order to optimize learning for all. At HGSE, she was able to blend lessons in neuroscience, psychology, and education, as well as to delve into organizational behavior.

“I’m convinced that interdisciplinarity is critical to an innovative design for 21st-century learning environments,” Salomone says, noting that she is still synthesizing all that she has learned into her own vision of education. 

“Cara is a genuine leader who consistently expanded the thinking of her peers while at the same time went out of her way to ensure that those around her felt supported and encouraged in their own work and life,” says Lecturer Todd Rose, faculty director of MBE. “It was a joy to have Cara in the program.”

Here, Salomone reflects on her year at HGSE and looks at her future in education:

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? Each person is intelligent in their own way. For most of my life, I’ve compared myself against a pretty traditional definition of intelligence, which led to a fixed view of my own abilities. But after reflecting so much here on what I value in my classmates, former students, and the learning environments I’ve inhabited, I’m working to expand that definition and extend grace to myself in the process. It’s not easy to move past such a deeply held belief, but I’m loosening my grip on it slowly but surely. I find it hilariously ironic that Harvard is the place where this first resonated — maybe just being in Howard Gardner’s presence orients people towards the multiple intelligences!

What is your future dream job? I’d love to work with kids and families every day while also still designing learning strategy and curriculum. Being a practitioner drives my heart for education — I love getting to know and working with students. They’re insightful, creative, resilient, kind, and real. But I’ve also fallen in love with designing learning environments that allow people to learn in ways that resonate with them. I’m still exploring the types of roles that will allow me to stay rooted in practice while thinking about education from a bird’s eye view. 

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? By remembering what a privilege it is to dedicate nine months to my own learning. I tried never to forget how fortunate I am to have this opportunity (and the many others that led up to it). The program felt intense at times, but I tried to consider every up and down as a learning opportunity. I pursued the program, and I felt strongly that it was important to be grateful for anything it brought my way. My husband, MBE cohort, and church community played a big role in allowing me to stay grateful amidst the chaos. They walked alongside me on the journey and helped me keep everything in perspective.

On the more tangible side, reading and study groups were game changers for me! For several classes each semester, I participated in small discussion groups, most of which were informal and organized by my classmates. These groups were often where I learned the most because they gave my friends and me the chance to further connect what we read/discussed for class to what we had experienced in our roles in education. Some of my favorite memories from this year were sharing meals, laughs, stress (looking at you, finals), and insights with those groups. 

What will you change in education and why? I will empower adults to trust and invest in the wisdom of kids. They’re capable of so much, and I think we adults have lots to learn from them!

What advice do you have for the incoming HGSE class? There’s room at HGSE for exactly who you are. Don’t feel the need to live up to some external standard. Everyone feels imposter syndrome at times, but the best parts of the experience come when you vulnerably invite people in to know your authentic self. Embrace discomfort and be ambitious about pursuing what you came to learn. Who knows, you might even surprise yourself on the journey. 

Read about the other recipients of the Intellectual Contribution Award and learn more about HGSE Commencement 2019.