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Putting Learners First: Patricia Vazquez, IEP'22

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for International Education Policy reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Patricia Vazquez

"This was the smile when I received my acceptance letter. I guess I haven’t felt the same ever. When I receive the email my family organized me a party with balloons that I will never forget. And it was just the beginning of a wonderful journey."

Photo: Courtesy of Patricia Vazquez

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes graduating Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Patricia Vazquez will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for International Education Policy (IEP) Program during HGSE's Convocation exercises on May 25.

Professor Fernando Reimers, faculty director of IEP, comments on Vazquez's selection:“Patricia Vazquez embodies the qualities of the entire community of students and graduates of the International Education Policy Program: a commitment to creating educational opportunities that provide all students the opportunity to develop as whole human beings, and to develop the competencies to collaborate with others in improving their communities. As a student in the IEP Program, Patricia found numerous ways to share her knowledge, experience, and professional capital as former secretary of education of the state of Puebla, in Mexico, for the benefit of all her peers. She engaged many of her peers in meaningful professional collaborations with education leaders in several states in Mexico, especially around finding effective ways to sustain educational opportunities during the pandemic. She contributed to creating community virtually, as she and her peers opened pathways as the first cohort of HGSE graduates in an online program. Patricia demonstrated a keen understanding of the power of community to support learning, and of our collective responsibility to build ever-widening communities to transform education for a better future.”

We spoke to Vazquez — who upon graduation will be leading an NGO focused on children who are experiencing violence in their lives — about her time at HGSE and how the pandemic has changed the education landscape:

What were your goals in coming to the Ed School — and have those goals changed?  

Since I finished my undergraduate studies in 2005 I wanted to go to Harvard, I even started my application process. I guess it is the dream of many students in the world. But the need to work and have a paycheck made me suspend those dreams. So, in 2019 before the pandemic and after 15 years of work experience, I attended an executive course at the Kennedy School. I then visited Professor Reimers and he motivated me to think about HGSE. He even recommended to start first with an Ed.M. as my interest was more about enrolling into a doctoral program. So, the pandemic arrived, and I was going into a huge professional challenge. For me, HGSE has been a space where I have reflected about my role of practitioner and has helped me understand how important is to be a lifelong learner. 

"To be a practitioner in education you have always to be open to learn in different ways."

What were your experiences with online learning and what do you think makes it effective? 

I'm convinced that to be a student in this century the need to adapt and adopt to any context is truly important, independent of the age. Being online hasn't been easy. I discovered how tired you can be after hours in front of the computer. But it can also be motivating if you are working with an organized platform. For me, the agile access, and the quality of the learning resources were outstanding. Each one of the courses has an extraordinary way of using digital resources. Even with the distance and the challenges we had with the pandemic, the capacity of professors to organize, create, and use the digital resources were amazing. 

What is something that you learned this year that you will take with you throughout your career in education? 

HGSE has taught me about the importance of keeping yourself open to new perspectives and challenges. So, my biggest takeaway is to always put the learners first. As a student I felt so many times that HGSE was doing everything to make the learning experience remarkable. But, to be a practitioner in education you have always to be open to learn in different ways. The Ed School reminded me that no matter where, building community, respecting others paths, and embracing changes is part of being a learner of the 21st century. 

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

The pandemic just reinforced what I was trying to figure out for years, context matters. Teachers/practitioners/decisionmakers need to do their best to keep track of everyone. But, the most important thing of all is that the pandemic was a pivot in the way I think about education policies. Today more than ever, a bottom-up strategy is needed. There is no way to design any process apart from the first recipient of our ideas or projects. I now prefer small project with long-term outcomes, rather than a big impact where the possibilities are endless. 

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for …

My daughters. They were/are HGSE students just like me. They even recognized the voice of the professors and many times they were next to me doing their homework or drawing when I was in class.