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March 9, 2018

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PhD Candidate, Community Psychology

In my research, I examine the role of critical education in promoting transformative change. In this work, I use a multi-level lens to connect the structures and processes of education to the experiences and agency of learners. My work is based on a conviction that societal progress and individual capacity building proceed in tandem, and education systems can play a significant role in promoting collective justice and wellbeing. My supervisor is Dr. Manuel Riemer.

My latest paper, "'We can keep the fire burning': Building action competence through environmental justice education in Uganda and Germany," identifies these dynamics in the context of a six-country education program and research project. The Youth Leading Environmental Change (YLEC) project involved university- and community-based collaborators from Bangladesh, Canada, Germany, India, Uganda, and the United States of America to plan and implement an 11-unit education program for university-aged youth. Together, we identified environmental justice, systems thinking, and action competence as key pedagogical themes and goals. Through a longitudinal, mixed-methods design the research team examined the complexity of implementing an educational framework in diverse national contexts, as well as the impacts on the participants and their communities.

Focusing on the follow-up qualitative data from Uganda and Germany and the theme of action competence, my co-authors and I found that YLEC's impacts were most significant when it adapted to respond to contextual conditions and students' lived experiences while remaining true to YLEC's core goals and processes. Although we had expected to unlock young people's potential for engagement by raising consciousness, we found that the most significant barrier to action had been limited opportunities and channels for meaningful engagement.

YLEC was able to address this barrier by linking students to community partners, facilitating further learning through action even after the end of the program. Several Ugandan participants, for example, used the skills they had learned during YLEC to apply for a grant to build energy-efficient cookstoves in neighbouring villages to reduce deforestation, in addition to those they had already built for their own families and neighbours. As a global issue, climate change requires a global response; the YLEC findings have implications for multinational educational efforts that are grappling with the challenges of applying core pedagogical approaches in diverse settings.

In my dissertation research, I am examining the interactions between structure and agency more deeply, aiming to identify mechanisms through which school policies and practices are manifested in students' learning and behaviour, and vice versa. Specifically, I am examining a case in which structures for spiritual engagement intersect with students' capacity for wise world citizenship. Through this work, I aim to contribute to formal and informal education systems that strive to mindfully translate values and goals into structures that engage and promote young people's developing capacity to contribute to local and global issues of justice.

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