With Fulbright, Northeastern student wants to fuse education and violence prevention

Graduating senior Esther Laaninen has received a Fulbright fellowship to teach English in Colombia. She says her global experiences and teaching opportunities in communities around the world have prepared her well. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University


Grad­u­ating senior Esther Laaninen’s time at North­eastern has been defined by her global expe­ri­ences, teaching oppor­tu­ni­ties in com­mu­ni­ties around the world, and on– and off-​​campus activ­i­ties. Now, she’s plan­ning to har­ness what she’s learned to make the most of a Ful­bright fel­low­ship in Colombia.

I’m so excited to receive this Ful­bright,” said Laa­ninen, SSH’16, an Honors stu­dent who studied human ser­vices and inter­na­tional affairs.

Laa­ninen, who speaks Spanish, will begin her Ful­bright fel­low­ship in August at the Uni­ver­sity of Magde­lena in the city of Santa Marta, where she will lead English-​​speaking classes for uni­ver­sity stu­dents. For her Fulbright’s ser­vice project, she hopes to create a com­mu­nity pro­gram for at-​​risk chil­dren blending her drive to pre­vent youth vio­lence with her pas­sion for the arts; she’s a dancer and an avid writer.

I think I’ll gain a lot of teaching and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills that will carry forth from this Ful­bright.
— Esther Laa­ninen, SSH’16

Laa­ninen said her North­eastern studies, on– and off-​​campus activ­i­ties, and global oppor­tu­ni­ties have pre­pared her well for the Fulbright—particularly the range of teaching expe­ri­ences she’s received. She vol­un­teered in Boston Public Schools for four years as part of Peace Through Play, a North­eastern service-​​learning stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion that brings pro­gram­ming to local schools that empowers young learners to change the world by cre­ating a cul­ture of peace. Through this orga­ni­za­tion, she helped develop edu­ca­tional games and activ­i­ties within ele­men­tary and middle schools aimed at coun­tering youth violence.

In summer 2013, Laa­ninen par­tic­i­pated in a Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram to Zambia, where she men­tored young girls and taught Eng­lish for the first time. Two years later, she taught Eng­lish in another inter­na­tional locale—this time in rural Nicaragua, where for four months she taught daily Eng­lish classes within three schools and launched a Spanish reading com­pre­hen­sion pro­gram in the com­mu­nity library. She also designed the first Eng­lish teaching assis­tant part­ner­ship in the com­mu­nity of Quezalguaque.

That Zambia expe­ri­ence pushed me out­side my com­fort zone,” Laa­ninen said. “It was the first time I was teaching Eng­lish, and I real­ized how much skill you need to be a teacher. You can’t just step in and teach.

I think I’ll gain a lot of teaching and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills that will carry forth from this Fulbright.”

Other North­eastern expe­ri­ences have fur­ther cul­ti­vated Laaninen’s inter­ests. She took what she described as a “life-​​changing course” on con­flict in Ire­land, which fos­tered her interest in pre­venting youth vio­lence and improving edu­ca­tional out­comes in post-​​conflict soci­eties. She noted the sim­i­lar­i­ties between the con­flict and his­tory there with those in Colombia, the latter of which she exam­ined for her senior cap­stone project.

Just prior to her Eng­lish teaching assist­ant­ship in Nicaragua, Laa­ninen spent four months in Bolivia working on co-​​op at Fun­dación Pro­greso, where she researched social entre­pre­neur­ship net­works in Latin America and crafted a plan of action to revamp the non­govern­mental organization’s com­mu­nity depart­ment. And when Laa­ninen returned to campus in fall 2015, she worked at Northeastern’s Social Impact Lab as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and events intern.

I would like a career that works to improve edu­ca­tional out­comes in post-​​conflict soci­eties and pre­vent youth vio­lence.
— Esther Laa­ninen, SSH’16

Laaninen’s Ful­bright will con­clude in May 2017, and she envi­sions one day attending grad­uate school to study con­flict pre­ven­tion or education.

I would like a career that works to improve edu­ca­tional out­comes in post-​​conflict soci­eties and pre­vent youth vio­lence,” she said, adding that she could very much see her­self doing this in Latin America.


Published On: May 4, 2016 |
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