Obtaining a coveted research fellowship has taken Maria Kelly, a doctoral student in USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, to Malawi for a two-month academic adventure with the international organization, Save the Children.
“Save the Children is the leading independent organization creating lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the world … Our work takes us into the heart of communities, where we help children and families help themselves,” according to its website.
Kelly, who earned an undergraduate degree in Anthropology (2003) and most recently a master’s in education from USD, will do just that. She arrived this past weekend to live among the natives of Malawi, located in southeast Africa, and assess the numerical literacy of children in school through July.
She said the work this summer coordinates well with Kelly’s role as a graduate assistant in SOLES’ new Mobile Technology Learning Center.
“While in Malawi, I will assess elementary school students’ literacy of numeracy using software on tablets developed by RTI, which is educational software,” she said. “A baseline assessment occurred last year at fifteen out of thirty schools in Malawi, but 15 schools were not trained. Along with the assessment, there is student and teacher training around numeracy.”
Kelly will finish the project started last summer. “I’m going to retrain the students from last year to see if the intervention increased numeracy and then report back to both USD and Save the Children.”
Kelly’s work with Save the Children overlaps with her work at USD in the same way her numerous passions overlap with each other.
“Creating transformational education environments is my favorite part of being an educator,” said Kelly, who ultimately plans to continue researching and pursuing her goal of becoming a college professor. “I’ve learned that education can be transformational if it’s done well and I have a passion for creating and researching environments that transform students.”
This newest opportunity is also the latest in a series of interesting research experiences she’d had since her undergraduate graduation.
Kelly took a six-year break from higher education after her 2003 undergraduate degree to work for a local non-profit called Include Autism. There, she worked closely with children affected by autism and learned she really enjoyed working with children.
Even though she was working full-time, her research didn’t fall by the wayside. Kelly worked for Include Autism and also did non-human primate research. Her love of research and education came together when she then decided to go back to school to get her master’s degree.
It was during the 2010-11 academic year that Kelly had the chance to live in Kenya. She wrote her thesis there while working at one of USD’s partner institutions, Daraja Academy. Unbeknownst to Kelly at that time, her experience in Kenya ultimately helped to secure her fellowship with Save the Children.
Kelly said she’s incredibly thankful for the unsurpassed opportunities she’s had access to while at USD.
“I’ve been to be able to do a lot of what I’m interested in and am thankful for that. I really love doing research and I hope to continue to do that,” she said.
— Taylor Milam
Photo courtesy of Maria Kelly