Co-hosting Rethink Education: Much More than a Forum on New Perspectives in Education
In June 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in the Young Leaders of the America’s Initiative Fellowship Host reverse exchange program through generous support from the United States Department of State, United States Embassy in Mexico City, Meridian International Center, and World Chicago. In my reverse exchange, I traveled to Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico to co-host, Rethink Education: Foro para las Nuevas Perspectivas, at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey with my co-founder and “amiga”, Fabiola Figueroa Navarro.
Rethink Education was a great success with over 100 researchers, evaluators, teachers, students, and parents taking part in the forum’s conference sessions during the three-day event. The forum opened with a discussion of ways to achieve educational equity in the United States, and closed with a similar discussion of the efforts taking place in Mexico. Speakers from across Mexico and United States shared their perspectives on educational equality, and mechanisms that can be applied to reduce educational inequities cross culturally. In three short days, we had come full circle and challenged our forum attendees to think critically about the issues most important to them, their students and schools, and society. Unsurprisingly, Rethink Education’s attendees and speakers left the event energized to not only apply what they had learned with their own students in primary and secondary schools, other faculty members and researchers at their universities, and educational issues impacting their day-to-day lives, but also, to dig deeper to learn more.
Looking back, the time spent hosting Rethink Education was the “blink of an eye” in comparison to the many months spent preparing to share our passion for education reform efforts with others. I experienced firsthand how creating and hosting a successful forum is no easy feat, and that it is an undertaking often requiring long work hours and sacrifices. Nevertheless, through this process, I grew personally and professionally in ways that I, as a 31-year old, early career, research scientist who wakes up each day excited to go to work, never thought possible. It was in these instances, when Fabiola and I were preparing for Rethink Education, that I look back on with the most pride and sense of accomplishment (…although I am still smiling when I think about the actual Rethink Education forum J).
It really never is too late to learn a new language. Yet, I quickly learned that becoming bilingual is a very humbling process, regardless of age. Malcolm Gladwell is correct; it does require 10,000 hours to become an expert in something, and I am someone who is far from an expert when I make that conclusion!! However, challenging myself to become conversationally fluent in Spanish brought me back to the classroom, and through the tutelage, and patience, of the instructors at the Latin American Language Center (hyperlink: https://www.lalcenter.com/) and my conversation partner, Lili, I was able to learn the grammatical and speaking skills I needed to present in Spanish, and most importantly, to connect with the audience. Fabiola and I often speak in “Spanglish,” and I most certainly still mispronounce/misuse words, but having the ability to connect with the Mexican people in their native language is something I believe only positively benefitted Rethink Education, and my development as a researcher and person.
I also quickly learned the importance of surrounding myself with individuals who are dedicated to doing good work, who are unafraid to take risks to break down barriers and push limits, and who want to share their passions. In this regard, I could not have asked for a better Fellow to co-create Rethink Education. Working with Fabiola and her company, Endemica (hyperlink: http://endemicasocial.com/), taught me how my group, Outlier Research & Evaluation at UChicago STEM Education (hyperlink: http://outlier.uchicago.edu/), can partner to expand the reach of our efforts as we dare to make education better. Fabiola has an entrepreneurial mind, and is someone who I am excited to continue learning from as we work together in the future. She also shared her culture with me in ways that were truly enriching, which offered me an insiders’ perspective to Mexican culture, and allowed my reverse-exchange experiences to be truly life changing.
This experience reinvigorated my love of learning, and also, reaffirmed my views on the importance of learning new things, particularly, through travel to other countries to experience new cultures. I returned to the US a more well-rounded individual with better perspectives on education, Latin America, and US-Mexico relations than when I left. Fabiola and I are in agreement; our work is not done! The second edition of Rethink Education will be held in 2020 in Mexico as we build on the momentum we have generated, which only serves to emphasize that Rethink Education offered much more than just new perspectives on education in Mexico and the US.