Dr. Ryann Craig moderates the panel of ESJ fellows at the 2023 Global Social Justice Research Symposium


ESJ Fellows Showcase Passion for Innovative Education Policy and Initiatives at Global Social Justice Research Symposium

By: Siobhan Cooney

September 29, 2023

Entering its thirteenth year, the Education and Social Justice (ESJ) Project—a joint initiative between the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ)—awards summer fellowships to a select number of students who spend three weeks with institutions engaged in efforts to promote social justice through education across the United States and abroad.

On September 22 at the Global Social Justice Research Symposium, the 2023 ESJ fellows—Renee Vongai Mutare (SFS'24), Molly May (C’24), and Pragyan Acharya (SFS'24)—shared their research experiences with their local partners and the Georgetown community. They presented alongside students from other research fellowships across the university, including the Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership & Research Scholarship Program, Provost’s Distinguished Undergraduate Research Fellowship, Lisa J. Raines Fellowship, Royden B. Davis Fellowship, and David F. Andretta Summer Research Fellowship.

The symposium was hosted by the Berkley Center and CSJ in partnership with the Center for Research and Fellowships at Georgetown University.

Research at the Intersection of Education and Social Justice

Under faculty supervision, ESJ fellows conduct compelling interdisciplinary research and in-depth examinations of innovative educational initiatives, with a focus on the work of Jesuit secondary and post-secondary institutions. These partnerships provide invaluable networks of support for the student researchers during and even after the fellowship.

“This year we had over 40 Zoom attendees from the Philippines and Belize, our two host sites,” says Dr. Ryann Craig, director of student programs and assistant research professor at the Berkley Center. “We’re so grateful for the ways technology is allowing us to share the work of our partners with a wider audience.”

In the course of their year-long projects, the symposium is the first opportunity that ESJ fellows have to formally present their findings to their partners and peers. Renee Vongai Mutare shared that she had never presented her research outside of a classroom before, so participating in the symposium was itself a major accomplishment.

She also believes her ESJ project—focused on the counseling services offered by Project HEAL at St. Martin de Porres, a public Catholic school in Belize City, Belize—helped crystallize her identity as a researcher in the field of narrative justice.

“Storytelling was an important part of the fellowship, and presenting my research in this setting helped me to further appreciate the importance of my work. As a social justice advocate, I am passionate about pursuing narrative justice through my research.”

Dr. Craig echoes Renee’s sentiments, explaining how the project impacts students personally, academically, and professionally. “The ripple effects of our student researchers extend beyond the finite period of the fellowship,” says Dr. Craig.

One of these ripples is how the fellowship influences the way students think about their career paths in policy and research. This was the case for Molly May, who studied the educational mission and religious identity of St. Martin de Porres.

“As of now, I am hoping to pursue Teach for America after graduation, and I would love to stay in DC and work with elementary-aged children. Afterwards, I hope to transition to education-focused research,” she says. “ESJ was an incredible introduction to exactly the kind of work I hope to do and helped solidify my interests.”

Pragyan Acharya had a similar experience of self-discovery while working on his project. After studying the award-winning night program at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, he wants to bring positive change back to his home community in Nepal.

“As I want to work in the education sector in Nepal,” he says, “the fellowship has given me a new area to focus on—the creation of Alternative Learning Systems to re-integrate out-of-school youth and adults.”

Global Undergraduate Scholarship at Georgetown

The ESJ fellowship is situated in the broader Georgetown University undergraduate research ecosystem, and this symposium reflects a spirit of intellectual community-building and collaboration.

Dr. Fatemeh Hosseini, CSJ’s director of engaged scholarship and pedagogy and assistant research professor, emphasizes the importance of this event for helping students nurture their skills and hone their unique academic voices.

“The symposium is an opportunity for GU students from across all campuses to come together to think and explore how the power of their knowledge can be a mobilizing force for positive change that centers local communities and honors their knowledge.”

Research projects from students in other fellowships covered a range of topics with both domestic and global scopes. For example, one student investigated the efficacy of Fortune 500 corporate statements on COVID-19 and labor practices, while another team examined key factors that influence teacher and parent perspectives of government-run schools in Kashmir, Pakistan.

Dr. Bill Cessato, deputy director of Georgetown’s Center for Research and Fellowships, feels a great sense of pride in these undergraduates for their growth as researchers and scholars.

“Sharing research at events like the symposium is a meaningful opportunity for students to disseminate knowledge and engage in conversation, while refining the skills of public presentation. Year after year, we see just how transformative undergraduate research can be in the overall educational experience.”

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