Ph.D. in Education, 2012
School of Education
September 1, 2015
Jimmy Leak, Ph.D., Nuru International Education Strategic Adviser
It has been a whirlwind three years since I graduated as a member of the inaugural cohort of Ph.D. students at UCI’s School of Education in June of 2012. I have had the privilege of working for Nuru International as the Education Program Manager in both Kenya (2 years) and Ethiopia (9 months). I am now Nuru’s Education Strategic Advisor and based mostly in the U.S.
At Nuru, I’ve had the opportunity to manage, design, and implement literacy-based educational interventions for children living in extreme poverty in remote, rural areas. Globally, UNESCO reported in 2015 that there are 781 million adults in the world who lacked basic literacy. A large majority of these adults come from countries like Kenya and Ethiopia where Nuru works where large percentages of the population live in extreme poverty, usually defined by the World Bank as families who earn less than $1.25 per day. While organizations working towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals have drastically increased access to education in the developing world over the last 15 years, there is still a great lack of quality.
Nuru’s education programs aim to increase the quality of children’s education by providing supplementary English literacy workshops in Kenya, as well as teacher training and out-of-school reading opportunities in rural communities in Ethiopia. By working to increase the reading levels of children, Nuru hopes to get children to the point of “reading to learn”, which ultimately will provide opportunities to reach secondary school, university, and have greater career options. Our Kenyan and Ethiopian staff members work so hard each day to achieve these goals and constantly impress and inspire me with their dedication.
People often ask me, “Do you use the skills you learned at UCI in your work with Nuru?” My answer is always a wholeheartedly, “Yes, every day!” While my work is different than most of our graduates in Education, I constantly apply the analytical reasoning skills I learned from professors like Greg Duncan and George Farkas. We use and analyze monitoring and evaluation data on a consistent basis to adapt our program and look at trends to see where we need to place more emphasis. We conduct research to evaluate program models of other organizations and draw upon best practices in the teaching and learning sector. I have introduced concepts such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I learned about in the late Professor Michael Martinez’s class to our staff as well as applied principles of educational leadership I learned from Deborah Vandell and Coach T (Timothy Tift, Lecturer SOE Emeritus). Finally, I regularly communicate with my Ph.D. program colleagues to pick their brains on the latest research and ways of thinking about things in the education sector to try and improve our programs at Nuru.
I am very grateful for my time at UCI and all that I learned. Adding the experience I gained over the past three years, I believe I am now in a position to put those knowledge and skills to practical, everyday use to help lift children all over the world out of extreme poverty and give them opportunities for the future.