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

04/122/16 - BOSTON, MA. - Esther Laaninen, SSHÕ16 posses for a portrait on April 22, 2016. 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.