Alumni Come Together to Support Today's Students

By Ashleigh Hollowell, Office of Development Communications Posted Wed, 05/16/2018 - 15:00

An educational legacy that began decades ago and had a profound effect on a group of USF doctoral students still supports today’s students, thanks to a group of alumni who established a scholarship fund to honor the social justice teachings they learned at the University of San Francisco.

The Paulo Freire International and Multicultural Education Scholarship was established nearly two decades ago by a group of alumni who benefitted from the teachings of Freire, whose philosophies were embedded in the foundation of the International and Multicultural Education doctoral program at USF.

Peter Baird EdD ’01 was one of the initial doctoral students to rally his peers to create a scholarship.

“This scholarship continues the legacy that we are all standing on the shoulders of the people who went before us,” Baird said.  

Baird was so influenced by Freire’s teachings that he continues to infuse them in his current teachings as an associate professor of bilingual education at CSU Sacramento.

“If we are not conscious about it, education can be a form of supporting the status quo instead of challenging it,” said Baird. “We want to lift up and support students and challenge inequalities in society.”

Freire and His Connection to USF

Freire, the Brazilian educator, philosopher, and author of the book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” proposed a new relationship between teacher, student, and society.

Dr. Alma Flor Ada, a retired School of Education professor and doctoral program adviser, met Freire years ago while working on her doctorate in Lima, Peru. She saw the value in applying in the classroom his philosophies of using education for change, social justice, and development. 

Ada and Freire formed a professional bond that would bring Freire’s teachings directly to USF students, through his visits to the university. His pedagogy was interwoven into the School of Education curriculum.

“Freire became very significant to the International Multicultural Program,” Ada said.

Many of the doctoral students Ada advised at USF were recipients of a federal fellowship, under the Title VII Bilingual Education Act, which paid for their doctoral studies.

“These students became a very close-knit community,” Ada said. “This allowed for ample time for dialogue, for advisement, and for the development of mentorships between students that were finishing, or who had already finished the doctorate.”

When Ada announced her plans for retirement, several of the doctoral students wanted to honor her, as well as Freire, who had passed away in 1992. The group of students established the scholarship in Freire’s honor to support future doctoral students who would not receive the same Title VII funding, since the federal fellowship had ended.

Carrying on a Legacy

Today, access for students in the doctoral program is being carried on through the generosity of these alumni, who witnessed Freire’s work, as well as Ada’s passion for continuing his legacy and work.

“I hope that the recipient will learn about Paulo Freire and find ways to continue his teachings,” Ada said.

“Our goal was to be able to do something and pay back for what we had been given. You can’t do this kind of work for social justice in isolation — you need others who are like-minded,” said Nancy Jean Smith EdD ‘95, chair and professor emerita of teacher education at the California State Universities.

The Paulo Freire scholarship fund currently has more than 45 donors, most of whom are alumni. It was awarded for the first time in fall 2017 to doctoral student Justine Santos EdD ‘19.

“This scholarship really made me feel aligned with purpose and making sure practice aligns with it,” said Santos, who is studying Human Rights Education and currently works for Californians for Justice.

The group of alumni who founded the scholarship, meanwhile, have high hopes for the future of the fund and its support for students.

“It is great. It is something that we all worked hard and tried to bring it to fruition. I hope it continues to serve the students and the students who are selected carry the spirits of what we learned from Paulo Freire, and that they also have a passion for social justice,” said Marcos Contreras ‘77, MA ‘80, EdD ‘93, retired English as a Second Language (ESL) professor at San Joaquin Delta College. “I would not have been able to achieve and get my own doctorate and advance my career and my work if it had not been for the scholarships I received from USF myself.”

Learn how you can make a gift to support the Paulo Freire International and Multicultural Education scholarship

This gift was made in support of Changing the World from Here: Campaign for the University of San Francisco.