Katie Zanoni, EdD in International and Multicultural Education '17

Peace by Peace

Inspiring a new generation of women leaders.

Katie Zanoni ’17 believes peace is as important a classroom subject as math or science. That’s why she designed a curriculum for an all-girl secondary school in Kenya to teach students about powerful women fighting for peace, human rights, and equality.

The students, who come from poor families living in rural villages, learn about Kenyan women like environmentalist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize, and human rights activist Alice Nderitu. In Kenya, women don’t often go beyond secondary school or become community leaders, Katie says.

“Women like Wangari Maathai and Alice Nderitu have demonstrated they can surpass cultural norms that are oppressing women in Kenya and other parts of the world,” says Katie, who is earning her doctorate in international and multicultural education (IME) with a concentration in human rights education. “Their stories motivate students to bypass these limitations and raise their own expectations to reach their full potential.”

A class project comes to life

Katie created the curriculum for the Daraja Academy as part of Associate Professor of International and Multicultural Education Shabnam Koirala-Azad’s class on gender and globalization — which has students develop and implement a real-life project, drawing from what they’ve learned.

One of the benefits of doing a real-life project is that students have an opportunity to face and solve challenges with the guidance of experienced faculty, Katie says.

The IME faculty place a strong emphasis on working with communities in the spirit of solidarity to ensure their voices are properly represented.”

She’s now been working with Daraja for about two years, and in February she visited Kenya to assess how to strengthen her curriculum.

"The biggest challenge I face with the project in Kenya is that I am working remotely and I am not able to be with the girls, the teachers, and the Daraja administration on a regular basis,” Katie says. “The IME faculty place a strong emphasis on working with communities in the spirit of solidarity to ensure their voices are properly represented. The IME professors and students supported my work by sharing strategies that allowed me to honor the local wisdom of the Daraja Academy community and think through the curricula at multiple levels to ensure it is relevant to the lives of the students."

USF leads in peace and human rights education

After finishing her degree, Katie wants to advocate for peace and human rights studies becoming a more regular component of formal education at home and abroad. It’s a discipline that USF is already leading in, as the only school in the country to offer a master’s degree in human rights education.

“I believe we can institutionalize peace and human rights education,” Katie says. “I want to work directly with schools and ministries of education to find ways to integrate topics like nonviolent conflict resolution, human rights, social justice, and environmental awareness into their existing curricula.”