The first time Joan DeJaeghere lived outside the United States, she studied in Argentina. She was a first-generation college student from southwestern Minnesota, interested in the world. That semester turned out to be only the first step on a global path.
Today DeJaeghere is an associate professor and coordinator of the program in comparative and international development education (CIDE). She has studied, worked, or lived in many countries across South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, plus Australia, where she conducted her dissertation research.
DeJaeghere’s scholarship focuses on social inequalities and their relationship to education. It’s a focus that developed through a variety of experiences, including teaching English in Indonesia.
“That’s when I became more aware of disparities, such as who had access to education and what they could do with that education,” she remembers.
From those early experiences, DeJaeghere learned that she loved to teach and followed her interest in working with students back to Minnesota. Seeking to learn how to facilitate intercultural learning experiences, she completed a master’s in counseling and student personnel psychology. She went to work as the international education program coordinator at Macalester College.
“I worked with students who had lived amazing, complex lives,” she says. “Many had lived in several countries and cultures and came from mixed-heritage families. They were developing identities, asking what it means to identify in one way or many ways. That’s what first led me to studying the question, ‘What does it mean to be a citizen?’”
Connecting the classroom to the world
DeJaeghere observed that international education tended to serve middle class students. But, she wondered, how did it serve students who had fewer opportunities?
She headed back to the U for a doctoral program in comparative and international development education. In 1999, she accompanied professor David Chapman to Pakistan to evaluate a girls’ education project funded by a major foundation.
“That was a pivotal experience,” she says. “It allowed me to return to questions of development and what education can do to address inequalities…back to some of the intellectual and political roots from my undergrad years in international relations.
“It sparked my thinking about how to make graduate education more connected to problems and projects.”
DeJaeghere drew on the intellectual depth and experience of CIDE faculty plus, as a Spencer Fellow for the last two years of her doctorate, access to scholars across the country. She studied feminist scholarship as well as the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, who developed the capabilities approach.
She began to publish and present at conferences, often with collaborators. She also wrote reports, including one for a World Bank project in Bangladesh, and completed her dissertation. DeJaeghere continued to lecture and work on international projects and in 2007 was hired into a tenure-track position.
“I was bringing together the areas of international education and international development education in my work,” she explains. “How could we bring a grant program into the classroom, and the classroom to a grant program?”
After leading a three-year research project for CARE in eight countries, DeJaeghere was approached by the MasterCard Foundation Canada to write a proposal, this time to conduct a six-year evaluation of a youth-livelihoods initiative in eastern Africa. In 2011 DeJaeghere and Chapman won the $3.4 million grant.
It is a project that does what DeJaeghere envisioned: brings a research and development program into the classroom and the classroom to the field. Each year, graduate students in CIDE and other departments learn how to evaluate the work of three youth development organizations working in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
“The bigger question for me is ‘How is education changing youths’ lives?’” says DeJaeghere. “For example, it may be teaching people to be workers, but what is it doing for them as individuals, as citizens?” That is the topic of her book in progress.
In a field long dominated by men, DeJaeghere stands out. Together with her husband, a faculty researcher at the U’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, she balances academic life and lots of travel with raising two sons. She describes her outside interests as traveling, cooking, creative thought, and outdoor activities, from hiking to SCUBA diving.
DeJaeghere’s affinity for the outdoors goes back to her childhood on a farm and long-distance running in high school. In fact, her access to college came through an athletic scholarship.
It was only much later that DeJaeghere noticed how family narratives had influenced her path and work. Her father, raised in an immigrant family, didn’t speak English until grade school. Both her parents were forced out of high school early to support their families. So when they raised their own children, the message came through.
“My work now is primarily focused on youth who have not had access to school or continuing school,” says DeJaeghere. “I realize that family narrative is part of my passion.”
Read more about Joan DeJaeghere and the MasterCard Foundation’s Learn, Earn, and Save Initiative.
Learn more about the comparative and international development education program and the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, as well as the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change and master of development practice degree program, for which DeJaeghere is an affiliated faculty member.
Story by Gayla Marty | February 2015