The Kozmetsky Center was privileged to have Dr. Diana Kruger visit St. Edward’s University this fall. Here are some reflection pieces by students who were able to work with her.
Given the opportunity to meet with Diana Kruger through the Kozmetsky Center program here at St. Edward’s University was great. Through meeting with her and attending her talk I learned a lot about Latin America and how we in the US compare. Being that I am majoring in Marketing as well as earning a minor in Sociology, Diana Kruger was a great fit for a mentor. She has a Ph.D in Economics as well as two masters, one in economics the other in finance. However, does research in the fields of education and families in Latin America.
I was not really set on what I want to do after graduation, which will be coming up quickly within the next couple of semesters, but after meeting with her I had a better sense of what I might want to do. The idea that she has a good business sense and utilizes that with socio-economic and education research is what drew me to participate in this program. It sounded like what I wanted to do. I went to Dr. Kruger with the idea of doing research on the basis of education in the US, perhaps with non-profits or governmental entities. Upon meeting with her, she gave me the advice to look into non-profits and even connected me with someone that is currently doing exactly that here in Austin. She advised me to study abroad in Chile, where she teaches and take some business courses there as well.
The chance to connect with someone outside the St. Edward’s campus was a great opportunity that I am very pleased to have gotten the chance to participate in. I love the fact that she is still available for us to communicate with and further the conversations we had while she was here. She is truly an inspiration and a definite role model for me in the fields of business and research. Her accomplishments make it known to myself and others that it can very well be done and be very happy.
Dr. Kruger is an economics professor at the Adolfo Ibañez School of Business and has lived in Chile for 9 years. Her responsibilities while on campus included mentoring me and a small group of students that were selected for the mentorship as well as giving a lecture titled “Building Bridges across Economies and Societies” The topic of her speech was education in Latin America. She is currently working on a research project for the U.N. agency called the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean which, among other things, conducts research on various topics in the Latin American Region and publishes reports and other publications. Her project is on the unequal labor outcomes among young men and women in the region, and specifically, finding key reasons for high school desertion in Latin America with an emphasis on gender differences. She is part of a larger team that is looking at other dimensions of the issue, and her work will serve as input into a report that will be published at the end of the year.
Key benefits of an education include more female employment, allowing workers access to better employment, and high income (which increases exponentially). In some cases this is the only possibility of escaping poverty. She enumerated the levels of schooling beginning with preschool, the best and only chance to impact future outcomes. Sub-Saharan Africa is always lacking in this category and she referred to the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary education by 2015 as being currently unattainable due to this challenge.
High school coverage quickly tapers off in enrollment, noticing a significant drop in the second two years at a rate of 50-70% on average. She explained that this is largely due to the intergenerational poverty gap whereby poor children can’t finish high school because they are working to support their own families. Reasons for leaving high school include economic, work, domestic responsibilities (motherhood), lack of schools, and those not interested because it is not needed for their future labor prospects. In addition, companies tend to look for soft skills as a factor of employment weighted far heavier than skills and education. This includes socio-emotional skills, the ability to show up to work on time and follow through on tasks, and understanding simple instructions. There is a disconnection between the skills employers look for and the skills gained from higher education. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is currently working toward mending this discrepancy.
Lastly, Latin America is very behind in its post-secondary education. Not only is it a huge investment because of its high cost, but there are large opportunity costs as well. Dr. Kruger talked about a youth-based movement currently taking place in Chile to lower the price of student loans. Camila Vallejo, a student leader, has become a cult figure for the movement. Her student protests have led to nationwide shutdown and a 21 point proposal by the Chilean government to constitutionally guarantee quality education, allow student participation in university governance, end local control over public secondary education, and increase university scholarships for people with un-payable student debt.
While researching for an oral presentation, I discovered that Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are the two regions that keep the U.N. from reaching its MDG for universal primary education. These regions are largely affected by political instability and warfare in places such as Mali and Pakistan. Malnutrition is an issue as well, due to lack of stability and poverty. In addition, isolation is an issue as most places in Southern Asia are rural and highly elevated. In Mongolia, a place which relies heavily on imports, mothers and children suffer from malnutrition. Children must also travel long distances to attend school. Other contributing factors include gender inequality, lack of teachers, and school fees. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) supports countries in building quality primary education systems that reach all children, for instance through the Basic Education in Africa Programme. In Ethiopia, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) supports a program called “Berhane Hewan” which advocates putting an end to child marriages and keeping girls in school. The World Food Programme (WFP) provides school meals and also encourages parents to send more girls to attend classes. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) partnered with UNESCO to create infrastructure and training for e-learning. Mongolia has introduced mobile schools (‘tent schools’) to reach children who would otherwise not have regular access to primary education. 100 mobile schools have been providing educational services across 21 provinces. UNESCO also provides courses for teaching Arabic to non-Arabic speaking Iraqi schoolchildren.
I was able to meet with Dr. Kruger in person during her time at St. Edwards although we did also correspond through email. I asked her about her work with the U.N., and we talked about possible career opportunities post-graduation. Since I have conducted research two semesters in a row for two separate teachers, one of her ideas was a research-related job position much like she does now for the U.N. I asked her if the research really does make a difference and she replied that although sometimes her research goes unused by countries where political corruption does not foster change, other times this research can become the backbone for implementing important programs that can eventually lead to societal change for the better. This was a great opportunity for me to get to speak with someone who obviously works very hard for a very prestigious organization who I know I otherwise would not have had the chance or good fortune of meeting.
Being a student at St. Edward’s is one of the most fulfilling things in my life thus far. One of the reasons for this, is because of the many opportunities we are given. I was nominated by Professor Kay Burrough-Butterfield to work with the Kozmetsky Center and be a mentee for Diana Kruger. I read over Ms. Kruger’s biography and I was really impressed on all that she done and what she is still doing in life. Her dedication to her work was shown when she came over to the states and spent two weeks here and talking with everyone who wanted to talk to her about what she does.
Sitting down and talking with Ms. Kruger made me realize a lot about my life. She made me realize that I seem to be going on the right path for my future. That working with kids is something that I am really passionate about and that I need to continue this dream. I was telling her how I am also thinking of going to physical therapy school or nursing school along with occupation therapy school, and how I was not sure of which one I wanted to do. She told me to go volunteer at these places and see what I really love. One thing she did emphasize was that I needed to work with kids on whatever profession I decide to do.
I am thankful to have worked with Diana Kruger and I hope the Kozmetsky Center continues to give this opportunity to St. Edward’s students in years to come. I want to thank Professor Kay Burrough-Butterfield, Diana Kruger, and everyone at the Kozmetsky Center for giving me this opportunity.