Senior Advisor for USAID to Present 'Let Girls Learn: Education in Developing Countries'

(Nov. 4, 2014) -- Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International Education at the U.S. Agency for International Development, will visit the University of Kentucky on Thursday, November 20, as part of UK's International Education Week.

Christie Vilsack, Senior Advisor for International Education at USAID, with teachers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Speaking at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall, Vilsack will discuss USAID’s education strategy in her presentation titled, "Let Girls Learn: Education in Developing Countries." The event is free and open to the public.

UDAID's education strategy is an initiative focused on improving children’s reading skills, strengthening workforce development and providing fair opportunities for education in areas ridden by conflict. As USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education, Vilsack travels the world to visit with education leaders, to learn about international programs and to share her insights about education.

Vilsack sat down with UKNow to answer a few questions about her work and the importance of education and the role of internationalization.

What is your role at the U.S. Agency for International Development?

I am the USAID Senior Advisor for International Education. I call myself the storyteller for USAID education.  I speak externally about USAID’s education strategy on behalf of Administrator Raj Shah. I educate members of Congress, work with our counterparts in other development agencies around the world, with our UN partners, our implementing partners, private partners and look for ways to partners with other agencies of government. One of our education goals involves higher education and so I also spend time traveling to college and university campuses to talk with students, faculty and administrators about international education.  I have also expanded my reach to Main Street audiences as well. As a small town Midwesterner and a politician I also understand the importance of communicating with American taxpayers who support the work we do.

Given the challenges in the world today what is the role of USAID? How can USAID help?

USAID partners to end extreme poverty, to promote resilient democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity. People are living on less than a $1.25 a day in many of countries where we work. Our foreign service officers develop relationships with governments in the countries where we work to identify areas where we can help.  With research and innovation we can help create opportunities to invest in and scale up programs that we know work. We monitor and evaluate our programs, and make data-driven decisions on where to focus. We know, for instance that individual earnings increase 10% for each year of education completed. We know that children born to educated women are likely to live past five years old.

What are the most important components of USAID’s Education Strategy?

We are committed to teaching 100 million children to read better. We are committed to assuring access to an education for an additional 15 million children in conflict and crisis--girls, child soldiers, children with disabilities and children who have lost their parents to disease, war, and natural disasters.  We are also committed to providing workforce skills to youth in developing countries so they can access meaningful work  and to engage the higher education community in helping us solve development problems.

How does USAID's education strategy align with internationalization goals at an institution like the University of Kentucky?

Universities today need to graduate problem solvers, people who have an understanding of the world, who know how to collaborate and who think strategically. Today, only 1 percent of college students study abroad.  Only 44% of high school students study a foreign language.  The decision that most affected my life was to choose to become a foreign exchange student to Chile when I was 17.  All the decisions I’ve made since started with the lessons I learned that summer in Santiago from where I went to college, to whom I married, to the job I have now.  In a world so interconnected, a university is pivotal in providing opportunities for students to get a global perspective.

The title of your talk is "Let Girls Learn: Education in Developing Countries." How does girl’s education fit into USAID’s mission and your own personal mission?

In 1968, as an 18-year-old, I became a member of the charter class of Kirkland College, and helped create the first college for women established in this country in 50 years.  It was the beginning of the Women’s Movement. Now I travel to places like Afghanistan where we have made it possible for 8 million additional children to go to school, 40% of them girls.  To stand in a school in Kabul that educates 6000 girls a day, in three shifts, is thrilling. Knowing that USAID programs like Promote will give girls like the ones I met there the chance to access opportunities to work in government, work in democracy and governance, and find mentors in business when they leave school is gratifying and bodes well for women in other countries in conflict and crisis.

How has the recent attention to this issue, for example with Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, affected your work?

I first met Malala on Malala Day at the United Nations in July 2013.  I’ve worked with adolescent girls and young adult women for over 40 years as a teacher.  It was clear to me as I listened to her speak on that day that she is remarkable.  When she asked children to pick up their pens and their books to demand that all children have an opportunity to learn, I realized that her advocacy is a unique opportunity for the education community to focus the public’s attention on the really important issue of access and quality learning.  Because I’m focused on garnering the attention of Main Street to international education, I recognize the potential of having a charismatic young woman speaking so eloquently on this issue.

About the UK International Center

The University of Kentucky International Center (UKIC) supports the development of agreements and partnerships with universities, foreign governments, NGOs and U.S. government agencies abroad; promotes the involvement of UK faculty members, staff and students in international research, development projects and related activities; and facilitates access to international funding opportunities.

UKIC comprises Education Abroad, International Student and Scholars Services (ISSS), Global Health, the Confucius Institute and works in close partnership with Undergraduate Enrollment Management, the Center for English as a Second Language and the Graduate School to recruit a growing number of international students to UK each year.

If you have any questions please respond to this email or phone Derrick Meads, Manager of Marketing and Communications: 859-323-2113. We would love to hear from you!


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