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Fall Convocation presents unique teaching opportunity for alumna

Amanda Ketner ’11, a math teacher at Woods Charter School in Chapel Hill, N.C., visited campus Oct. 2 with several students to hear husband-and-wife Pulitzer Prize-winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, whose book inspired her to create a chapter of Girls Learn International at the school.

Amanda Ketner '11 at Elon University's 2014 Fall Convocation featuring the Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture

Amanda Ketner ’11 remembers well the first time she heard Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof speak at Elon in 2010.

A Teaching Fellow, she was a year away from graduating with a degree in mathematics when she heard Kristof deliver a speech encouraging students to join worthy causes and help others less fortunate in the world. For Ketner the speech was one of many experiences that deepened the global awareness and engage learning concepts that came to define her time and Elon and much of her life after graduation.

So when she returned to campus Oct. 2 to hear Kristof and wife Sheryl WuDunn speak as part of Elon’s Fall Convocation and Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture, the math teacher brought a group of middle and high school girls from her school, Woods Charter School in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The girls were members of the school’s chapter of Girls Learn International, a student club Ketner helped establish after reading the best-selling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which Kristof and WuDunn co-authored.

During his opening remarks at Fall Convocation, Elon President Leo M. Lambert recognized Ketner for her initiative.

Giving the girls the opportunity to hear—and meet—the couple was an incredible teaching moment, says Ketner, who serves as the club’s faculty adviser. The club’s purpose is to educate and energize students in the United States about issues regarding access to education for girls around the globe.

“We use a well-defined curriculum that covers human rights activities and other issues across the world, but the main focus is education,” Ketner said. “At the base is to look at the fact that not everyone [in the world] has the same opportunities as here,” a message her students would likely not be exposed to outside school and another reason why bringing them to hear Kristof and WuDunn speak was so important for her.

The visit to Elon was one of two events Ketner and her students will attend as part of their GLI Club activities. On Oct. 10 they will attend the 2nd annual Girls Speak Out at the United Nations in New York. As part of the summit, which leads up to the International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11, videos telling girls’ personal stories from all over the world will be shared, including one produced by Ketner’s GLI Club.

Having their video chosen and being able to attend such a prestigious event is phenomenal, Ketner said, adding that she hopes all these experiences motivate her students to take action. “I’d like to see them empowered, for them to know they are capable, they can do what they put their minds to,” she said, “to realize that there is a huge need in the world and they are actually able to help fill that need.”

Besides working with the GLI Club at Woods, Ketner also volunteers with the nonprofit From Houses to Homes in Guatemala, where she takes a group of students to build houses every spring. “I feel comfortable being part of their lives and talking about world issues,” she says, a skill she fine-tuned at Elon.

Ketner sees many parallels between her school and Elon; both institutions value engage learning and global engagement, which is one of the main reasons why she chose to be a part of Woods. She still remains in touch with her Elon mentor, Associate Professor of Mathematics Alan Russell, who inspired her to be the teacher she is today. “He really changed my life,” she says.

Keren Rivas,
10/2/2014 1:00 PM