Kayla McDaniel ’12 Combines Many Passions in Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to Mexico

Posted April 5th, 2012 at 4:07 pm.

kayla-1681Although she grew up only an hour north of the Mexican border in Tucson, Arizona, Kayla McDaniel’s interest in Spanish didn’t solidify until she came to Bryn Mawr.

“I took elementary intensive my freshman year with Profesora Ines Arribas and I was hooked,” says McDaniel ’12, who is a biology major with a focus on environmental science.

McDaniel will continue to improve her Spanish while teaching English as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Mexico during the 2012-13 academic year.

“This fellowship ties together so many of my passions—education, the Spanish language and Latino culture, and sustainability—all of which I’ve pursued while at Bryn Mawr,” says McDaniel.

In addition to her time spent teaching in Mexico, McDaniel plans to pursue a project during her Fulbright that focuses on sustainability and organic farming.

“I want to collaborate with local communities to identify environmental issues and develop innovative, practical strategies to tackle such problems,” says McDaniel.

McDaniel’s time in Mexico won’t be her first experience being immersed in a Spanish-speaking environment.

After her class with Arribas, McDaniel continued to take Spanish classes, but realized that if she really wanted to improve her language skills she’d need to immerse herself in a Spanish-speaking country.

The summer after her sophomore year she received funding from the Alumnae Association to pursue an internship with a feminist non-profit, Grupo Venancia, in Mataglapa, Nicaragua. One of her responsibilities as an intern with the organization was tutoring native Spanish speakers in English.

“This was an incredibly gratifying experience; I honestly didn’t feel like I was contributing much to the organization until I began tutoring students in English. I also enjoyed how much it stimulated me intellectually. In order to explain all the grammar rules I had to tease out the nuances between the two languages,” says McDaniel.

McDaniel’s first tutoring experience came not in Nicaragua, but in West Philadelphia, when she was a sophomore and began tutoring students in math classes at Overbrook High School through the Civic Engagement Office.

“Tutoring at Overbrook has undoubtedly been the most rewarding and challenging experience during my time at Bryn Mawr. What I discovered at Overbrook is that there is a level of reciprocity in teaching that is truly inspirational: both teacher and pupil are learning and growing through the process. Every time I step foot in a classroom I learn something new,” says McDaniel.

As someone who came to Bryn Mawr knowing she wanted to be a biology major, McDaniel’s interest in environmental issues was already quite high. However, her interest in organic farming didn’t take hold until after she arrived on campus.

“My sophomore year I took a class called Food Revolutions that opened my eyes to the problematic state of the food industry. That same year I joined students Maiya Zwerling and Avery Martin to establish a community organic garden on campus. Now in its third year, the garden provides free, fresh produce to students and Haffner dining hall. I’ve witnessed how the garden has become a platform to engage staff, students, and faculty in promoting sustainable agriculture,” says McDaniel.

McDaniel is unsure what she’ll do after her Fulbright but she is interested in working with underserved populations in order to increase access to education and public health.

“I believe that everyone has the right to a healthy life and an excellent education. Unfortunately, health and education services are deeply stratified by class and race,” says McDaniel. “I’m interested in working with underserved populations in order to increase access to both of these vital services.”

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