Stephen Winkler '12
Stephen Winkler '12 has been working in Nairobi with The Supply Education Group, a nonprofit organization that is tasked with building secondary schools in slum communities while providing framework for a curriculum centered on human rights and service-learning. Winkler and the group work toward addressing the world-wide issue of urban slums while recognizing that each and every slum community is unique in its own way - there is no universal solution.
As the regional field officer for the group, Winkler is heavily involved with the elements of in-field research and reporting - a key element in the progression of the work - analyzing trends and developing deep understandings of the cultures therein. Winkler has worked with local leaders to organize community meetings in slum communities in order "to keep the community involved with our work and also to gather insight on how the slum views human rights," he noted. Within his first week on the job, Winkler was going door to door, beginning his field research in slum communities, collecting data on education perceptions and economic situations.
His path to the present day wasn't always a clear one. Originally aiming for a path in the realm of American politics, it was after two separate internship opportunities that Winkler realized it was not for him. After taking advantage of a semester abroad opportunity, new ideas began to resonate with him.
"When I studied abroad in Ghana I returned with so many new questions and theories on international issues. I think the thing that drives me is that it is all so complex, and there can't be a single answer," Stephen explained.
At Emmanuel, he began to develop new perspectives on education and social justice, his professor's challenging him think to critically, offering contradictory ideas. It was this focus on critical thought and not a specific path to a career that kept Winkler's mind open and allowed him to redefine his ambitions.
"I viewed education as just an essential step to get a degree and start a career ...by the time I left Emmanuel, I began viewing education as a continuous process of thinking, discovering, and understanding. I think this all started because professors, courses and experiences like studying in Ghana challenged me to think and rethink every idea or perception I formed."
Winkler has not only played a part in, but experienced how global the Emmanuel College and Sisters of Notre Dame network is. While in Nairobi, Winkler came upon a group of Sisters of Notre Dame including Emmanuel's Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies / Director of the Center for Mission Engagement, Sister Mary Johnson, SND.
Upon introducing himself as an Emmanuel graduate, Winkler spoke with them of their universal pursuit for social justice, the value of their work in Africa and coinciding viewpoints on education. Winkler noted, "It was great to see a familiar face from Emmanuel and to hear Sister Mary's perspective on what she has been working on over the past year. I was also able to meet several other SNDs, some of them Emmanuel graduates. As I shared with Sister Mary, my realization of the value of education really began at Emmanuel."
Winkler's definitive views on education and the values therein have continued to develop since he began his work in Nairobi.
"We often hear outsiders say that education is good because it can provide a path out of the slum condition. When we ask why education is important to the community, most told us it was more about gaining knowledge and giving back, not getting out -I think this highlights why education can be a real tool for change. (They) understand that education is about knowledge, not just about getting a job and leaving for greener pastures."