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Education Professor Diane Ross Uses Fulbright Award to Improve Lives in Africa

Education Professor Diane Ross Uses Fulbright Award to Improve Lives in Africa


Diane Ross, associate professor of middle childhood education at Otterbein, has been helping improve the lives of children in Uganda for seven years. Now, she will be able to reach more children with the help of a Fulbright Award to support her program to increase retention of young adolescent girls in schools in West Nile through the use of a digital literacy collaborative.

Ross takes an annual trip to Uganda with Otterbein students during the summer. They take donations for children and perform service work while they are there. During past visits, her groups have built a library and a first-aid clinic where the children of the village can receive basic medical attention, and spent time reading to and playing with the children. The Otterbein students have gained valuable perspectives and experiences from their time in Uganda.

A particular focus for Ross on recent trips has been young adolescent females, and the many obstacles to education that they face. One recent group from Otterbein included three nursing students who educated young girls about menstruation, one obstacle to female education, and raised $1,000 for Days for Girls International, which empowers women and girls around the globe by providing sustainable feminine hygiene solutions and health education.

“The kids in these areas are dying to be in school — they are happy to learn,” Ross said. She is eager to break down their barriers to success so that they can continue to learn.

After learning about the work of scholar Bonny Norton, who spoke at Otterbein in 2015 for the Pack Lecture Series about her multilingual digital literacy collaborative the African Storybook Project, Ross drew a connection between literacy, young adolescents and sexual health in helping girls overcome obstacles to education. She reached out to Norton and developed a proposal. She later learned that she was selected to receive a Fulbright Award in April, shortly before she left for her annual trip.

Her research question is, “How will the incorporation of a digital literacy collaborative into the curriculum of West Nile middle grade teachers improve retention of young adolescent girls through grade P7 by addressing issues of sexual reproductive health and identity?”

“What I’m doing is combining many areas that others are studying in a new way,” Ross said. She is partnering with Nile University to recruit teachers for the program.

With the guidance of teachers who will receive specialized training, both female and male students will write on three subjects:

  • Reclaiming your past: Not His-story/My Story
  • Identifying your present: Who am I?
  • Imagining my future:  Who do I want to be?

“I strongly believe if you want to impact change, you have to write it down,” Ross said. “Currently, nobody listens to the voices of the students. In Uganda, education is typically call and response. Kids don’t have someone to talk to, to tell their stories to, so narrative gives voice to the voiceless.”

Ross has intentionally targeted both females and males to improve the station of females in these communities.

“Working with boys is part of creating respect for girls,” she said. “There are women with PTSD from sexual assaults. Girls are commodities who are sold for resources. There are child brides and multiple wives. We have to educate the boys to reflect on those norms.”

The project is approved for two years, and Ross can apply to Fulbright for a continuation based on the results of her research.

The Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, and it is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Since its beginnings in 1946, more than 360,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated in the Program.

Learn more about Otterbein University’s Department of Education.

View a video from a past trip with Otterbein students to Uganda.

For more information about Bonny Norton’s African Storybook Project, visithttp://www.africanstorybook.org/.