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Education grads look to future of low-pay, social service

Many of this year's Stanford graduates will be courted by competing firms, offering dazzling salaries.

Others will take on jobs where the low annual salaries are equal to an MBA's signing bonus. Why do they do it? For many, the reasons are altruistic and old-fashioned: They feel that what they are doing will help make the world a little better.

For Sarah Erickson, who will be getting her doctorate this June in the School of Education's counseling psychology program, the future will be "research on childhood cancer from a psycho-social perspective."

She recently received a National Institute of Mental Health Fellowship to continue her studies in Stanford's Child Psychiatry Department.

"The work I'm doing has two pieces," Erickson said. "The first takes into account family issues. Most research hasn't looked at the anxiety and other emotions kids pick up from parents. Both children and parents show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder long after the cancer treatment is finished.

"The other is a preventive approach; basically, I want to determine which variables are predictive of long-term psychological and physical health, then use those to inform early intervention programs."

While working toward her doctorate, she undertook an AIDS caregiving and bereavement study, under the guidance of psychology Professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. The work paralleled her cancer research: She was trying to discover "what kinds of things are universal grief and caregiving issues, and what are particular."

When recalling what issues led her toward work with terminally ill patients, she said, "I guess for me, when I started working with men who had AIDS in San Francisco - that was the turning point."

Is the research at times depressing? Erickson pauses a moment. "There's a 'real' and uplifting part to it. When people are at that stage, all superficialities drop away and they talk about what's most meaningful for them. In many ways, I feel privileged to be able to hear them."

Domestic "Peace Corps"

As an undergraduate, Trish Striglos, who will be receiving her master's degree from the School of Education, knew many students who went on to join Teach for America, a non-profit organization that serves as a domestic Peace Corps program for teachers in low- income, often urban, areas.

Now she will be one of them.

"I hope it will round out my understanding of schools," she said. Her education degree focused on "the management of public schools and funding - more innovative ways to structure schools."

"One of the problems with education is the poor quality of teachers, especially in under-resourced areas," she said.

But, although she tutored Latino high school students, she said that "teaching is the component missing from my experience." She said her degree in administration and policy analysis has given her "understanding from a hierarchical, organizational level - but not from a grass-roots level."

Considering her decision to join Teach for America, she added: "There is something in the esprit de corps that I want to be part of."

In particular, candidates are selected for dedication and commitment, and not usually for their background in education, which makes Striglos an exception. Candidates sign on for a two- year stint in schools, "but generally they become lifetime advocates for improving education and helping conditions in the places where they have worked."

Striglos doesn't know yet where she will be assigned, but "my friends have been sent to places like South Central Los Angeles to teach. I am likely to be sent someplace like that."

She is excited about the students she will be working with: "I want to help them shape their long-term goals; I want to help them see the opportunities that are available for them."

Currently, she said, "their opportunities and their goals don't match well. I know that there are better opportunities available for them and that there are disparities in the system."

HIV and kids

Like Erickson, Amy Goldman, who is receiving her master's degree from the School of Education's new Health Psychology Education (HPE) program, is interested in the problems of HIV disease.

With an HPE internship, she has designed, implemented and evaluated an HIV and pregnancy prevention program for sixth graders, which she piloted at Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City.

Her class consisted of pre-adolescents from Mexico, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and other countries, most of whom are learning English.

She based her study on Albert Bandura's notions of self- efficacy - "the extent to which a person believes he has control is predictive of his behavior," said Goldman.

For example, in her questionnaires she asked the students whether they would have sex with someone who refused to have an AIDS test, "and whether they would be able to say 'no' each and every time." She distributed questionnaires before, during and after the program and found "self-efficacy scores increased significantly . . . the kids learned something" with her program.

After graduation, she is hoping to get a grant to implement her program on a wider scale. Meanwhile, she plans to continue relief work as a teen pregnancy counselor at a residential treatment facility for teenage mothers and babies at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in San Francisco.

Teacher is Africa-bound

Julie Montgomery, in the School of Education's International and Comparative Education program, will be using the summer to finish her master's work in west Africa. She will be studying "non- formal education for women"; on a day-to-day level, that means she will be working with adult women, many of them illiterate, in out- of-school settings.

Her focus will be "anything that they might need to make their lives better - health issues, skills, income generation, civics." She also will be "looking at the uses of TV in non-formal education."

Most of her research will focus on the Republic of Benin. Never heard of it? "Neither had I," said Montgomery, "before I became a Peace Corps volunteer there."

Montgomery taught physics and chemistry to 11th graders in the small nation, next to Nigeria, from 1989 to 1992.

Given the educational inequities of the region, the students who had "made it" through the educational system were very determined and very serious," she said. "The classes had 50 to 70 kids in them, and they were two hours long. It was amazing."

She will be applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to continue her graduate studies this fall.



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