Christina Brook ‘18.5, a senior at Middlebury College, is using a semester exchange at the Middlebury Institute to sharpen and deepen the skills she hopes to use to make a difference after graduation
A Davis United World Colleges Scholar, Brook is studying International Politics and Economics, with a minor in Anthropology and Privilege & Poverty. After being awarded the runner-up prize in the Davis Projects for Peace competition, Brook used the funding to start a not-for-profit initiative called Maui & the Movement in her native New Zealand, with the aim to help indigenous students connect better with public school curriculum.
Brook, who is Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) says she was often discouraged from engaging with public school education curricula while she was growing up. In her community, that type of government sponsored education was seen as taking away from tradition and cultural knowledge. Later, she came to the realization that this disconnect was causing educational disparities in her community. “A few years ago, I got an idea to help students like myself, and decided to develop a curriculum where I incorporated indigenous culture into different systems within mainstream education. This included adapting, for example, literature studies to incorporate relevant stories like Maui and the Sun, which have those familial ties to our heritage and where we come from.” Brook took the initiative to develop a curriculum that was tested in 10 classrooms to over 100 students across New Zealand’s North Island. She says it was really rewarding to see how the new curriculum inspired the students in the test programs, many of whom told her they were able to see more of themselves in the content.
Through attending school in the United States and in Canada, Brook had the opportunity to engage with other indigenous communities. She found many similarities to her own Maori experience in New Zealand. “I was able to connect with the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues, and worked with a Navajo reservation in Arizona. I realized that the lack of tie to the mainstream education system is a problem shared by both New Zealand and the U.S. My experience there was eye-opening.” Of her undergraduate education at Middlebury, Brook says “Learning about policy and economics helped me conceive of policies to solve these problems. I ended up doing my senior capstone on understanding how indigenous communities in different contexts react to different educational systems.”
Now, enrolling in international business and development courses at the Middlebury Institute is helping Brook take an important step in the direction of testing her ideas on an international level. Institute courses often take a case method approach, which allows students to delve deeper into policymaking and consider all complexities of an issue. “It means really engaging in what organizations actually do and solving their problems,” Brooks shares, adding that is particularly useful for her as she prepares to transition to life post-graduation, “because these skills are crucial for me to know how to help organizations operate effectively.”