December 2014 ArticlesGrad Schools

Social Work and Social Research: Centennial Profile

Kyra Turner-Zogbekor, Ph.D. ’13

For this champion of education, her work focuses on literacy and gender equality for Tanzania’s children.

By Jenny Pedraza

 

Kyra Turner-Zogbekor, Ph.D. ’13, and Tanzanian students.

Kyra Turner-Zogbekor, Ph.D. ’13, and Tanzanian students.

If every child received an education, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty.

As the girl’s education program advisor for Room to Read, a nonprofit organization that focuses on child literacy and gender equality in education in Asia and Africa, Kyra Turner-Zogbekor, Ph.D. ’13, advises the organization on strategy in Tanzania. She helps train staff and implement life skills and academic support programs for teenage girls in the country.

“When I applied to Bryn Mawr’s doctoral program in social work, I was very direct with what I wanted to do,” Turner-Zogbekor says. “I wrote that I wanted to work with nonprofit organizations in Africa to build capacity to relieve educational inequality, so everything I set out to do, I’m doing with Room to Read.”

Turner-Zogbekor was uniquely prepared for this position. The Connecticut native, who graduated from Hampton University with a B.A. in sociology, has longstanding interests both in women’s issues and in Africa. After earning her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, Turner-Zogbekor joined the Peace Corps and spent two years volunteering for a girls’ education and empowerment program in the West African nation of Togo.

There, she observed at close range some of the barriers to education that girls face across much of Africa. She left with a determination to return to the continent to add her voice to the call
for equality of opportunity for women. “My service in the Peace Corps really focused and solidified my interest,” Turner-Zogbekor explains.

In 2011, she and two other former Peace Corps Volunteers founded Pathways Togo, a nonprofit that advocates for girls’ education rights in the country. As executive director, Turner-Zogbekor oversees an organization that sponsors scholarships, life skills, leadership development, summer camps, and mentoring programs for middle-school through college-aged girls.

As a doctoral student at Bryn Mawr, Turner-Zogbekor received numerous awards and honors: a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship for study at the University of Ghana; Bryn Mawr’s McPherson Award for Community Service in 2010; and the Rivitz Award for outstanding dissertation proposal and the Emerging Leader Award, both from the GSSWSR. She also received a Fulbright Research Grant to Ghana that enabled her to study how adult education benefits women and their communities.

The Fulbright also gave her an unexpected, and gratifiying, chance to see just how powerful an effect her work can have. “My full-circle moment happened during my Fulbright trip when I traveled from Ghana back to Togo to visit my old Peace Corps community,” Turner-Zogbekor says. “I saw one of the girls I had worked with more than 10 years ago, and she remembered me and told me what an impact I had on her. She was in middle school then, and here she was, a university scholar.”

Next up for Turner-Zogbekor is building on the work she’s doing now to facilitate multiple organizations working together to improve education for all children.

“Bryn Mawr allowed me to pursue what I was interested in from the very start,” Turner-Zogbekor says. “Through my Fulbright, independent study, and dissertation, I found an environment that was incredibly supportive and allowed me to focus on my own personal journey and accomplish exactly what I set out to do.”

 

Starting with this issue, the Alumnae Bulletin will be marking the 100th anniversary of the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research with a series of Centennial Profiles that celebrate the accomplishments and diversity of GSSWSR’s graduates.

 

 

 

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