Penn’s Ghaffar-Kucher Guides GSE’s International Internship Program

At the University of Pennsylvania, Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher is a matchmaker of sorts.

As the associate director of the International Educational Development Program in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, she pairs students with opportunities during the summer months through the IEDP International Internship Program

With support from IEDP’s director, Dan Wagner, Ghaffar-Kucher coordinates the behind-the-scenes “matchmaking” that aligns students’ interests and skills with the needs of international agencies, non-governmental organizations and universities that have one thing in common. Each organization shares a commitment to educational equity and to serving some of the most marginalized and disenfranchised communities around the world. 

IEDP students have interned in countries including Bosnia, Botswana, Chile, Jamaica, India, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Samoa, Thailand and Uganda.

As a curriculum specialist with research interests in immigration, citizenship and schooling, Ghaffar-Kucher brings a unique perspective to her position. Her research examines the experiences of immigrants and refugees from both the student and teacher perspectives, and she is especially interested in understanding ways to support immigrant and refugee students through teachers’ professional development. 

Her background in international educational development gives her a solid sense of the kinds of knowledge and skills that are most needed for development work. For Ghaffar-Kucher, it is a key part of the process to facilitate successful, productive matches that are mutually beneficial. 

Born in Pakistan, Ghaffar-Kucher spent her childhood there and in Hong Kong. She also lived in Germany for three years before moving to the United States for graduate school. She says her firsthand experience of having lived in the U.S. as an international student gives her an advantage. 

“This gives me a very particular vantage point when I’m reviewing applications and thinking about the cohort in general and what kind of support they will need,” Ghaffar-Kucher says. 

It also gives her a special bond with the IEDP students, the majority of whom have already lived outside of the U.S.

As the associate director of IEDP, Ghaffar-Kucher has reworked the core curriculum and created a larger social media presence with the help of a team of graduate assistants. In addition to the program’s monthly newsletter, IEDP is also active on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook

She has also built a sense of camaraderie among each group of IEDP students. 

“I love seeing how the students grow over the course of a year and how they come together as a cohort. It’s really quite amazing,” Ghaffar-Kucher says. “Each of the students really cares for one another and about the work that they do.” 

Ghaffar-Kucher also teaches a few core courses and works with faculty members on admissions and marketing. 

“I enjoy wearing different hats: teacher, advisor, administrator and social media maven,” she says. “I am particularly proud of the International Internship Program, which is a culminating experience and an opportunity for our students to apply the theories, knowledge and methods they’ve learned at Penn to a real-world setting and become more conscientious intentional researchers and practitioners.” 

Now in its fifth year, the IIP has 26 students globally, from Germany to Guatemala to South Africa to Samoa, for the next 10-12 weeks. 

To prepare, students start nearly a year in advance by taking the required course EDUC 622: International Field Experience during the fall and spring prior to traveling overseas. 

“We give them new lenses with which to view and understand aspects of the world, especially as it pertains to development work,” Ghaffar-Kucher says. “And, of course, the internship program reflects the goals and values of the Penn Compact 2020, focusing on global engagement across local, national and international levels.” 

During the IEDP summer internships, students’ responsibilities can vary from program development to field research and from monitoring and evaluating activities to organizing conferences. They are also required to submit reports and to share their experiences via blogs. 

“Having done this a few times, I learn a lot each year,” Ghaffer-Kucher says. “We have a survey and ongoing conversations with students about their placements, so I get to know them well, and this really helps with figuring out which students will thrive in which environments. All of that information together assists in the matchmaking.”

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