Larissa Gaias '07: Educating for Peace

2016-05-25 09.37.43 Larissa Gaias ’07, daughter of Ross School faculty members Ed and Barbara Gaias, is a leader of the future. After being awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, she spent seven months in Colombia working in collaboration with the University of Cartagena to identify ways that schools can better support students affected by the armed conflict in Colombia that has lasted for more than 50 years. The study to which she contributed, Challenges for Peace in Post-Conflict Colombia, identifies schools as valuable peace-building and youth-developing institutions. Larissa’s collected data will inform her doctoral studies at Arizona State University’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. Larissa recently spoke to Ross News about how her experiences as a Ross student from fifth grade through high school shaped her worldview and future career path.

In what ways did your Ross School experience influence you? I really enjoyed Ross throughout my time there: the project-based learning, delving into each topic we studied, and maximizing opportunities to make connections across domains made me a more systematic thinker. I also loved that we were taking advantage of these unique ways of learning the content. Having now gone through a lot of schooling and education experiences, I attribute the way that I approach coursework and projects to Ross’s integrated curriculum.

Who were some of your favorite teachers while attending Ross? There were so many people who played a distinct role in my Ross memories that I could go on forever! My fifth grade teacher, Barbara Raedar-Tracy, treated her students like adults, and we had such interesting conversations. Having her as my first exposure to Ross stands out as a highlight. Heather D’Agostino was my advisor throughout high school, and I took two [Field Academy] trips with her; she was very influential in my high school years. She made sure that I took advantage of every opportunity Ross had to offer and helped to prepare me for life beyond Ross.

What inspired you to pursue a career in education? The education influence probably comes from having two teachers as parents, but that was really enhanced at Ross. Global education made me more conscious about different cultures and life experiences. Exposure to different people and cultures made me a more aware and less biased person. I was recently looking through a photo album from my [Field Academy] trip to South Africa, and in reading my photo captions and notes, I realized that—although my worldview is now more complex—even as an 11th grader, I was thinking of the same themes that are captured in my work now, particularly in education.

What is the focus of your doctoral research, and how do you hope to apply it in the future? I’m interested in is how school systems can better support students that are at risk for school failure in a variety of ways. My research in Colombia examines which aspects of school climate are most important in reducing the impact of community violence exposure, with the goal that future intervention would focus on these areas. I’m also planning to get some data that looks at a sample population based in the United States. Regardless of sector, my passion is in applied research, so I would like to make sure that my work has implications for practice, program development, or policy.

Pictured: Larissa Gaias '07 (far right), pictured with Colombian students.