Kristen Cardona MPhil ’22 has always had a thirst for teaching and learning. It led her to a career as an elementary and middle school educator. It drove her to take a few classes at Wesleyan, work with the Office of Continuing Education, and attain her own Masters of Philosophy in Liberal Arts degree (with an award-winning thesis project).
Now, thanks to her hard work and the encouragement of her Wesleyan colleagues, Cardona will be going on a 10-month fellowship project training teachers and teaching English in Okinawa, Japan as part of the U.S. Department of State’s 2022-23 English Language Fellow Program.
“Kristen’s energy and creativity lights up any room she is in – be it an office, a classroom, or a zoom meeting. I know that she will inspire her new colleagues in Japan and I know she will enjoy her time there – but we will miss her. I am very excited to let our students know about her award, and I hope that it encourages other students to take what they’ve learned and use it to forge that next big adventure,” said Jennifer Curran, Director, Continuing Studies and Graduate Liberal Studies.
Cardona started her career with 15 years in the classroom teaching Spanish and English as a Second Language. It had been a good and productive run, but Cardona began to take stock of where she was. “I felt like I needed a change,” she said.
She taught abroad and took on a fellowship, but nothing spoke to her in the way she’d hoped when she left the classroom. “I craved that intellectual stimulation, so I started taking some Graduate Liberal Studies classes (in 2018) just as one off, not to pursue the degree, but to have that environment,” Cardona said.
Cardona loved the classes so much she decided to work at the university, taking a role as Program Coordinator in in the Office of Continuing Education. Her perspective was invaluable to the work of the Continuing Studies team. “Kristen helped us to understand the unique needs of public school teachers. She was a wonderful contact point for teachers who were considering going back to school while working,” said Glenn Knight, assistant director of continuing studies.
As she worked to help advance the Graduate Liberal Studies program and the Bachelor of Liberal Studies degrees, old passions returned: “The one thing I continued to miss was teaching and working with curriculum,” she said.
When the time came to put together a thesis project, Cardona knew that trying to help educators navigate the perils of a COVID-era classroom was important to her. A course on the connection between creativity and learning inspired her thesis, a practical analysis of how embracing creativity in the classroom environment improves a child’s academic and socio-emotional outcomes.
“As the impact of the global pandemic unfolded last year, I … pondered how creativity could assist the field of education during this time of global crisis and disruption,” Cardona wrote in her thesis introduction.
The level of immersion and support she received during her Wesleyan education made her think that a prestigious fellowship was within her reach. “The thing I love about the Wesleyan classroom is the opportunity for creative expression and the appreciation for different thought processes. Things aren’t scripted or formulaic,” she said.
Curran is thrilled at the idea that Cardona’s education at Wesleyan and her experience on campus was part of the reason she was selected. “We hope that GLS students gain critical and creative thinking and writing skills that encourage them to engage wholeheartedly with their world. Most are working adults, who can bring what they’ve learned directly into their chosen careers (often teaching) but we have had students go on to medical school, law school, and doctoral programs, launch successful acting careers, even coach Olympic athletic teams,” Curran said.
Cardona has been excitedly planning for her trip and hasn’t quite given thought to what will come after. However, the first State Department orientation alone has been a valuable experience, particularly for a person who desires to experience the world. “I think that it opens a new world for me that I didn’t know existed – I’m seeing how many different jobs facilitate international programs. There are jobs in education that I didn’t know existed that I might be very interested in,” she said.
There is one thing she is sure of, confirmed in her own classroom and on Wesleyan’s campus: “I’m forever a student,” Cardona said.