Stephen Winkler '12
“Working Towards Change”
Stephen Winkler '12 has been working in Nairobi with The Supply Education Group, a nonprofit organization that is charged with the task of building secondary schools in slum communities while providing the framework for a curriculum centered on human rights and service-learning. Winkler and the group work toward addressing the world-wide issue of urban slums while recognizing that each and every slum community is unique in its own way – there is no universal solution.
Winkler first worked with the organization in Nairobi in 2012, as the regional field officer, heavily involved with the elements of in-field research and reporting – a key element in the progression of the work — analyzing trends and developing deep understandings of the cultures therein. Winkler worked with local leaders to organize community meetings in slum communities in order “to keep the community involved with our work and also to gather insight on how the slum views human rights,” he noted. Within his first week on the job, Winkler was going door to door, beginning his field research in slum communities, collecting data on education perceptions and economic situations.
After a brief stay as the Research and Programs Manager in The Supply Group’s New York offices, Winkler returned to Nairobi in June 2013. Here, he and colleagues focused on working with local human rights experts to facilitate service-learning and human rights education workshops with local teachers. He also spent his time directing a number of research endeavors examining civic engagement among the youth within the slum community.
His path to the present day wasn’t always a clear one. Winkler had an interest in political science starting his freshman year at Emmanuel College with a focus on American politics. It wasn’t until he set foot in Associate Professor Petros Vamvakas’ international relations course that his interests began to shift.
“The course was challenging for me, but it left me asking a lot of questions and wanting to explore more. I considered adding various minors to my political science major after that point, but I don’t think I ever questioned the focus on international relations – I maintained enough interest and had enough support from the department that I always looked forward to the next semester.”
Growing academically, Winkler also stayed active on campus, serving as the Executive Treasurer for Emmanuel’s student government, volunteering with after-school programs through the Mission Grammar School also spending time as a Resident Assistant and Summer Housing Assistant on campus.
Upon taking advantage of a semester abroad opportunity, new ideas began to resonate with him.
“When I studied abroad in Ghana I returned with so many new questions and theories on international issues. I think the thing that drives me is that it is all so complex, and there can’t be a single answer,” Stephen explained.
Winkler began to develop new perspectives on education and social justice, his professors challenging him think to critically, offering contradictory ideas. It was this focus
on critical thought and not a specific path to a career that kept Winkler’s mind open and allowed him to redefine his ambitions.
“I viewed education as just an essential step to get a degree and start a career …by the time I left Emmanuel, I began viewing education as a continuous process of thinking, discovering and understanding. I think this all started because professors, courses and experiences like studying in Ghana challenged me to think and rethink every idea or perception I formed.”
Winkler has not only played a part in, but experienced how global the Emmanuel College and Sisters of Notre Dame network is. While in Nairobi in 2012, Winkler came upon a group of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Upon introducing himself as an Emmanuel graduate, Winkler spoke with the Sisters of their universal pursuit for social justice, the value of their work in Africa and coinciding viewpoints on education.
His understanding of the true value of education having begun at Emmanuel, Winkler’s views have continued to develop since beginning his research.
“We often hear outsiders say that education is good because it can provide a path out of the slum conditions… but when we ask why education is important to the community, most told us it was more about gaining knowledge and giving back, not getting out —I think this highlights why education can be a real tool for change.”