OISE alum Grace Karram Stephenson takes a deep-dive into higher and global education

August 20, 2019
OISE alum Grace Karram Stephenson.
Grace Karram Stephenson stands outside of Hart House during her doctoral studies in the former Department of Theory and Policy Studies in Education, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto.

We caught up with Grace to learn about her journey from student to postdoc, specializing in comparative, international and development education.

What are some things you're working on through your Postdoctoral Fellowship?

I currently manage a cross-Canada survey of professors. It has been amazing to work with universities across Canada (64) as I send out the survey.It is great feeling to be connected to academics across the country. 

Each university in Canada has a distinct culture and approach to learning and there are many innovative things happening. 

You completed three degrees at OISE and continue to work here. What sets OISE apart from other faculties of education?

OISE stands out because of the breadth of research happening across the faculty. You can find faculty and students researching almost every particular facet of education from the formal to the informal. This was very important for me as I crafted my dissertation during my PhD. I lacked a thorough understanding of migration theory but was able to find more than one course related to migration and education to help me along. 

Has an OISE professor or instructor ever inspired you?

I just love the profs in the "higher education group" as they were historically called. My doctoral supervisor Dr. Ruth Hayhoe has inspired me a thousand times both as an academic and spiritual mentor. Her courses examine the influence of culture and religion on higher education systems and provide theoretical depth I have rarely seen. 

And my current mentor, OISE Dean Glen Jones has shown me the importance working with other agencies to deepen the impact of research. 

Do you have a favourite memory as a student at OISE?

Without question, the research events I organized for Dr. Jones were the highlight of my time at OISE. Twice a year beginning in 2011 we joined with the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) to host a one-day symposium that brought in excellent speakers to present their post-secondary research. Topics included everything from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) audit to student success. 

These were always well attended by practitioners and it was a great feeling to know we were sending people back to their offices with research that would allow them to improve their area of higher education.  

What drew you to pursue higher and global education?

My first job after I completed my BEd (at OISE of course!) was a special projects coordinator to the Dean of the Campolo School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania.

I was responsible for solidifying the marketing and instructional tools of their international residency programs – many of which were designing for international development workers in the global South. I learned how important contextualized curriculum is and how flexible, mobile programs can be offered to people who may not otherwise access graduate programs.  

Following this, my husband and I ran a study abroad program in the Fiji Islands. It was a daily exercise in cross-cultural communication and humility and we had so much to learn. When we returned home to Toronto I had a million questions about how cultural values shape transnational education programs and I enrolled in my MA in Higher Education at OISE. 

Looking forward, how do you hope to make an impact in these fields?

Each time someone who works at a postsecondary institution asks for my publications or wants to discuss what I am working on, I know I am making a real impact. 

Canada's universities and colleges are huge employers and educators and I want my research to support administrators who are working to internationalize these institutions. Safety for international students, alternatives to ranking systems, quality at branch-campuses – all of these things make a tangible difference in the lives of students and administrators. 

You have done quite a bit of writing for news/media. What do your most recent articles address?

Most recently, I have been looking into the Canada-Saudi tensions and how these impact students. There has also been a lot to write on the subject of free speech debates, students from war-torn countries and the rise of populist leaders in very influential nations.


We love to ask, what do you consider your greatest personal and professional accomplishments?

My greatest accomplishment over the past 7 years was having two children while completing my PhD, which involved fieldwork in Dubai and Malaysia. Like most great accomplishments, this was only possible with the constant support of my husband John Stephenson and my parents Joanne and David.  

What message would you give to future and current students studying at OISE?

I encourage students to pursue the topic that is close to their heart, even if it is not "sexy" or marketable. Chances are, if you care about the topic, then there is a strong group of others who also care about it and need the research you can provide.  


With OISE I can...

"Shape the conversation."

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