When Keri Dziuban (MA10) earned her master’s degree in Special Education from Eastern Michigan University, she knew she wanted to work abroad. But she never expected to make an impact on students across three continents.
While working toward her master’s degree, Dziuban taught at Ann Arbor Public Schools. In 2018, she and her family moved to Namibia, where she used her training in special needs education to help struggling students at an international school. Now, she’s preparing to teach English to adult learners in Vietnam.
“There’s always something a teacher can learn to make a classroom function at its best,” says Dziuban, who was among the first students to graduate from EMU’s Autism Spectrum Disorders program. “A teacher has to adapt to their situation. I’ve been fortunate to take my skills and apply them in many different roles.”
On Nov. 18, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) recognized Dziuban’s contributions as an educator and board member at the Windhoek International School in Namibia. She is one of six winners of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA).
“I’m incredibly honored and humbled to receive this award,” says Dziuban, who currently lives in Hanoi. Her husband, Eric, is the Center for Disease Control country director for Vietnam. “It’s rewarding when you’re in a community for a short time and your work has a ripple effect.”
Dziuban and her family moved to Namibia and lived in the capital city of Windhoek for three years. Her husband was CDC country director there before obtaining his current position in May.
After enrolling her sons Ezra, 9 and Cole, 7 in the Windhoek International School, she noticed some of her sons’ friends were struggling to develop their reading skills. Conversations with other concerned parents led to her volunteer work at the K-12 school.
“The school is just under 500 students—half Namibian and half international—including kids with a variety of abilities and learning needs,” Dziuban says. “There was no structured approach for teaching reading, writing and math, which was something the parents wanted to address. I trained some teachers in the learning support department, which led to me working privately with several students.”
Later, the U.S. Ambassador to Namibia appointed Dziuban to Windhoek International’s board.
“I gained an understanding of day-to-day school operations,” Dziuban says. “I learned how to collaborate with stakeholders while supporting the teachers and personalizing those relationships. It was challenging and interesting dynamic to be involved as a mom, educator and board member.”
Dziuban leveraged her role to address gaps she saw in the school curriculum.
“I didn’t prescribe a particular approach to reaching educational objectives but pointed out it should be clear how to help students progress,” Dziuban says. “By the time I left the school, administrators made a commitment to have specific times each day for reading, writing and math during the elementary years. I saw the teachers becoming more excited about the growth students were making in their core academic abilities.”
Dziuban also spent hundreds of hours working with a team to help the school recruit, interview and hire a new educational director.
“It’s gratifying to know students at the school will be better able to access the world because they’ll have stronger core academic skills,” Dziuban says. “I’ve was in a great position to use the skills I developed at Eastern and put them into play at a higher level.
“I also enjoyed building relationships in the Windhoek community. We knew our family wouldn’t be stationed there forever. But we feel it’s important to grow wherever you’re planted. We made great lifelong friendships.”
The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide held its awards ceremony in Washington D.C. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented remarks and congratulated the winners. Due to COVID travel restrictions, Dziuban attended the awards ceremony virtually. For more information, visit the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide website.
About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.