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Katherine Swisher ’20 Awarded Princeton in Latin America Fellowship

The 2020 Whitman College graduate will travel to the Dominican Republic to work in early childhood education

By Casey Brown

Photo of Katherine Swisher against a background of trees.

As a recipient of the highly competitive, yearlong Princeton in Latin American (PiLA) Fellowship, English major Katherine Swisher ’20 has been matched with an organization called the Dream Project, which brings literacy, early childhood education, youth leadership and community programs to children and youth in the Dominican Republic.

PiLA places highly qualified recent college graduates in yearlong service fellowships with nonprofit, public service, humanitarian and government organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its placements emphasize the power of firsthand work experience to shape young people’s attitudes and mobilize them to effect positive social change. 

During her year in the Dominican Republic, Swisher will bring her combined love of outdoor learning and early childhood education to the Dream Project’s Montessori Academy in Cabarete.

A Place Where Curiosity Flourishes

At Whitman, Swisher found rigorous academics, a supportive environment for budding writers and professors who wanted to get to know her on an individual level. It was a place to become a “curious researcher,” she says. 

“It felt like a very healthy space to make mistakes and to try things out.” Her creative writing workshops “always felt very respectful,” she says. “People felt like they could share very vulnerable pieces of writing and have them be received with compassion and honor.”

Her curiosity was nurtured outside the classroom too. During her time at Whitman, she served as a Resident Assistant in College House, worked as a tutor at the Center for Writing and Speaking and participated in the Shanghai Crossroads (Whitman Summer Studies in China) program.

And as a trip leader for the Outdoor Program for six semesters, Swisher developed a love for nature that continues to influence her work today.

Swisher and fellow Whitties at a 2020 Backpacking Scramble in the Wallowa Mountains.

Not All Classrooms Have Walls

After graduation, Swisher discovered that she, like her mother, has a passion for teaching young children. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, she works in what she describes as a nature-based, student-centered program with preschool children at Teton Science Schools.

“I really like my work because it’s very creative. I love visual arts and dance, and obviously writing,” she says, “I get to do that every day with the kids.”

In the classroom, whether indoors or outdoors, she interacts with and observes students to see what they are passionate about and then develops a creative and place-based curriculum around those interests.

“I love being outside,” she says. “We get to be in nature together every day through rain, sun or snow—a lot of snow.”

Swisher has been hired by the Dream Project as a Montessori Academy fellow. She will help early childhood Montessori teachers develop their curriculum and host professional development opportunities for them. She will also observe what happens in the classroom and provide feedback.

“I am looking forward to immersing myself in Caribbean culture for a full year and learning about the customs of the Dominican Republic. I am also looking forward to strengthening my skills as an educator of both young children and their teachers in a completely new learning environment,” she says.

In Good Company

Since 2003, PiLA has placed over 400 fellows with partners in 20 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Swisher joins four previous Whitties who were awarded the PiLA Fellowship:

  • Mariana Vasquez-Crede ’14 (Dominican Republic).
  • Josh Alldredge ’11 (Bolivia).
  • Alice MacLean ’11 (Colombia).
  • Caitlin Schoenfelder ’09 (Mexico).

Learn more about fellowships and grants, and read about other recent recipients.

Published on May 1, 2024
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