INTAD Student Spotlight: Erika Pioltine Anseloni

Posted: January 30, 2017

Erika Pioltine Anseloni is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Agricultural Extension & Education and International Agriculture & Development at Penn State, who is passionate about communities and community development.

Erika's educational and professional backgrounds have been developed in Brazil – where she was born - until she became a 2013-2014 H.H. Humphrey Fellow at Penn State. She is committed personally and professionally to promote positive changes in the world, especially by motivating individual and community agency and capacity for problem-solving and for leading social transformation according to their own desires and felt needs. She collects more than 14 years of working in NGOs, private sector and cross-sector partnerships in Brazil. She has led groups and projects in the fields of regional and local development (especially in vulnerable and traditional communities), community and youth engagement, critical environmental education, theater as a transformational education method, formal and non-formal education, and corporate sustainability and social responsibility.

Since she became a graduate student at Penn State, in August 2014, she has been deepening her studies and focusing her research on the intersection of community development, social participation and citizen engagement, community leadership, and educational public policies. Her Ph.D. research focuses on critically analyzing the Brazilian public policy called Social Mobilization for Education Plan (SMEP) and on understanding which factors have facilitated or hindered the community leaders’ active engagement in implementing the activities proposed by SMEP. The policy, which was created by the Brazilian Ministry of Education (BMEC) in charge in 2008, is a call for the mobilization of the society to get engaged collaboratively to promote the betterment of public elementary education at the community level. BMEC’s strategy was to develop local leadership to engage the community around a plan of goals to achieve a quality education in all Brazilian public schools and to enhance the family-community-school relationship. However, as in other contexts, social participation is hard to maintain, and the differences in the activities and engagement of the SMEP’s social leaders between neighboring communities seem to provide good insights for better understanding the relationship between leadership development, social engagement, and community dynamics. In addition, SMEP is a topdown approach which carries ambivalences and controversies. On the one hand, the policy seems to promote the development of important processes of community capacity such as leadership, social interaction, network, and social action. However, on the other hand, it reveals elitist interests in policy formation and overlooked power relations in its methodological approach.

Erika actively experienced the implementation of such police in 2012-2013 in twelve small towns of the Estreito Hydroelectric Region, located in the Northern and Northeastern Brazil, where are also the sites of her Ph.D. research. In 2015, she went back to those communities for a strategic scoping visit to support in the choice of the sites and concepts to be studied, to establish partnerships for data collection, and to gather preliminary secondary data. At that time, she also has personally visited the team responsible for managing SMEP at the Brazilian Ministry of Education in Brasilia, also aimed at gather information and data regarding the policy and to seal a partnership.

In 2016, Erika kept deepening her theoretical studies at Penn State and maintained the relationships with the partners in Brazil virtually. She has been able to stretch her critical analysis regarding SMEP through different standpoints and conceptual framework. Also, she conducted a pilot study regarding power relations that are present in different levels and dimensions at the SMEP sociopolitical context. Erika is currently working on the four initial chapters of her dissertation and planning the strategy and instruments for data collection, which is expected to be held in May 2017.