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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • St. James Native Honored by Purdue

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  • St. James native Jan Hansen received the Purdue University College of Education's highest alumni honor Friday for her work in the field of education in the United States and internationally. Hansen, who spent the first 18 years of her life in St. James and graduated from St. James High School in 1975, said, “I was so humbled to get the award, and I only learned it was their highest award when I read the press release." The College of Education hosts the Distinguished Education Alumni Awards celebration every other year to honor its most accomplished alumni, according to Michael Davids, director of communication at Purdue. Hansen received her doctorate degree in Educational Psychology from Purdue's College of Education in 1988. Hansen is currently CEO and president of Educate Tanzania, a Minnesota-based nonprofit dedicated to building Karagwe University College in Tanzania. Hansen said the goal of the school in Tanzania is to open doors, as she had doors opened for her. Though she was raised in a rural environment, she traveled across the U.S. extensively growing up, and her parents were always mindful of global issues. They also instilled in her a sensitivity to people who are less fortunate from a socioeconomic perspective, and an awareness that many people aren't afforded the same opportunities she was. While a doctoral student at Purdue, she helped Prof. John Feldhusen expand the Gifted Education Resource Institute (GERI), Davids noted. As a research fellow and visiting professor, she helped Professor Miraca U.M. Gross at the University of New South Wales initiate and grow GERI's sister center in Australia. In the aftermath of her departure from Purdue, Hansen co-founded the Center for Pre-Collegiate Engineering Education at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Davids said. While serving as an advisor in Tanzania in 2008, she learned about plans for a university and wanted to help, and--in 2010--she resigned her tenured position from the University of St. Thomas to devote herself to building Karagwe University College in Tanzania. “It took so little to move the needle of impact over,” she said. “For $17,000, we bought the entire curriculum for a school!” “When people think of Tanzania, they think of safaris,” she said. “We're on totally the other side of the country; it's totally different and remote.” Only 20 percent of those people have toilets, there is no running water, and girls walk 4-7 miles per day for water, she said. 90 percent of the people are farmers, but the average income per year amounts to $39 U.S. dollars. Yet, “they are a joyful, happy, peaceful people,” she said. There are two rainy seasons, and every drop must be conserved to prepare for the dry times. As a matter of fact, water is the main problem, she said. Not only is it difficult to procure, it's unsanitary, and must always be boiled. Unfortunately, boiling the water creates a new set of problems, she said. The landscape is being depleted, because all the wood, kindling, and shrubbery is being used for boiling. In addition, many Tanzanians experience respiratory problems, because they're constantly around smoke. “We've got to crack the water problem,” she said. “We have teams working on it.” Hansen has received numerous awards for her work and has published over 50 articles and two books, according to Davids, and she serves on numerous editorial and advisory boards. In addition to her doctorate from Purdue, she holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin, and a bachelor's in art and psychology from St. Cloud State University. Both her parents were teachers, so she initially resisted the field, but--while in Madison--she decided her place was in the classroom. “I had some really top-notch teachers in the 60s and 70s in St. James,” she said. “They were very bright, and I was extremely motivated by those teachers.” When she's not in Tanzania working on the school, Hansen resides in Chaska with her husband, Steve. They have two sons, Jordan, 29, and Erik, 26.

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