Shama Kheraj (Jamal), W’12 discusses her professional journey and how her experiences at the Netter Center have had an impact on her current work in Africa.
“My transformative experiences at Netter significantly helped me in my journey to engage globally.”
Prior to coming to Penn as a Wharton undergraduate, Shama was actively involved in youth development in her native country of Tanzania. While in high school, she began working with younger students to build their public speaking skills and access higher education. This work, Shama said, “increased my desire to continue improving learning opportunities during my time at Penn and beyond.”
Shama initially struggled to find courses that excited her at Penn. “I began searching for opportunities in civic and community engagement,” she said. During her sophomore year, Shama became involved in a residential program focused on civic leadership as well as with the Netter Center. She subsequently enrolled in an Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) course on urban education, which led to a summer internship through Netter. As part of the internship, Shama was placed in a local high school to support the Netter Center’s college and career programs. She also researched and worked to help solve community-identified problems, one of which was a lack of parent engagement. Working with other students and staff, she took the lead in helping to establish a Family Resource Center at the high school. This work with the Netter Center, “solidified my interest in applying knowledge to helping solve national and global issues,” Shama stated.
Upon graduation from Penn, Shama was named the Netter Center’s inaugural National Policy Emerson Fellow based at the Coalition for Community Schools in Washington D.C. She engaged in research and helped develop policy in support of community schools, particularly university-assisted community schools. Shama also helped to establish a collaborative learning network of 300 community school coordinators across the U.S. via an online platform, and was instrumental in creating a higher education track at the Coalition’s national conference. “This experience working as an Emerson Fellow, combined with my time at Penn, better equipped me to effectively focus on education equality when I returned to Tanzania in 2014,” Shama said.
Shama joined Dalberg Advisors in Tanzania, a global strategic advisory firm, where she is now the global deputy lead for the education practice. Her educational philosophy focuses on a “whole child” approach, which includes policies, practices, and partnerships that ensure each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged for success in school and beyond. Shama states, “The ‘whole child’ view is critical, which I first saw at my internship through the Netter Center.” Building on this belief, Shama is currently launching Upstudio, a social venture makerspace (a community center that offers tools and space for individuals to create, invent and explore) for young learners to develop creative thinking and communication skills using such tools as robotics, coding, and design thinking to bring imagination to life. Shama hopes to expand it throughout Tanzania. Given the funding limitations facing education across Africa, “the growth and imagination of children are severely constrained,” states Shama.
As Shama reflects on her experiences at Netter, she says “This experience reaffirmed my belief that learning best happens when it is applied and engaging, and is helping me realize my goal of rebuilding the approach to learning in Tanzania.”