Spotlight on Humanities Alumni:Elizabeth Canfield

Elizabeth Canfield
Age:  30
Occupation:  AP French and Spanish teacher at a college prep public high school within the Boston Public School district
Education (UR and additional): B.A. French, Highest Distinction & Honors, University of Rochester, 2004; M.A. in Education, Teaching of French, Stanford University, 2005; M.A. in Education, K-12 Public School Leadership, University of California at Berkeley,  2009; Doctor of Education, Education Policy and Reform, Boston University, Estimated May 2013.
Current city/state of residence: Boston, MA
Community activities:  Running clubs & Boston Marathon; Community service with adolescent youth

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I ran cross-country as well as indoor and outdoor track, while studying at UR. As a student-athlete, I developed a series of short and long-range performance goals as a runner, a teammate, and student. I learned how to set reasonable timelines to achieve my expectations, how to transform setbacks into opportunities, and how to stay focused on the leverage points I could influence – and let go of the rest. In my life today, as a marathoner, working professional, and doctoral student, I attribute my ability to maintain my life-balance to the lessons I learned at UR, both on an off the track.

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?

I developed a positive relationship with the study abroad office my junior year. I would encourage students to go to the study abroad office and start reading through all their binders and files about places to go. Get your passport up to date and fly off to another country for a term where you don’t know anyone and have to make new friends and find your true inner voice. If you can live with a family and get “adopted”, it will likely change your life in a beautiful and powerful way.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Upon graduating from UR in 2004, I chose to continue my studies, and pursued an MA Ed in Teaching of World Languages at Stanford University. I applied to Stanford’s GSE from France, while doing an internship teaching English to French middle school students.  I realized I wanted share my love of the French and Spanish language with American students. I didn’t appreciate at the time (2004) that I would go to complete an MA Ed in Leadership at U.C. Berkeley (2009) and then an EdD in Education Leadership, Policy, and Development (anticipated 2013). The language skills and international relationships I acquired at UR have opened countless doors to both social and professional networks. U of R prepared me well for the challenges and discipline required for success in graduate school.  Study at Stanford was a tremendous experience and I’m thankful to have had the privilege to study with wonderful classmates under the University’s esteemed professors.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

My grandfather was a politician and college professor and my mom is an elementary school teacher. I grew up having debates with my PopPop during Sunday night dinners about social responsibility and the importance of community building. I knew I wanted a career in public service from an early age. Along the way, I considered using my language skills for international journalism, but I found my real passion was in the urban public school community. Today, I teach AP French and Spanish to Boston public high school students. I also use my language skills to connect non-English speaking families to the schools and advocate for student access to content and curriculum, to ensure our students have a meaningful educational experience that prepares them for collegiate success.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

I remember in the spring my senior year, I submitted the rough draft of my senior honors thesis to my professor to get some feedback.  I had been struggling with the essence of my argument; it had become circuitous and I needed someone to challenge my thinking and interrupt the cycle. He sat me down in his office after reading it and made a statement that still rings in my ears today: “Sloppy writing is slopping thinking.” It came as a blow because it was such a crisp comment – yet he was so right. My understanding of the issues I was trying to articulate was, at that phase in the process, quite superficial. I didn’t know nearly enough. As my professor and mentor, he pushed me to dig deeper into the arguments and reflect deeply upon the stakeholders and international context I was trying to capture. I learned so much more about my topic and ultimately produced a written work I was really proud of. His direct comments also came as some tough love that have made me a more resilient and courageous academic and professional.

How are you still connected with the University?

I attend alumni events in Boston, go home for Meliora Weekend in October, and follow the latest yellowjacket sports news. In the last several years, weddings have become mini-alumni gatherings. Regardless of my zip code, I know I’m a Pittsford Sutherland, Section V, U of R girl. As we used to say on the field, “Buzz sting ‘em!”

What advice do you have for current students?

Look around. Really look around. You are surrounded by greatness at UR. Challenge your thinking and challenge others, too. Get coffee with your professors.  Meet all the people in the study abroad office, pick a place, and travel for a summer or a term. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day requirements and expectations. Coach used to say, “Be comfortably uncomfortable”. To me that meant, push your boundaries – whether on race day or in life, it seems like a good mantra. – Especially if you believe in Meliora.