An Interview with Democratic Knowledge Project Summer Fellows Galadriel Coury & Amy Liu


By: Alexis Jimenez Maldonado and Salma Boukouj

August 4, 2022 

This conversation happened on August 4, 2022. Salma Boukouj is our Summer Communications Intern from Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school. The transcript of the interview has been edited for clarity.  

Galadriel Coury is a rising senior at Harvard College concentrating in Economics with a secondary field in Educational Studies. She was formerly studying International Relations and has written multiple pieces for the Harvard International Review. Coury gained her role as a DKP Fellow through the Mindich Fellowship Program, and she is working closely with the Democratic Knowledge Project curriculum team. She has plans to teach math in Florida after graduating.  

Amy Liu is a rising sophomore at Harvard College concentrating in Sociology. She is working closely with the Design Based Implementation Research team and came to the Center as a Democratic Knowledge Project Fellow through the BLISS Fellowship Program. Liu is interested in advancing equity and family engagement in the education sphere. 

Q: Galadriel, you are a Mindich Summer Fellow and Amy, you're a Bliss Summer Fellow. Could you talk a bit about your fellowships and how you came to work with the Democratic Knowledge Project? 

Galadriel Coury: The Mindich Summer Fellowship is a collection of a bunch of different service-based organizations across the country and it provides funding for students to do internships that are service based. So, I was looking at different nonprofits based on education and different organizations working with education and that's where I found the Democratic Knowledge Project through the Mindich Fellowship application. 

Amy Liu: The BLISS fellowship is a roughly 10-week residential program on campus. We all live in Winthrop House over the summer. BLISS stands for Building Learning and Inquiry of the Social Sciences and it's a smaller research program that specifically tries to simulate social science research for undergraduates. For me personally, I wanted to get involved in something related to the educational sphere, and the project related to the Democratic Knowledge Project and K-12 education was the only opportunity I felt aligned with my goal for the summer. So, I submitted my application and luckily got the opportunity. 

Q: Can you describe your Democratic Knowledge Project Summer Fellowship experience? 

Galadriel: I've been working on the curriculum development team, which is cool because I’m learning about how you design a curriculum and what works well in the curriculum as well as what to keep and what to throw out. We work very close to teachers to figure out what exactly has been working in the classroom for the past year and what needs to change. That aspect of design is really interesting.  

I've also been working on finding supplementary materials for the research, like primary documents, especially when we're developing civic engagement curriculum for eighth graders. A lot of my work has been finding stories about the historical civic leaders we are discussing. I am interested in the stories they told about themselves and seeing how they described their skills and values. I didn't realize how hard it would be to find something that specifically fits that. When I do research, I look in the index of a book and then I just go to the pages that are relevant. But when you're trying to find a story, that doesn't work. So, I've spent a lot of time reading, searching, and learning this summer which has been really, really cool for me to spend all that time reading and learning as a part of my fellowship. 

Amy: I have been working on the DBIR team, which stands for Design-Based Implementation Research, and it's a more iterative approach to propagate and transform the curriculum for K-12 schools, specifically public schools across the district that we’ve been partnering with. A lot of our core work has been deidentifying student work that comes in from these public schools along with qualitatively coding certain transcripts that are submitted by teachers through our interviews. These interviews are conducted by the people on our team who we have almost daily contact with . We've also been performing literature reviews as well on Design-Based Implementation Research. We are thinking about how we can transform the way children think compared to just providing, for example, more memorization-based assessments.  

Q: What type of work are you engaged with DKP as Summer Fellows? 

Galadriel: I’ve been doing a lot of research on primary documents. Also, my team's working closely with teachers in our community that have been implementing the curriculum over the past year. We're working with them to improve our new iterations of the curriculum. Thinking about what kind of activities have worked well with students, what kind of materials are useful while working with other groups. For instance, Amy's group talked about how we can create exams or tests that aren't necessarily tests. Not testing on memorization but testing on diverse skills and teaching thinking patterns. We are working on how we implement that in our curriculum and figuring out how to test what we're looking for.  

It feels like it took at least a week to get familiar with the curriculum and the teams and everything that was involved. I'm not sure I'm at a point where I can accurately explain everything that's going on with the curriculum because it’s been a lot this summer, and it's been really cool to be a part of. 

Amy: In addition to the responsibilities that I discussed in a previous question, we also have the chance to gain exposure to different spheres of the Democratic Knowledge Project as well. For example, we had a call with their professional development team and got to learn more about their efforts in supporting teachers and implementing the new civics curricula. Our literature reviews along with our transcripts are also both essentially analyzing the efficacy of project-based learning and teaching us how we can improve civics curricula.  

Q: Galadriel, you’re studying Economics and Educational Studies and Amy you’re studying Sociology. You both have such different academic backgrounds so can you talk a little bit about how you use these different backgrounds in your work with the DKP? 

Galadriel: I previously have done research in education and education inequities in higher education. So, I’ve been doing research in the educational field, both in my courses and my experience, but I think this is different because it feels far more hands on. From my perspective, I'm working on and building curriculum and thinking about why it's useful instead of researching what's going on. And I think that has been something that I couldn't have gotten with an undergrad degree in economics, so it's been a different perspective than my studies which I really appreciate. 

Amy: Personally, as aSophomore, I honestly haven’t been to many sociology classes, but I was very involved with the school district of Philadelphia during my time in high school. That was more geared towards transforming high school learning and how we can retain higher graduation rates for public schools within the School District of Philadelphia. And so, when I came to Harvard, I wanted to continue somewhat of a similar route, and I found that within the Democratic Knowledge Project. 

Q: Has the work you've done this summer influenced or impacted your research? Has it changed the direction? Have you found that you are interested in new things that you didn't know about? 

Galadriel: I did not take many history courses in college. I focused mainly on economics and education. So for me, doing a lot of research with primary documents has provided an opportunity to do research in areas that I hadn't previously. I've spent a lot of time reading about people that I’ve only vaguely heard of, but never deeply explored. I found a very deep interest in Bayard Rustin in the summer who I've done a lot of reading about. He was a civil rights leader that helped organize the March on Washington. I think in that way, this has provided me an opportunity to do research in areas that I hadn't before while still staying closely connected to my passion for education. That has been cool because I've learned things that I didn't expect to learn about history. 

Amy: Working with the Democratic Knowledge Project has made me want to expand the scope of my research moving forward. The upcoming school year, for example, I want to focus not just on civics education, but also explore how we can incorporate more STEM and humanities-based courses into this work. I want to do this work with the core curricula that is often implemented on a statewide basis. I am curious about how we could reform that as a whole and how service education can drive that overall progress. 

Q: Galadriel, you've written for the Harvard International Review. What drew you towards writing?  

Galadriel: When I started college, I was very passionate about international relations, and I thought that's what I would be studying. That is no longer what I'm studying going into my senior year. But I have always loved reading and the way that you communicate with information. Similarly, the other side of reading is writing. And so, I have this question of how I can very strongly build this skill where I'm able to do research, but also create something useful for other people. Therefore, I started writing and I still write occasionally for the International Review. I have been working on that skill, extracurricularly, and have done research on topics that interest me to provide information to people, which to me is incredible. Most of the articles that I've written are focused on international education, which gives me an opportunity to look outside of just US education, policy, and practices. 

Q: Amy, you're interested in advancing equity and family engagement in the education sphere. Could you talk a bit more about how this became an interest in yours? 

Amy: A lot of it stemmed from when I was in high school with the School District of Philadelphia. Within our school districts there are schools that are ranked the top of the country along with schools that are ranked as one of the most dangerous in the United States. The polarization within the school district made a lot of youth organizers question the efficacy of, for example, investment and divestment, given school segregation, along with the historical privatization of the school district. Working on that for high school piqued my interest in advancing equity and family engagement.  Our work right now with the Democratic Knowledge Project deviates a lot from analyzing the history of school districts within Massachusetts, and instead is working towards the future. I prefer this work, instead of trying tocorrect the past. 

Q: I'd love to give you the opportunity to share anything that I have not covered. 

Galadriel: I'm super grateful for the team at DKP, especially the curriculum team and working together with them this summer. 

Amy: I also share special gratitude for Ariana Zetlin. I work with her daily and I’m always in contact with her on her progress with certain questions. She's also the main organizer for all our calls with different departments within the Democratic Knowledge Project. We owe her a lot, so a huge thanks to her for making sure our summer went smoothly. 

Q: How do you all unwind when you’re not working, do you have any hobbies or things you do for fun? 

Galadriel: I am training for a half marathon. I say training because I don't feel like I'm doing anything right now. But I will be running a half marathon in November. I spend a lot of my time running outside. And then also I like to read and listen to lots of audiobooks. I read for fun during the summer.  

Amy: I like to sew clothing and shoot film photography but that has been on pause over the summer.  I am also really into yoga and the gym. It's not too consistent during the school year but over the summer I have been very consistent so hopefully that will carry on. 

Q: Do you have a podcast or show that you're currently listening to/watching? I'll also open it up to any audio books you recommend or anything like that. 

Galadriel: I prefer audiobooks over podcasts. I just finished Our Declaration by Danielle Allen and I loved it. I'm always watching Gilmore Girls, I’ll forever love that show. 

Amy: I really like listening to podcasts like The Times and The Economists. They are also great because I can just pop in headphones while I'm getting ready for the day. Those are my favorite podcasts I listen to every single day. And then with respect to the show I always watch, it would have to be Gossip Girl. It's my comfort show. 

Q: What are you most excited about in the coming academic year? 

Galadriel: It's my senior year so I'm excited for a whole year that will hopefully, fingers crossed, be relatively untouched by COVID. This will be my first year to have that. And I am really, really excited to just take total advantage of everything that is available at Harvard, all the extracurriculars, all the events, all the library resources, and really enjoy this last year that I have. 

Amy: I'm really excited for house life. I think that will be fun, sort of closer to all of my close friends. I'm also just excited to get more into concentration-related classwork since sophomore year is where you take a big chunk of your concentration requirements. I'm excited to get more grounded in schoolwork this year as well.