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Class notes: Where's that thesis?

Alum finishes his degree – finally – after creating a chance for others

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Bradley Broder’s Kenya Education Fund helps students pay for high school.

Bradley Broder (’09) knows disappointment often creates opportunity.

In Broder’s case, disappointment at not earning a master’s degree created educational opportunity for hundreds of Kenyan children.

Broder, 34, had planned to combine his Peace Corps experience in Kenya with a new master’s degree from WWU in political science and launch a career with an international non-governmental organization devoted to economic development in Africa. But when his master’s degree didn’t pass muster, those plans were put on hold.

“No organization would hire me for the job I wanted without a master’s degree,” says the New York City resident.

But while he couldn’t find a job, Broder knew first-hand how much work there was to do. When he had returned to Kenya to do research for his thesis, Broder had reconnected with many friends.

“All anybody asked me for was money for school for their children,” he says. “They didn’t ask me for money for TVs, or food or hospital bills. All they wanted was an education for their children and they couldn’t afford it.”

Sixty percent of Kenyans never attend high school because of the fees, Broder says. He began to see a way to help not only his friends, but the whole country.

“Through education, we can improve human capacity in Kenya to the point where they no longer depend on others to solve their problems,” he says.

In 2006, Broder founded the Kenya Education Fund, which now provides school fees for about 300 Kenyan students. By next year, Broder hopes KEF will send about 600 students to high school.

Each high school diploma “represents an opportunity for a family, a community and a country to improve itself and live the kind of life that we all want for ourselves,” he says.

But Broder had all but given up on completing his own degree until he visited Bellingham earlier this year to speak in an African politics class led by his old advisor, Political Science Professor Vernon Damani Johnson.

“We went out for a beer afterward and he said, ‘I felt bad you never finished. What do you think about giving it another stab?’ ” Broder says. “I was kind of hoping he’d say it. It was always looming over me. The conversation with Damani encouraged me a lot.”

Broder finished the thesis in time to graduate this summer – and speak at the Commencement ceremony about opportunities that present themselves even in the

worst of times.

Establishing the Kenya Education Fund was an opportunity that was “the best of my life,” he told the graduates. “It’s one I was able to recognize thanks only to my education.

“My work is to facilitate the kind of education that creates similar opportunities for others,” he said.