Northwestern senior Hannah Whitehouse awarded grant to study El Sistema worldwide


Source: Hannah Whitehouse

Hannah Whitehouse prepares to depart on her summer journey. Funded by the Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant, Whitehouse will research El Sistema-inspired music education programs in six different countries.

Andrea Michelson, Assistant Summer Editor

Hannah Whitehouse had never left the United States before she started school at Northwestern. The Bienen and SESP senior said international travel always seemed like a far-fetched idea, but the Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant is making it possible for her to study music education in six countries this summer.

The Circumnavigators Club Foundation offers a $9,000 grant to one incoming NU senior every year. Recipients of the grant must travel to at least five countries on at least three different continents for at least 10 continuous weeks, according to NU’s Office of Undergraduate Research website.

“I don’t think a grant like this would have been offered had I not gone to Northwestern, if I’m being totally honest,” Whitehouse said. “It’s kind of an unreal grant … and the University funded the rest. I ended up leaving with almost $15,000 in funding.”

Whitehouse said the funding she received covered all of her travel expenses — and as a first-generation, low-income student, paying out of pocket wasn’t an option for her. She also received a scholarship when she traveled to Western Kenya with the Global Engagement Studies Institute during the summer of 2016, and said she now credits her GESI trip as when she was “bitten by the travel bug.”

This summer, Whitehouse will add five new countries to her passport: England, Greece, India, the Philippines and New Zealand. She will also return to Kenya to study the Ghetto Classics and El Sistema Kenya programs.

Whitehouse said her research will focus on the efficacy of El Sistema-inspired programs, a model of public music education that works to serve underprivileged youth around the world. She said she first discovered El Sistema when she watched a TED Talk by the program’s founder early in high school.

“I was like ‘oh my gosh, this program is music and it’s changing lives,’” Whitehouse said. “Music changed my life, so I’ve always wanted to study that and ultimately do that when I grow up.”

However, Whitehouse said she never thought she wanted to do research, and instead envisioned herself becoming an El Sistema music teacher or arts administrator. It wasn’t until she met Bienen prof. Sarah Bartolome that she began to consider doing music education research.

Bartolome, who has been teaching Whitehouse since her freshman year, said she has seen Whitehouse grow as not only a scholar beginning to engage with the research process, but also as a person in terms of maturity and readiness to spend a significant period of time abroad.

“She’s really independent, she’s a very thoughtful person and she has an adventurous spirit, and those are the things that you need to take off and go to the world,” Bartolome said. “For somebody of her age to have the wherewithal to organize a trip like this … (demonstrates) the initiative she takes in approaching all of the opportunities that are afforded to her.”

Whitehouse said she also worked closely with arts learning expert Eric Booth in her preparations to go abroad. She said she reached out to Booth, who co-authored a book about El Sistema programs, “Playing for Their Lives,” in hopes that he could connect her with people to interview for her research.

Booth said he is committed to helping El Sistema grow in the US and around the world, and has studied El Sistema programs in 25 countries. He said he was excited to help a young enthusiast who shares his passion for music education, and who may bring a fresh perspective to the field.

“Most people who travel to visit more than a single overseas program come with a particular professional lens,” Booth said. “(Whitehouse) brings a fresh beginner’s discovery mind, which may well indeed surface things that more professionally trained minds actually don’t see … that would be overlooked by people who take some things for granted.”

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