Henri Pesonen, MST Childhood Education ‘10

Henri Pesonen came to the United States from Finland for a graduate degree in education and found a pathway to his career.

Pesonen holds a bachelor’s degree in primary education from a British university, and was teaching third grade in an English school in Helsinki, Finland. When he sought a graduate degree, he knew Pace was the right place to be.

“Pace was the most suitable program for me,” Pesonen said during an interview in New York on his way back from a conference in California. The opportunity to teach – and learn– in a New York City urban setting was alluring. “My goal was to see urban schools,” he said. Pesonen completed his fieldwork  in several Brooklyn schools, which offered a variety of different experiences, he said, particularly in contrast to Finland and other European nations.

“I felt like it’s more of an individualized culture here [in the US]. The kids are taught to compete, through sports and the like. You have to drive the success here,” he said. “Coming from a more socialistic country, it was very different.”

In addition to the incredible classroom experiences, Pesonen says he found great friendships and collaborative opportunities with faculty. He co-presented with a faculty member at a conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

He also appreciated the freedom  he had to make his Pace degree a truly individualized experience by combining his experiences with the OASIS program of the Teaching and Research in Autism (TARA) Center  to his coursework. The experience of being a Graduate Assistant in the OASIS program was a life-changing one. “Pace and OASIS really inspired me and the courses really supported my work,” he said. “Working with students on the spectrum opened my eyes to the kids. They have so much potential.”

Pace gave him something more – a new direction to his career. Pesonen is now  doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, focusing on special education. He aspires to teach on the university level and conduct research related to autism.

Pesonen is currently a researcher with The Intensive Special Education Endorsement (VETURI ), is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture through 2015. This project explores the importance of intensive and specialized support services for students with severe mental health problems; emotional, physical, developmental or intellectual disabilities; or Autism spectrum disorders, and the multidisciplinary services required by related professionals to ensure a continuum of educational programming and rehabilitative care. Pesonen’s work addresses the necessity for in-service teacher education, professional co-operation, and career development related to the support of students with special needs.

Pesonen hopes to open a center similar to OASIS one day and provide similar wrap-around support services to students with autism. It is a niche to be filled, he says. Students need support through the transition into high school and higher education. In Finland, students complete compulsory school before moving on to high school and university.

“Schools are more inclusive here, in terms of children with special needs,” Pesonen said. “Overseas, there is much to be done to get to that level.”