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Published Monday, November 24, 2003
Not Your Average Overachiever: An HGSE Student Profile
By
Julia Laughlin
APPIAN STAFF WRITER

Upon first meeting Yoan Anguilet, you’ll know right away that he is not your typical Harvard overachiever. The Ed.M. candidate in the Technology in Education program opens his mouth and out comes English tinged with an authentic French accent, giving everything he says an unintentional air of glamour and a certain je ne sais quoi.

You might also be clued in to Anguilet’s unique flair when you see him in a fedora on his website (www.anguilet.net). Or maybe it’s when he compares the rivalry between Harvard and his alma mater, MIT, to “two lovers, fighting to prove their love.” Or when he describes the company he started at age 22. This man is one of a kind.

Now 23, Anguilet comes to the Harvard Graduate School of Education from Gabon, in western Africa. Gabon is a minute but developed country, with a mere one million inhabitants-- but boasting the second largest rainforest in the world. Teachers in the country can have as many as 100 students per class, which would preclude much individualized attention.

As a result, Anguilet pursued an advanced research project while at MIT, attempting to use technology to address the lack of educational resources in his native nation. His project, which won the Institute’s prestigious Nylander Award, used computers to prepare African students to pass the all-important baccalaureate exam, a requirement to move on to higher education.

This led to his development of his company, Education and Technologies for Communities in Africa (ETCA), in the summer of 2003; it aims to use computers to improve education for predominately French-speaking areas in Africa.

Still impassioned with these projects, Anguilet is now designing simulated lab equipment on the computer, combining his technology prowess with his love of education. He explains that teaching science and mathematics is a challenge in Africa because schools lack hands-on lab equipment, such as microscopes. His computer program will “stand-in” for the absence of actual equipment.

Perhaps more challenging than this is how to prepare people to accept technology when so many people are, as he says, “tied to tradition.” He wants to make the transition easier for people.

For example, it may sound like music to US children’s ears, but Anguilet contends that the lack of homework in Gabon is a very serious problem. “It is terrible!” he exclaims, explaining that his computer quizzes, lab equipment, and ‘teacher assistants’ will provide much-needed help for Gabonese teachers.

For the moment, Anguilet is quite happy here-- although he was surprised at the “maturity level” of many of the HGSE students, a euphemism for the average age of his peers. But he appreciates the friendly atmosphere at HGSE as opposed to MIT where, he says, little socializing takes place.

He cracks up when I ask about hobbies, modestly chuckling, “I don’t have a lot of hobbies.” However, those that he does mention are certainly emblematic of his eclectic interests. For example, he likes listening to Zouk (a form of Caribbean music), salsa, R&B and, he admits while laughing, country. And don’t forget Michael Jackson.

After a pause, Anguilet mischievously adds that he also enjoys composing music and is co-producing a album for his younger brother, the suave Gael Amour (www.gaelamour.com), who is the self-proclaimed “nouveau prince” of Zouk and wrote his first song for a sweetheart from Holland at the age of 11. After visiting Gael Amour’s website, it is difficult to say which Anguilet brother wins the top prize for panache.

Still, it is difficult to beat Yoan’s diverse talents, which also include cooking French food. But he is disappointed that Cambridge does not seem to sell the Kassava leaves required for his favorite Gabonese dish, “feuilles de manioc.”

Despite his assorted interests and his warm personality, when asked what makes him unique here at HGSE, Anguilet laughs, “well, I am the only student from Gabon!”

We think there is a lot more that makes him unique.

Julia Laughlin, a masters candidate in the Specialized Program, is a member of the Appian Board of Editors.