How one NAU grad aims to use small but impactful ways to effect change

Brianne Kanu and her cohort in graduation gear

Brianne Kanu’s post-graduation goal is to support her community through change in small yet impactful ways. She’s hoping for a snowball effect—dozens of small actions that slowly become bigger, better and stronger.  

Kanu, who graduated last weekend with a doctorate of school psychology from the College of Education at NAU’s North Valley campus, has experienced  the importance of such small things first-hand. She spent the final year of her program completing an internship at a public school and witnessed the work of educators, children, families and administrators to make school a safe and positive environment for students. 

“There is so much work that should be done to support equal rights for all children, particularly our vulnerable youth exposed to perpetually stressful environments,” she said. “I see so many individuals doing the best they can with what they have.” 

Brianne Kanu in grad gear with her diploma and flowersKanu, who is originally from Chicago, brought these priorities with her to NAU, focusing her efforts and research into equity and justice, eliminating the school-prison pipeline, trauma-informed interventions and improving educational outcomes for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ children. She saw a need for change and has made that her career. 

The first major change, however, was a lot more personal. Four years ago, Kanu worked in communications and marketing when her son was born; she found that her job required hours that meant she missed so many of her son’s firsts—his first steps, first words, the first face he saw every morning when he woke up. She hated missing those momentsand was unsatisfied with the work she was doing. She needed a change. 

She found NAU because it had two of the best school psychology programs in the state and enrolled in June 2020. Over the course of the last three years, she worked on projects, joined clubs and did research related to human rights and social justice, including joining various commissions on campus and taking on the role of diversity representative with the Graduate Student Government. She also worked with leaders in the Arizona Association of School Psychologists to meet with state and federal politicians to advocate for education, special education and the important work of school psychologists.   

This work cemented Kanu’s commitment to fostering connections between parents and schools, sharing evidence-based resources with the community and working to see people’s strengths and the value they add to the world. 

With the work she did, others noticed. Faculty who taught her commented on her leadership and commitment to marginalized groups. 

“I’ve been impressed with Brianne’s passion for learning and her commitment to finding ways to serve others, whether that be fellowBrianne Kanu in grad gear with two family members students or those with whom she works,” said Marianne Fillhouer, an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Educational Psychology. “Most impressive is her commitment and passion for DEIJ. Brianne’s growth and continual development has been nothing short of amazing. Not only has she developed skills for the practice of school psychology, but she has participated in many other experiences in order to learn and impact change.” 

Many of those opportunities came about as part of the community that NAU offered Kanu. She said the professors and members of her cohort supported and encouraged her desire to learn and grow and offered different ways that she could explore her interests. She even was able to present research alongside her cohort about the important work they were doing at the campus and the need to incorporate equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice content into their curriculum.  

“There were so many times in my life when I felt like I had a purpose, I just wasn’t quite sure what it was,” she said. “Being at NAU, I felt so seen and accepted by the people around me.” 

Now that she’s graduated, Kanu is looking to the future. She said her training at NAU equipped her with the tools she needs to explore a variety of options, and she’s looking around to consider what the next best step is for her and the student she most wants to have all the opportunities in the world.  

“I promised to teach my beautiful, tiny human that he can aim for the moon and reach his dreams,” she said. “Now, for my son’s first year of school, I am a school psychologist intern working in the same district. I overcame every challenge that came from juggling both parenting and schooling. I am serving my community and getting to support my kiddo along the way. If they lead me here again, I wouldn’t trade those challenges for the world.”  

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Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
(928) 523-8737 |

NAU Communications