Faculty & Staff SpotlightDr. Laura Wangsness Willemsen

Dr. Laura Wangsness Willemsen

Assistant Professor of Education

Dr. Wangsness Willemsen’s teaching, research and practice is aimed at ensuring schooling supports equity and well-being in both US and international contexts.  She recently joined the faculty of the Department of Doctoral Studies in Education at Concordia, where she focuses on supporting student research as well as teaching classes on research methods, diversity and equity, and educational leadership.  She comes from the University of Minnesota, where she worked on issues of educational equity, taught comparative education courses, co-led a study of adolescence and gender relations in Tanzania, and led qualitative research for a longitudinal, mixed-methods evaluation of educational initiatives for marginalized youth in East Africa. She previously worked as an English language teacher and coordinator in diverse high school settings ranging from urban, suburban and rural Minnesota to Tanzania.

Her recent research is an ethnographic exploration of a Tanzanian school alongside life histories of seven young women who attended it. This study examines the relationships between schooling and women’s empowerment and underscores the significance of emotional and social learning in schools. Her resulting dissertation won the 2017 Gail Kelly Award, the highest dissertation award from the Comparative and International Education Society. As a practitioner at the nexus of education, development and gender, Dr. Wangsness Willemsen has worked with institutions such as the United Nations Girls’ Educational Initiative, World Vision, Miske Witt and Associates, CARE International and USAID.

Dr. Wangsness Willemsen is pleased to join the Concordia University family and looking forward to working with Concordia’s doctoral students.


  • Ph.D., Educational Policy and Administration (Comparative and International Development Education concentration), University of Minnesota
  • M.Ed., Second Languages and Cultures (ELL teaching), University of Minnesota
  • BA, Anthropology and Philosophy, Luther College


Inequalities, equity and education; comparative and international education; gender and development; qualitative methodologies; schooling in East Africa; pedagogies, practices and curricula.


  • Comparative and International Education Society
  • American Educational Research Association
  • American Anthropological Society
  • Gender and Education Association
  • American Evaluation Association
  • Project Zawadi Board of Directors


DeJaeghere, J., Wiger, N. P., & Wangsness Willemsen, L. (2016). Broadening educational outcomes: Social relations, skills development, and employability for youth. Comparative Education Review, 60(3), 457-479.

Wangsness Willemsen, L. & Ndesamburo Kwayu, A. (2016).  Peers, sexual agency and relationships in Tanzania.  In J. DeJaeghere, J. Josic & K. S. McCleary (Eds.), Education and youth agency:  Qualitative case studies in global contexts.  (pp. 173-191.) Basel, Switzerland:  Springer International.

Wangsness Willemsen, L. (2016).  Embodying Empowerment:  Gender, schooling, relationships and life history in Tanzania.  (Doctoral dissertation.) Minneapolis, MN:  University of Minnesota.

Willemsen, L. W., & DeJaeghere, J. (2015). Learning to negotiate sexual relationships: A girls’ school in Tanzania as a restrictive and agentic site. Gender and Education, 27(2), 183-197.

Monkman, K. & Willemsen, L. (2015). CARE Cambodia: Patsy Collins Trust Fund Initiative Final Evaluation Report for CARE USA.  Saint Paul, MN:  Miske Witt & Associates.

Miske, S., with Vavrus, F., Wilkinson, M. & Willemsen, L. (2013).  Exploring the Gendered Dimensions of Teaching and Learning. Background paper for United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative’s contribution for Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013/2014. http://www.ungei.org/infobycountry/files/Working_Paper_2014.02_(Gender_Dimensions)_FINAL.pdf . New York, NY:  United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative.


Bamattre, R. & Wangsness Willemsen, L. Teaching comparative education to undergraduates and non-specialists:  Navigating the epistemological waters.  Paper to be presented at Comparative and International Education Society Symposium, October 2017, Washington, DC.

Wangsness Willemsen, L. & Ndesamburo Kwayu, A.  Peers, agency and relationships in Tanzanian Secondary Schools.  Paper presented at Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, March 2017, Atlanta, Georgia.

Monkman, K. & Wangsness Willemsen, L.  Community Survival in northeast Cambodia:  Educating girls as a strategic element of CARE’s work.  Paper presented at Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, March 2016, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Nkhoma, M. N. & Wangsness Willemsen, L.  Learning and practicing care in a Tanzanian secondary school.  Paper presented at Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, March 2015, Washington, DC.

Wangsness Willemsen, L.  Life history as a methodology for CIE:  Possibilities, tensions and an example from Tanzania.  Paper presented at Comparative and International Education Society Regional Conference, October 2014, Bloomington, Indiana.

Wangsness Willemsen, L. & Nikoi, A.  Enacting intrinsic empowerment.  Paper presented at Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, March 2014, Toronto, Ontario.

Nikoi, A., Kahuria, A., Johnstone, C., Eschenbacher, H., & Willemsen, L.  Toward a model of experiential, field-based and supportive learning in formal and non-formal education programs in East Africa.  Paper presented at International Interdisciplinary Conference, June 2013, Nairobi, Kenya.

Wangsness Willemsen, L. & DeJaeghere, J.  Tanzanian girls negotiating transactional sex, adolescent desire and material needs.  Paper presented at Gender and Education Conference, April 2013, London, UK.

Wangsness Willemsen, L., Nikoi, A., & DeJaeghere, J. The role of peer and adult relationships in empowering youth in education. Paper presented at Comparative International Education Society Annual Conference, March 2013, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Weiss, T., Willemsen, L., Nikoi, A., & Nkhoma, M. Using youth narrative vignettes to examine the implementation of youth entrepreneurship education in Sub Saharan Africa. Paper presented at Comparative and International Education Society, March 2013, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Cakici, H., Pellowski Wiger, N. & Willemsen, L.  Multi-cultural data collection and analysis in a dynamic and complex environment.  Paper presented at American Evaluation Association Annual Conference, October 2012, Minneapolis, Minnesota.