Mavericks Personified: Helen Abadzi
The language of learning
Helen Abadzi has five college degrees, including two doctorates, and speaks nearly as many languages as she has fingers and toes.
But it’s how the UT Arlington alumna uses her knowledge that’s impressive. She explores solutions to educational problems facing low-income countries.
As an education specialist and evaluator for the World Bank, she discovered that poor children’s school achievement was far lower than what governments and international economists expected. Part of the reason, she says, is ineffective use of instructional time in classes.
How can learning outcomes improve given the limitations of low-income countries and low-income students? To find the answer, Dr. Abadzi turned to her training as a UT Arlington psychology Ph.D. student.
“Older cognitive research can lead to answers,” she said, “as can state-of-the-art cognitive neuroscience, in which UTA is developing much expertise.”
In working for the World Bank, a specialized agency of the United Nations, being multilingual has its advantages.
“I have attained a decent level of speaking competency at some point in my life in 17 languages, plus three dead ones,” said Abadzi, who earned a Ph.D. from UT Arlington in 1983. “I learn languages as needed for my work, but I can’t hold them all in my mind simultaneously. At a given point, I speak only about 9 or 10.”
Born in Greece, Abadzi came to the United States to attend college. She earned four degrees prior to UT Arlington: a bachelor’s in psychology from Georgia State University, a master’s in psychology from Auburn University, and a master’s in educational psychology and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Alabama.
She maintains an apartment near Lake Arlington, where she spends about a month each year. UT Arlington holds a special place in her heart for more than educational reasons. It’s where she met Theodore Vakrinos, her husband.
— Jim Patterson