Community College Initiative Program: Creating Learning Opportunities for International Students at U.S. Community Colleges

By: David J. Smith, January 13, 2016

150 students from 12 countries participating in the Community College Initiative Program sponsored by the Department of State

I was honored recently to spend time with international students participating in the Community College Initiative Program.   The program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Since 2006, the program working with 50 U.S. community colleges, has hosted nearly 2,000 international students who spend an academic year in the U.S. studying vocational fields hosted at an American college.   The program is locally administered by three community college consortia.

I worked with the Community College Consortium (CCC), where the participating schools are Northern Virginia Community College, Mesa Community College,  Scottsdale Community College, Miami Dade College, Kirkwood Community College,  College of DuPage, Bunker Hill Community College,  Northampton Community College, and Houston Community College. CCC brings the students at their schools together in  January – the middle of the academic year –  for activities in Washington, DC, as well as a trip to New York City.   Home countries of the students included Brazil, Colombia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya.

I had two hours with the students – nearly 150 – and focused on examining peacebuilding and conflict-related related themes with an emphasis on cultural and faith-based issues.   Titled “Considering Global Differences: Peacebuilding as a Means to Building a Better World,” my goal was to have the students leave with a better sense of their own peacebuilding capacity as well as thinking about efforts they can take in their own countries upon their return.

Students working on their plans

After exploring the current state of challenges we face and definitions of peace and conflict, we looked at specific means for promoting peacebuilding.  Using the United States Institute of Peace’s Witnesses to Peacebuilding video on Seeds of Peace, students considered the experiences of Israeli and Palestinian young women during an encounter at camp.   I asked students to consider how their experiences might apply to their own situations.    I then paired students, and asked them to share one challenge facing their own home community and identify a skill or ability their they had which could be applied to making a difference. Using “post-its” students placed their “skill” on one wall.  My hope was to impress upon the students the range of abilities that they had within themselves. Skills were wide ranging and included diplomacy, communication and speaking abilities, planning skills, and cultural understanding.  In looking at skills, I asked students about their language abilities, and had some students who could converse in eight languages! I put two students on the spot and had share how to  say “hello” in the eight that they knew.

The culminating activity was having students in groups develop a “peacebuilding action plan” which would focus on one or more challenges they might work on.   I had students frame the plan in terms of (1) challenges (2) goals (3) tools (focusing on individual capabilities) (4) resources they might employ, and (5) labor (including workers and allies). Students focused on a range of challenges including corruption (which was the most popular), sex education, terrorism, environmental issues, violence, and women’s empowerment. The highlight of the program was having students report out their plans.

Students reporting out their action plans

After the program, I spent time answering questions, and then individually speaking with students who were looking for guidance on some of the challenges in their own countries.

This program brings to light the important contribution that community colleges can make to advancing global education, training, and peacebuilding.   I found these students very articulate and focused on what they wanted to accomplish.   Their presence in U.S. community colleges offers important opportunities for schools to further globalize and create links between these students and local U.S. students and communities.

This short video clip is of students working on one of the activities in the program.

For more questions about the Community College Consortium based at Northern Virginia Community College contact Dr. Syedur Rahman at




Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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