Educators, particularly those working with secondary youth, are constantly exploring the best ways for student engagement that would offer them specific life and professional skills as well as knowledge of the world around them. Many educators are now starting to focus on project based learning (PBL) as a means to advancing student learning.
In this piece published in KQED News and written by Katrina Schwartz (10/8/17), educator Mike Gwaltney talks about his experiences with PBL:
“We ought to be teaching stuff that has real meaning for people,” Gwaltney said. He believes students are more keyed into global issues and current events than many adults know. The young people he has worked with care about what’s happening in the world around them. When teachers tap into that passion, students are capable of producing work that impacts the world beyond school.
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (10/10-10/11) I visited Austin Community College (ACC) in Austin, TX to meet with students, educators, and community members on peacebuilding and careers. This was my third visit to ACC, and I have been honored over the years to work with the founder of the peace and conflict program there, Dr. Shirin Khosropour. We started working together in 2007 after she attended a community college program I was running at USIP. She is a visionary and an heartfelt educator who everyday strives to promote peace with her students and colleagues.
My focus on this visit was looking at career preparation. As you might know, I work extensively with community colleges, often seen as the primary vocational educator for Americans. My book, Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working Peace(Information Age Publishing 2016), examines the myriad of ways in which one can launch a career working on conflict across many fields. Community colleges are ideal settings to share peace-related career ideas.
A major theme that emerged during my visit was preparation for careers. Often young college students are eager to get at the work of peace. But to best set themselves up for a profession, there is much they can do in college.
I used the example of my son Lorenzo who is in the Peace Corps serving in Namibia. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 2016, but as a junior took a semester to study in an university in Istanbul, Turkey. As a family, we always traveled. And his awareness of living overseas might have started when we lived in Estonia when he was 9 and I was teaching in the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program. Having confidence building experiences through study abroad (and extensive travel) and other overseas opportunities is an essential part of preparing for working in peace.
In Austin, on the first night there was a reception that Shirin organized with students and colleagues. I met a number of community college students studying Arabic. Some were older, but most were younger looking to eventually transfer to a 4-year institution (the University of Texas was a major preference), and study international relations, culture, political science, and global security. They saw studying Arabic at ACC as an essential part of that process.
In our sessions at ACC, we talk extensively about experiences in college to better expose a student to global issues and cultures. Besides study abroad, which tends to be short term in community colleges, students can engage in taking courses that have global themes (like peace and conflict resolution), participate in clubs and other activities, engage with the local diaspora community (which might include refugees), and develop an awareness and resiliency which will serve them in their future peacebuilding ambitions.
I have long argued the benefits of study abroad for college students. Looking back, I wish I had engaged in time overseas to study. When I was in college, I remember few of my fellow students going overseas. That may be surprising considering I went to American University in DC: a university that was in 2010 ranked 5th nationally with nearly 60% of it’s students going abroad.
I’m proud that my own son engaged in study abroad while at the University of Maryland, taking a seminar to study in Istanbul. He is now serving in the Peace Corps in Namibia. My daughter just started her first year at Towson University and is already talking about studying overseas, likely in Korea (she is Korean).
I would argue that a study abroad experience not only improves global competency, but enhances all professional pathways be they international or domestic.
The benefits of studying abroad can now be demonstrated beyond anecdotal evidence. This IIE study looks at the link between studying abroad and career success. If you want to be successful in your work, study abroad in college.