Preparing Students for Peru: The what, the so what, and the now what of International Service Learning

Preparing Students for International Service Learning in Peru[1]

[the what] This will be the third year that the Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program is running at Binghamton University. The Peru Program is a collaboration between Binghamton University’s Department of Public Administration in CCPA, Office of International Programs (OIP) and Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), along with one on-site language partner and three service partner organizations in Peru. The Peru Program is an international service-learning program organized around an academic course (titled “Local Development in the Andes”) which begins at Binghamton University prior to leaving the United States. The course, which I teach, provides an opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds and interests to learn about the dynamics of sustainable development with a focus on the Andean Region in Latin America. It situates local sustainable-development practice within its interconnection between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity. The course is designed to help students develop knowledge and skills that enable them to reflect on local development and their own roles in international service. The course provides an opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds and interests to learn about the dynamics of sustainable development with a focus on the Andean Region in Latin America. It situates local sustainable-development practice within its interconnection between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity. In addition, course is designed to help students develop knowledge and skills that enable them to reflect on local development and their own roles in international service.

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The program continues during a three-week study abroad experience in Cusco, Peru led by myself and Professor Nadia Rubaii, which this years is from May 30-June 21, 2015. While in Peru, students receive formal language instruction tailored to their individual language abilities and interests at an accredited language school in Cusco, Maximo Nivel. Native Spanish speakers have the opportunity to study Quechua, providing additional opportunities for them to more fully experience the cultural exchange and communicate with indigenous communities. Language immersion extends beyond the formal classes to include housing with host families in Cusco, Peru. Students and faculty live with families during their entire stay in Cusco. This living arrangement further facilitates a rich cultural immersion experience.

We have three service partners on the ground:

AbrePuertas. AbrePuertas (OpenDoors), was started by a SUNY alumna and is situated in the district of Coya, Peru, in the Sacred Valley outside of the city of Cusco. The organization works to improve community literacy, empower teens through leadership and public speaking trainings, engage families who may undervalue traditional education, and bolster the value of learning and art. In 2013, faculty and students on the Peru Program provided in-kind donations of project materials and worked on indoor and outdoor infrastructure improvements including: sanding, cleaning, priming, and painting. Additionally, Peru Program participants sketched a mural designed by children from the community in the organization’s common area. The participants and the children worked together to paint the mural. In 2014, Binghamton students helped to resign a youth room through painting and clean up and catalogued library books into the organization’s library system.

Corazón de Dahlia. Corazón de Dahlia (Heart of Dahlia), was started by a Binghamton University alumna. The organization provides afterschool programming for children, a bi-lingual and media library, and an educational toy and game library. In 2013, faculty and students participated in its three-year anniversary celebration. Donations of educational supplies from students were shared with the children and staff in celebration of the partnership. In 2014, Binghamton University student were integrated in the Corazón de Dahlia after school program, helping with homework.

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Municipality of Cusco. The Municipality of Cusco facilitates our work with soup kitchens: Los Comedores Populares. The organization is made up of local women and provides a source of food for families who would otherwise lack an adequate food supply. The students and faculty worked with community members to dig ditches around an adobe building to allow for better water drainage; constructed netting in order to plaster the outer wall; and plastered the inside walls of adobe building to help transition the facility to a more permanent and functional status. In 2014, Binghamton University students and faculty collaborated with a different Comedor to tear down a dilapidated adobe building which served as the kitchen for the Comedor Popular and rebuild it out of ceramic bricks.

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We look forward to the 2015 projects in June which are currently being developed! The ISL program and course will conclude with assignments and reflection once returning to the U.S. in the end of June.

[so what] This year we have 18 students from all across campus, both graduate and undergraduate students. For the next two months we will hear from the 6 CCPA graduate students in program on the CCPA blog, before leaving, during their time in Peru and once they return. My post is setting up this blog series, which promises to be reflective and stimulating!

The Peru Program brings exciting opportunities to CCPA graduate students in particular. The goal of the Peru Program is to provide international exchange and service-learning opportunities which enhance the educational experiences of students at Binghamton University and apply local sustainable-development practices on the ground in Peru with our on-site partner institutions. Sustainable development is not purely an economic or environmental concern demanding technical expertise from the science or engineering professions although those elements are vital. Sustainable development also demands sustainable management practices, and a commitment to the values of sustainability in its broadest forms—financial, environmental, and cultural. In addition to its academic objectives related to local sustainable-development practice, the Peru Program engages student and faculty in international service learning. As a class, students develop and follow standards for ethical practice in international service learning.

[now what?] As I prepare the students to go to Peru I am thinking about the important public service and ISL values of sustainability (the balance between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity), mutuality (a creation of a common vision among stakeholders) and reciprocity (all stakeholders realize the benefits of service). Indeed, one of the most important components to ISL programming is building group cohesion and responsible partnerships. When we take in ethical considerations, the importance of building and maintaining relationships among ourselves and with our partners is at the forefront.

My task now, as we finish the pre-departure coursework, it to make sure individually and as a group, we have built ethical considerations into the coursework to advance student learning objectives and establish the importance of our relationships with our partners. Preparation includes targeted conversations and ensuring readiness for students. Additionally, course content that that asks critical questions specific to the pedagogy of ISL is included in the program in order that students understand the implications and advance their understanding of ethics and reciprocity.

The CCPA blog will provide our CCPA graduate students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences using a what, so what, now what? model[2]. They will reflect on what they are seeing and experiencing; what they bring to the situation; and how is it related to public service and ISL values.

[1]The thousands of conversations and written papers with my collaborators, Professor Nadia Rubaii and CCPA doctoral student/OIP Assistant Director for Study Abroad, Kerry Stamp, very much inform much of this blog post!!

[2] Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
*Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on International Service Learning. Check back for further updates and dispatches from the field throughout the summer.

Susan Appe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
University Downtown Center, Room 341
Binghamton University

Co-Teaching with Bogotá: One PhD student’s experience with 21st century pedagogy

All doctoral students in the PhD program in Community and Public Affairs must spend a semester co-teaching a course with a faculty member in CCPA as a requisite for earning their degree. My experience has been pretty atypical so far, but that is part of the joy of being pioneers in an interdisciplinary doctoral program. I am also a full-time professional staff member in the Office of International Programs where I serve as a study abroad coordinator managing a portfolio of study abroad programs and assist in establishing and fostering international partnerships.

Here are the basics, this spring 2015 semester I am co-teaching a course at Binghamton University, PAFF 520. It is entitled 21st Century Governance and is a required course for the Master of Public Administration degree. The instructor of record is Professor Nadia Rubaii of the Department of Public Administration.

Then things get interesting, Professor Rubaii decided to link up with a former classmate of mine and alumnus of our MPA program, Sebastián Líppez De Castro and his course Tecnologías y Procesos Gubernamentales at La Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Sebastián is the director of the political science major in the Department of Political Science and International Relations. This course meets in both Binghamton and Bogota on Monday mornings and it is completely integrated from the same syllabus to synchronous class meetings to group projects with participants from both universities on the same team (more on this below).

This co-teaching as an outgrowth of a shared research interest discussed between myself and Nadia to begin researching the potential for this course, building a syllabus and course content with our associate in Bogota. We have been working on bringing these ideas to fruition since the early start of the fall 2014 semester. The goal of the course involves the interrelation of three broad 21st century themes: technology, globalization, and diversity. The course taught in Bogota and the course taught in Binghamton are not necessarily the same, but relate to one another through these three themes. From a research perspective, in addition to identifying the similarities and differences demonstrated through course engagement and creative problem solving, a course like this can provide an opportunity for myself as an emerging scholar to create an educational environment where teaching intercultural effectiveness can be viewed as it unfolds in real time.

The course experience itself is truly integrative. Students in both Bogota and Binghamton are using the same syllabus, and all students have access to learn from each instructor as co-instructors. Students at each school have time to meet with their specific instructors regarding campus specific issues at the start of class, and then the classes and instructors come together to provide content and engage students in both locations, with a focus on solving problems through their cultural specific lenses. One of the ways that this is an enriching experience for me as an emerging scholar is that I am able to see the frustrations and questions from the students regarding the breadth of information that they are being exposed to, leading to intellectual growth and an enhanced transnational lens. We as public administrators in the United States approach issues differently than those of other countries, and exposure to this type of critical thinking and problem solving will produce problem solvers who can analyze and create policy for this rapidly interconnected world we live in.

One of the key goals of this course, which will last far longer than a semester, is that the students are learning to manage interpersonal relationships in the development of a collaborative project with people who live in another country. This develops skills of collaborative leadership that will serve them long after they graduate from Binghamton University and La Javeriana. As a somewhat intended consequence of this course students are being tested with regards to how they handle collaborative efforts with people who may not have the same command of the languages of one another or who grew up with different legal structures and frameworks or who may see the world we live in as fundamentally different. The true beauty of international partnerships is that we learn through our differences how similar we are as human beings.

There have been challenges and opportunities throughout the seven weeks that this course has met, and I am taking it all in along the way. One of these challenges is associated with learning new technology and deciding on the best way to deliver content, along with negotiating bandwidth issues that maintain both the audio and the video elements of the lecture. From a technological perspective, new enhancements in the dissemination of information in a collaborative environment is what has made this course a possibility. Cisco WebEx, an interface recommended by the Center for Teaching and Learning, enables us to meet in a virtual meeting room that becomes the classroom environment. Students can videoconference into the WebEx technology, and once everyone is in virtual meeting room, all of the students can access the lecturer and any PowerPoints that might be being used. We make a slight variation and just have the professors conference into this virtual meeting room with cameras on the students and classroom itself. This recreates, virtually, a single classroom environment. We are one of the first groups of people on the campus to have access to a license, which has been a wonderful opportunity for us as teachers and professionals. It has also helped us gain competencies that will inevitably assist our work as scholars in CCPA and International Affairs. Expansion of its use will make opportunities for increased collaboration an option for any program that would benefit from learning from a transnational and multicultural perspective.

We utilize open source technology for posting course information so that both campuses have equal access to the readings. All of the materials must be able to be accessed by students from both campuses so that there is equal opportunity for both classes to experience the course materials, preferably in both Spanish and English. In addition, the CLT helped us with a list of open source technologies for the students to use for their transnational group work. Another goal of this course/project is to work with the students on their digital fluency. As with any new technology there are some bumps along the way, but I am a firm believer in growth through trial.

As the semester rolls ahead, we will be constantly reflecting on this experience and learning from our students about the direction of these types of international collaborations in the future. Nadia, Sebastian, and I will be presenting at the CLAC (Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum) conference at Denison University this April on our experiences integrating this collaborative online international learning experience with a perspective of cultures and languages on course content. We look forward to looking at the various outcomes of this experience as we move forward in enhancing international partnerships. This has also not only been an amazing teaching opportunity, but will also produce sound and practical research. Most importantly, the essence of this collaborative life experience is the one that no metric can truly measure.

Stephen Louis Capobianco, BA ’11, MPA ’12

Study Abroad Coordinator

Office of International Programs

PhD Student, Community and Public Affairs

College of Community and Public Affairs

Binghamton University

Reflections on 5 Months in Colombia

Earlier this year, I had the honor of being a Fulbright Scholar to Colombia. From January through May of 2014, while on sabbatical from Binghamton University, I worked at Pontificia Univeridad Javeriana in Bogotá, where I taught a graduate Seminar in Public Management to municipal leaders from all regions of the country and conducted research on the recent evolution of graduate level public affairs education in Colombia. The experience was rewarding on so many levels and can be measured in terms of the new friendships I established, my personal research productivity during the period, vast improvements in my Spanish language abilities, a pending formal agreement between the two universities, and the multitude of subsequent professional collaborations that have arisen as a result. There are many opportunities and motivations to build on the professional relations and activities and thus they have understandably received the bulk of my attention since my return. What has been less incentivized and thus easier for me to neglect is deliberate reflection on the experience and how it affected me on a more personal level.

International travel is not new to me, evolving from family vacations as a child, the tourist excursions as an adult, and international conference presentations and consulting activities as an adult. I have had opportunities to visit countries throughout the Americas (North, Central and South), Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa, for periods of a few days to a month. The Fulbright experience was the first time I lived for an extended period outside of the United States. Living there and having the benefit of the professional networks afforded by my Fulbright scholarship and my host institution in Colombia afforded me a very different experience than any prior travels. To be sure, I was still a foreigner (even though I could pass for Colombian in many contexts and when people pegged me as being a foreigner, they more often guessed I was from Brazil than the United States!). A foreigner yes, but not a tourist or a visitor just passing through.

I had the good fortune of being in Colombia at a fascinating point in the country’s history, with progress being made in peace negotiations that have the real potential to put an end to more than 50 years of armed conflict, and campaigns and elections for both the national legislature and the presidency for which peace was understandably a central issue. I took advantage of every opportunity to talk with people about these issues; I asked questions of my students, other professors, taxi drivers, neighbors, store clerks, and people I met in the park while walking my dog (yes, I took my dog with me). Beyond what I learned from these casual conversations, two experiences profoundly influenced my thinking about these issues.

During my first week at Javeriana, as part of the orientation for the College of Political Science and International Relations, I learned that one professor had recently secured approval for a new program to teach classes to ex-combatants of the National Liberation Army or Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) guerrilla group in a prison in Medellin as a way to improve their chances for constructive re-integration in society upon their release. I expressed interest in learning more about the program. Rather than merely providing me documents about the program, the Dean offered me the opportunity to co-teach a day-long course on local government as part of the program. Meeting these men in the prison and spending a day teaching them, learning from them and sharing meals with them challenged many of my preconceived images. Were it not for the multiple levels of security through which we had to pass in order to enter the designated area for the ELN prisoners, I could have been in a classroom in any university anywhere in the world. Were it not for the knowledge of the types of offenses committed by ELN guerillas, I could have been with any small group of highly engaged and dedicated students (they did the assigned readings and were prepared to discuss them critically and apply them to their experiences). Were it not for environment in which me met and the formal nature of our class meeting, I could have been at a gathering of friends and family. These were individuals who, under different circumstances, could have been my students, colleagues, friends or relatives. They were thoughtful and reflective; they were neither apologetic nor dogmatic; they were committed to bettering their communities and their country; they chose methods that I and the standards of society deem unacceptable, but they were not bad people. I left the prison that day feeling more conflicted and having a better sense of the complexity of the issues.

I was also able to accompany a group of student volunteers from Javeriana and their faculty leader for a two-day visit to Barrancabermeja, the site of a 1998 massacre of innocent civilians in the clash between guerrilla and para-military groups, and then up the Magdalena River to the village of San Pablo, another community that was the site of extensive violence in recent years. In both communities, I was able to learn about their tragic histories and see the wonderful work that volunteers from Javeriana University are doing as they engage in community projects through the Jesuit Refugee Services organization. Much more than reading statistics, visiting these sites makes their histories come alive.

There is not space in this post to delve into how these experiences have shaped my thinking as a teacher, scholar or human being. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this blog entry that the influences were profound. I have a great appreciation for value of being in another country as more than a tourist or short-term visitor. I have a strong desire to experience this again in other parts of Colombia or in other parts of the world. I also hope that many of my students and colleagues have similar opportunities and I look forward to hearing about their experiences when they do.

Nadia Rubaii, ’85, MA ’87, PhD ’91 (Political Science)

Associate Professor, Public Administration

Learning about Social Media and Helping Local Nonprofits

fb twitSocial media is changing the way organizations operate. Public and nonprofit organizations are no exception. The use of social media presents both opportunities and challenges for public and nonprofit organizations. Students in my PAFF 526 course this fall have a chance to apply the lessons that they are learning in the classroom about how public and nonprofit organizations use social media to a real-life context by working with three nonprofit organizations and making suggestions about how these organizations can improve their Facebook pages.

In PAFF 526: Managing Information and Technology, students gain an understanding of the complexities of managing information in the public and nonprofit sectors and how technology can facilitate this process. They also discuss the challenges of using technology when accountability is paramount. The overall goal of the course is to increase student interest in the role of technology in public and nonprofit administration.

As part of their work for PAFF 526, students will be assigned to work with one of the three following nonprofit agencies: Family & Children’s Society, Action for Older Persons and Broome County Habitat for Humanity. All of these organizations are located in the Southern Tier and provide essential services to the community. Family & Children’s Society delivers a wide array of human services to individuals at all different stages of their lives, such as counseling, home care and afterschool programming. Action for Older Persons focuses on serving older adults and offers education, counseling and advocacy programming. Finally, Broome County Habitat for Humanity builds and renovates housing for low-income individuals and families. Each of these organizations is interesting in improving the way that their organizations use social media, especially Facebook, to better meet their respective missions. This where the PAFF 526 students come in!

Representatives from the nonprofits came to our class on September 30th. They provided background information on their organization, information about their organization’s current use of Facebook, and information about their organization’s goals for social media.  They also discussed what their goals for this project were.  Following the presentations by the agencies, students had an opportunity to ask the representatives questions.

Students are now working on critiquing the Facebook page of the organization to which they are assigned. As part of their critiques, students are assessing whether the primary audiences for their organization’s Facebook page and the primary reasons for using Facebook identified by their organization’s representative correspond with how the organization is actually using Facebook. They also are identifying strengths and weaknesses of how their organization is using Facebook and will be making specific recommendations about how their organization could better use Facebook in the future. Key things students will be considering when making their recommendations include: (1) the strategies their organization could use to increase the number of visitors their Facebook page; (2) the additional constituencies their organization could target and the specific information the organization could share with these constituents on their Facebook page, and (3) the additional goals their organization could try to achieve by using Facebook and the specific information they could add to their Facebook page to achieve these goals. Finally, students are identifying the next steps their organization should take to implement their recommendations. Each student needs to write a two page memo summarizing their critique and recommendations. I will then select the best written memo for each organization and forward it to the organization.

I am hoping that the project will be a win-win situation for everybody involved. It’s one thing to read about social media in a book or talk about it in class. It’s another to be able to assess the opportunities social media offers for public and nonprofit organizations in real life! By completing this project, students will hopefully have an opportunity to apply some of the key concepts we are discussing in class when they are critiquing their assigned organization’s Facebook page. This will help deepen their understanding of the course material. I am also hoping that the project will benefit the nonprofit organizations by giving them concrete ideas to consider in order to get gain more leverage from their use of social media in the future. I am looking forward to watching the project evolve and the students grow from their experiences.

Kristina Lambright
Associate Professor

Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
Binghamton University