Global learning, experiences still in reach with technology
Current circumstances have made gathering in person with the campus community in person unfeasible, let alone any kind of international travel. Luckily, with technology and a little creative problem solving, Nebraska still finds ways to connect students to the larger world.
“Cultural competence and international experience are vital for students to be successful as they join the interconnected, global workforce,” said Stan Garbacz, interim director of the IANR Global Engagement Office. “The IANR Vice Chancellor, and the Office of Global Engagement, want to continue to ensure that every student has or can continue to have a global experience.”
Even before the period of COVID-19-induced remote learning began, faculty and staff had been taking advantage of the benefits of collaborative online international learning (COIL), wherein students in different countries join together to be part of the same course (synchronously or asychronously). In addition to several other faculty members across the university, Dipra Jha, associate professor of practice and director of global engagement for the Hospitality, Restaurant, Tourism Management program has incorporated virtual exchange into his courses over the last two academic years. In his fall 2018 class, Jha connected Nebraska students with peers at The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Oman Tourism College in Muscat, Oman. Jha’s Fall 2019 course expanded to “Six Countries; One Classroom” with new partners in the Ukraine, India and Denmark. In an effort to share this innovative method with other faculty, the IANR Office of Global Engagement hosted a seminar featuring Jha, entitled “Connecting Nebraska to the World Through Virtual Exchange.” Faculty who are interested in becoming involved in virtual exchange are encouraged to contact the Office of Global Strategies, IANR Global Engagement, as well as Dipra Jha with questions. Faculty who had been planning to lead education abroad trips this summer are also encouraged to consider how virtual exchange might serve as a substitute until travel restrictions are lifted. More information and opportunities for grant support is available through the Stevens Initiative.
While it was the last of the in-person events of the IANR Global Engagment Office's Global Voices Seminar Series, gathering online soon became the go-to method for sharing knowledge with the inagural online event entitled “The Next Generation of Scientific Research: Convening Global Perspectives through Fulbright” attracting viewers in four different countries. Three international graduate students who had found their way to Nebraska through Fulbright programs contributed to an online panel discussion sharing their academic paths, the ways their worldviews, skills, and perspectives changed during their time in the U.S., the importance of international exchange in research, and beyond. Panelists included Gabriela Palomo-Munoz, a PhD candidate in applied ecology, from Guatemala; Agustín Olivo, graduating master’s student in mechanized systems management, from Argentina; and Kiki Rizki Amalia, graduating master’s student in statistics, from Indonesia.
In the next installment of the seminar series, students, staff and faculty alike tuned in to hear from Bobby Richey, Minister Counselor for Agricultural Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, as he spoke from his home in China. From his time as an FFA member in Texas to multiple posts in the Foreign Agricultural Service around the world, he shared his storied career path as well as answered questions about current food supply chain issues, advice for students looking toward global careers, and even what it was like to be in the country during the outbreak’s inception.
The Global Close-Up Luncheon Series, an effort create an exclusive opportunity for students to have an "up-close" interaction with a expert on campus and learn more about their international career or academic path, was able to have one in-person gathering before all activities moved online, featuring visiting scholar Luciana Pires. Despite the lack of free food, though, a virtual luncheon proved to be interesting and beneficial to students anyway. Jazmin Castillo, who will graduate this weekend with her master's degree in natural resource sciences, joined undergraduate and graduate students to share about her interesting path. From first generation student from South Sioux City, Nebraska to a study abroad participant in Botswana, Castillo is now a master's degree holder with years of international research under her belt (she recently defended her thesis which focused on spotted hyenas and human coexistence in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana).
During a normal year, the IANR Global Engagement’s Student Diplomat program has been an inclusive, accessible way for students to gain international experience without having to go abroad. In the past, the students helped with the hosting of international delegations and visitors, spent time in the office learning about internationalization in the higher education world, among other duties. With travel being at a standstill and physical presence restricted, it looked at first like the program would be discontinued until the fall semester, but the students and staff were committed to find a way to allow them to have the experience. Damien Niyonshuti, a freshman integrated science major; Victoria Salinas, a senior environmental studies major and Geneureuse Turabawe, a junior integrated science major, all committed to transitioning into “digital diplomats” for as long as the physical distancing guidelines are in place.
“Being a student diplomat is such a rewarding opportunity for me both on a personal level and also in terms of my career prospects after leaving UNL,” said Niyonshuti. “I get a holistic professional experience while getting involved in different types of projects which allow me to develop skills that I already have as well as gain new ones.”
Despite it being different than their initial impression of the program, they’ve found ways to continue learning, gaining experience and challenging themselves. From helping to promote internationally themed online programming to their peers to conducting literature reviews to designing globally-themed programming for the next semester, the students have been a boon to the office as well as gaining valuable experience, virtually.
The Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance has continued to curate trade expertise from around the world as a benefit to the campus community and the state of Nebraska. David Morfesi, director of international trade for Australian firm MinterEllison, and visiting professor with the Institute (in person for fall of 2019, virtually for spring of 2020) illuminated on a trio of incredibly relevant topics: China, trade and COVID-19 for an online audience of students, faculty, and agricultural industry professionals, and others. Through the Trade Matters podcast, the Institute has also continued to gather insights from around the globe that are available to anyone wherever they are: including from the Chief Trade Economist at HSBC Global Research in London to Morfesi in Australia, and beyond.
Not all global learning takes place in formal settings, and the cultural understanding and knowledge that comes from friendship and more casual interaction is critical for student development as well as for a more peaceful, cooperative world. The long-time activity organized by Student Involvement, Coffee Talks, while previously held in person at the Nebraska Student Union, was also moved online. The gathering, which brings together international and domestic students in an informal setting, has recently enjoyed participation from students in Nebraska, across the U.S. and around the world. In a similar vein, the International Student and Scholar Office, Student Involvement, and the IANR Global Engagement Office teamed up to put on a virtual karaoke and dance night, bringing together over fifty viewers and participants from around the world. Emceed by KFRX radio host and DJ D-Wayne, students sang along to their favorite songs in multiple languages, gave shout outs to their friends and organizations, performed live with instruments, shared their own musical productions and were even joined by Nebraska administration performing live to kick off of the event.
As the university community prepares to virtually mark the occasion of commencement and celebrate the accomplishments of so many, we will continue to work to connect to each other, and to learning about the world we all share.