Contact: Erin Flynn
KALAMAZOO, Michigan—The world is more connected than ever, and Western Michigan University’s Global Engagement Program (GEP) offers students the opportunity to not only find out, but also develop leadership and global skills for make them more marketable in their future careers. The first cohort has just completed the four-year program, leaving behind tools that will open up a world of global learning opportunities for K-12 students.
“I have witnessed the growth of these students from the experiences they have been exposed to individually and as a cohort, how they learn to be flexible and adaptable and how this helps develop their emotional intelligence. This type of exposure to the world helps in the development of an individual’s self-knowledge,” says Dr. Paulo Zagalo-Melovice-rector for global education.
The program was officially launched in 2018. Students in the first cohort took global studies courses together during their first year and studied abroad in Lisbon, Portugal and throughout Ireland. .
“WMU’s Global Engagement program really touched me because it allowed me to learn more about other countries and experience different cultures, which I hadn’t done much before,” says Kara VanderKampof Kalamazoo, who in April graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public and nonprofit administration.
“It’s something that’s really important to me because I love other cultures, I love to travel and I’ve always wanted to see the world. And Western gave me a great opportunity to do that,” adds Nick Besta, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who graduated in April with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and communications. “I learned to know the countries and to be there and see it, which I think is much more valuable than just reading about it or listening to a lecture. It changed me and I made me want to go to other places and keep learning.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic hampered some long-term study abroad plans, a core group of students from the 2018 cohort continued through to the final phase of the program: a capstone project focused on expanding global education in K-12 classrooms to promote cultural understanding.
“It’s so easy at a place like Western – with our extensive study abroad program and the globalization courses we’ve been able to have – to interact with international students and learn about other cultures. But high school and college kids don’t necessarily have that opportunity,” says Owen Kilpatrick, a music education and saxophone performance student from Lansing, Michigan. “It’s really meaningful to be able to share what we’ve gained from international travel in a format like this that’s easily accessible to anyone, no matter what resources they have, and to inspire them to do their own explorations of other cultures.”
GEP students designed an innovative digital curriculum using Google Classroom slides. They interviewed several international students at Western and created a slide for each of their home countries, places like Egypt, Bahrain, Nigeria, and the Dominican Republic. Along with an interview with the featured student, each slide includes a number of opportunities to learn more about that particular country and its culture, from traditional music videos to books and artwork.
“From a social studies perspective, we’re preparing students for a globalized world we can’t even imagine in. If we can’t connect students to other cultures, people, and philosophies outside of their sphere now, then we’re not doing an adequate job as educators preparing them,” says Dr. Brianne Pittsassistant professor of teaching, learning and educational studies, who served as a collaborating professor mentor on the project.
The group pitched their project to a group of Kalamazoo area teachers who shared the lessons with more than 850 students, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade. More than 90% of teachers reported that they had taught less than 10 lessons on global studies from their provided curriculum before implementing the lessons developed by Western GEP Fellows in their classrooms.
“Exposing elementary students to other cultures, to other people, is a big plus. I really appreciate this initiative to raise awareness and also to appreciate other people and other cultures,” says Tongriang Daspana Western student from Nigeria who participated in the project.
The majority of teachers who engaged their students in GEP classes said they would recommend the resources to their colleagues or use them in their own classes in the future. The cohort presented their work, “Bitmoji International Classes: Developing Students’ Understanding of Global Perspectives,” to students and educators around the world at Western’s first-ever conference Global Leadership Conference in April. Group leaders hope to see their efforts expanded and new voices and experiences added by future GEP Fellows.
The Global Engagement Program is designed for a cohort of students to grow together through a four-year program, connecting with a diverse group of peers in campus disciplines, increasing cultural competency, and strengthening global awareness. The program includes:
- Year 1: Global learning for all—Students are connected to their peers abroad through global classrooms and participate in virtual study abroad. There is no program fee for the first year and all students who successfully complete it earn a $500 study abroad scholarship.
Year 2: Global Collaboration—Students take a global leadership and advocacy course; participate in workshops focusing on team building, collaboration and leadership; and travel with their cohort for a summer study abroad program.
Year 3: Beyond the classroom—Participants complete a long-term independent study abroad program.
Year 4: Global Leadership—Students take a project management course and collaborate on a culminating group project in partnership with an international organization.
“(Students’) exposure to cross-cultural experiences, international perspectives, and the community of global challenges helps them understand the world they live in,” Zagalo-Melo said. “No matter where they will be for the rest of their lives – Kalamazoo or anywhere else in the United States or around the world – they must understand the interconnectedness of the world, the power of interdisciplinary problem solving, and the impact potential for individual and collective choices. This knowledge and skills can help them make more informed decisions in their personal and professional lives.”
Students build camaraderie in a cohort with peers outside their own major or university, exposing themselves to different perspectives while having a community to grow and learn about the world.
“Our first trip to Portugal was really interesting, because we were able to interact with different companies and educational institutions there. It kind of showed us what the difference in economic structure is compared to what we are regulars and how the growing tourism industry affected the people who lived there,” says Kilpatrick.
The students also had the advantage of having Zagalo-Melo, who is from Portugal, as a tour guide. A particularly memorable experience for Kilpatrick came when Zagalo-Melo recommended a local jazz club where he saw an up-and-coming musician play.
“As a musician, it was cool to travel to a foreign country and then hear music that I know well but in a different way. And there were pictures on the wall of different musicians who had visited. and I recognized some of them, so that was pretty cool.”
VanderKamp enjoyed the history of places the group visited in Portugal and Ireland.
“Seeing the old churches and some of the old buildings that have been around since medieval times, it’s amazing to think of all the history that took place there. Things that took centuries to build are still standing “, she says. “It definitely made me appreciate other cultures more. Now I seek out those experiences. Recently, I took a two-week trip to Germany with my cousin, which I never would have done before traveling with the global education program. . I feel much more comfortable traveling.”
“It almost became like I was more inspired to do something than I originally was,” Besta adds. “I think it really shows how much global education can help someone grow.”
Although ideal for incoming students, the Global Engagement Program is open to students of all levels. More information, including how to apply, is available on the Haenicke Institute webpage.
“Seeing these first GEP graduates and hearing about the impact the program has had on them and their journey at WMU makes me even more excited about the future of this program,” says Zagalo-Melo.