Community and Development Program in Bangledash
2006 Heiskell Award Winner: Study Abroad
Nomination submitted by: Sarah Pradt, Director of Programs, on behalf of HECUA members and international partner organizations
Dedication to education for social justice and academically rigorous off-campus study programs define the work of the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA).
HECUA’s January-term Community and Development Program in Bangladesh, led by Professor Haroun Er Rashid of Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB), began with a chance meeting between two professors. Visiting on another assignment, Professor Van Dusenbery of Minnesota’s Hamline University accepted Rashid’s invitation to observe the “Live-in-Field Experience” course through which all IUB students learn about rural Bangladesh and its economy.
“When I joined IUB in 1995, I was thrilled to find out that there is a course which takes urban based students out for several weeks to learn and experience the very different life of the villagers,” says Rashid. From Professor Dusenbery’s first visit, it was clear that IUB’s program was an ideal partner for HECUA, known for its commitment to experiential learning.
Experiential and Collective Learning
Now in its fifth year, the month-long program in Bangladesh is built on collaboration at every level. Together with Bangladeshi students, U.S. students meet development theorists and practitioners, and do field study with the intended beneficiaries of development programs in rural villages. Participants explore theories, policies, and practices of socioeconomic development through lectures and discussions, and partner with local nongovernmental organizations for field study. Students of both countries live together in dormitories, work at the internationally known Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD), and jointly conduct field interviews. All students spend at least one night in villagers’ homes.
In rave reviews, many students report it is this experiential quality that makes the program most exceptional. Paul Thorson, a senior at the University of St. Thomas, participated in the 2005 January term. “In the past,” he says, “I may have easily been led to believe that all Muslims were out to get the U.S. Having lived and worked with them, I now know this is far from the truth.”
HECUA programs cultivate the skills and depth of understanding required to engage society and effectively influence change across the world. Through a carefully honed approach to teaching and learning, students grapple with various theories of social change and come to understand the practical challenges and everyday experiences of people and communities on the ground. In the process, students discover their own obligations to, and possibilities for, global and local citizenship. Tom Balsley, a graduate in social work from St. Olaf College relates, “Bangladesh tested me as a person—my values, my norms, my daily processes—and focused my attention on what I do and why, and if I should be living differently. In this way, this experience will never cease to influence my academic and personal life.”
Collaboration and Evaluation
Jenny Keyser, executive director of HECUA, says that while any single institution might develop a program as effective as the HECUA-IUB collaboration, it is the consortium that makes it sustainable. The consortium helps each institution create a mechanism to develop and implement academically rigorous off-campus opportunities. And, says Keyser, HECUA staff does significant work to help sustain programs, as well. The director of programs, for example, meets regularly with campus faculty, department chairs, and academic deans to ensure that consortium programs are a strong fit with the academic goals of the institution, and carry full academic credit on campus.
With safety a growing concern for students studying abroad in increasing numbers and in nontraditional destinations, Keyser says the consortium model of “place-based education” provides the best possible security. Having a consortium of members working together has enabled HECUA to build strong relationships with communities and partner organizations abroad, and to sustain them over time.
HECUA members are committed to a collaborative process at every step, and while this generally requires more time, the benefits are tangible. Evaluation is just one area where rewards are clear. Faculty from several institutions, including partners abroad, use the same evaluation tools, resulting in an exceptional evaluation model. Conducted annually by the faculty-led Academic Programs Committee, the process provides new content, trouble-shooting and guidance.
The Bangladesh program is one of eight international and domestic programs run by the consortium and supported by the 12-member staff based in St. Paul, Minnesota.