Photo by Doug Levere
When I consider the promise of project-based collaboration, I get very excited. I have already seen its benefits for traditional college students. Challenged assumptions, deepened learning and clarified career goals, accompanied by fascinating cultural interactions and stories to share. It is not at all surprising that students are seeking more of these experiences- opportunities to get close to people, places and problems, to innovate and add value in meaningful and compelling ways. Figuring out how to offer such experiences at scale represents a fundamental challenge for Higher Education but also a pathway toward continued viability and relevance.
While I am completely convinced of the value of this new paradigm, and immersed in creating such a model at the University at Buffalo, I cannot help reflecting on its promise for those on the periphery of the privilege ecosystem. In the new frontier of innovation and design thinking, the most exciting projects are those associated with the most compelling needs, challenges and communities. These types of high-impact challenges allow students to develop critical skills and competencies while showcasing their work and abilities for multiple audiences. But at the very heart of this paradigm is the idea that those who are closest to challenges are best positioned to address them, possessing the necessary credibility, inside knowledge, and social capital to engineer nuanced solutions. When we look around our own communities, opportunities for innovation are literally everywhere, but especially within the neighborhoods and populations that are closest to the challenges, and farthest from the resources and structures that control them. Clearly, these are the most compelling challenges and represent exciting projects for students of all ages.
But once we recognize the value for our own students, aren’t we compelled to go even farther, to play out the innovation paradigm to its most powerful implications? If it is true that solutions should be “owned” by those closest to their associated problems and most poised to address them, then the youth should be our focus. More specifically, the youth who are stuck in the complex layers of inequities and obstacles associated with their poverty; perhaps not all youth- but certainly those who are motivated to lead positive change through building capacity. Because these youth are far from the levers of privilege, they would need considerable help and support to be able to initiate and steward collaborative innovation. But luckily, cities like Buffalo have an abundance of institutions, systems, leaders and networks poised to offer resources, facilitation and expertise. This is most certainly the case for Higher Education. And since the very future of our colleges and universities will rely heavily on our ability to provide meaningful collaborative experiences to our students- we should be more than eager to rise to the opportunity.
Through my global engagement work, I have already seen community development through this flipped lens. When we take students to rural Tanzania, we visit “social innovators”, who are our partners, working within the most challenged communities and regions, and with the most marginalized populations. Invariably, these community leaders are from the very same communities and contexts that they work to serve, possessing the commitment, relationships, and experiences that position them to make meaningful change. In fact, we have found that these are the best partners, really the only partners who can make a lasting impact within the most challenged communities. Of course, these innovators are in need of collaboration since they lack systems-level knowledge, access to models and research, and critical resources of many kinds. Because of these limitations, they often see grant funding and donations as the only pathway to development, viewing potential partners as benefactors and themselves as fundamentally deficient or lacking. However, in the new paradigm of project-based collaboration, these partners have so much to offer. Our students, looking for real-world projects and platforms for developing and showcasing their skill sets, rightly view our partners as community leaders, mentors, and above all collaborators. Through equitable engagement, they work on producing research, marketing materials, grant applications, and exploring viable models and techniques that can be tested and built upon. Our students also come to understand the benefits and resources that their own privilege affords, and how by working together, they can contribute to change while not attempting to impose assumptions or models on communities and cultures that are not theirs.
Clearly, the worlds of innovation, design thinking, and project-based learning are not going away. In fact, as we come to understand their benefits we will continue to deepen our investment while searching for models that are scalable and sustainable by design. This will force us (eventually) to see our most challenged communities and those who are poised to support and uplift them as leaders and innovators, who are worthy of our collective support and collaboration. We all stand to benefit from this new educational frontier, and there is simply no time to waste.
I’m so excited to share our new book, “On Tanzania Time: Celebrating 10 Years of Friendship, Engagement and Discovery in the Mara Region”
This book is as personal as it gets. It shares the early stages of our partnership when I first met members of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa who were studying in Buffalo, and led my first trip to the Mara Region of Tanzania in 2009. But it also details the fascinating evolution of our engagement as we expanded our focus and eventually connected with diverse partners who share their stories and visions in their own words. Also featured are some of our outstanding UB students who have allowed their time in Tanzania to permeate their lives and career goals, and recollections and context from my dear friend and colleague Dan Nyaronga who happens to be from the very region, and town.
How do these stories, impacts and visions all connect? Please consider reading about our journey and allow yourself to imagine all that is possible when we come together toward ideas and goals that are larger than our own.
It is important to note that we are making this book available in a free PDF format which is accessible, downloadable, printable, and shareable from any computer or digital device around the world.
I hope you will all find inspiration as I continue to be inspired every day by our partners and friends who are committed to changing the lives of women and girls in the Mara Region.
On Monday October 1st we will welcome partners from Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania and Zimbabwe for our inaugural week of sharing, capacity building and networking toward the goal of creating new collaborations, projects and experiential learning offerings.
What will come from this exciting week of presentations, studio sessions and innovation modules? Our website is ready to receive idea submissions which will be synthesized and shared at our closing reception on Friday, October 5th at 4:30 pm in Silverman Library.
To expand the scope of possibilities, we are introducing a suite of learning platforms, resources, and opportunities that enhance students’ global collaboration experiences, through integrating them within their UB coursework while developing compelling narratives that will support their learning and professional goals, AND maximizing their impact within the communities they touch.
These evolving resources are now offered through our Global Partner Studio (GPS) and include:
- COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning)- we invite faculty to add collaborative course content to an existing course or engage in the development of new offerings. Through collaborative course modules and exercises, students can develop cultural competences, communication and teamwork skills while completing core courses and projects.
- Short-term study abroad. Together with our colleagues in International Education, we invite faculty to leverage their global relationships through the development of innovative high-impact study abroad trips during summer or winter session. Interested in reaching more students? consider integrating VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) in your next global adventure
- Global Collaboration Digital Badge. Once students have completed a global collaboration project, we invite them to enhance their experience through guided reflection and integration exercises, towards the goal of developing compelling narratives that connect with their experiences with academic and career goals.
- GPS Journal. Our new open-source journal hosted by the UB Libraries provides students with a platform for sharing research, insights and innovations. And to ensure active collaboration with partners and integration with coursework, student authors are required to provide testimonials from partners and subject librarians.
- Mentored Independent Study A great way to prepare for or enhance a global collaboration experience is to delve into related research and frame specific interests within broader questions and challenges. We invite students to engage in a semester long independent study in partnership with their respective department/program of study and ELN staff.
Global collaboration represents an exciting new frontier for high-impact experiential learning. I hope you will follow our work and consider joining us for our inaugural GPS Institute! – Mara
Hello Everyone. I know it’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been hard at work on some very exciting initiatives. And I think it’s finally time to share a sneak preview of what’s in store. Many of these programs and resources will be open to broad participation so I look forward to engaging in the weeks and months ahead, and would love to hear from you if these ideas resonate with your own work or interests. In addition to following my blog, be sure to visit our Experiential Learning Network (my center at UB) webpage and join our Student or Faculty/Staff Listserv to get monthly updates about related activities and events.
Global Partners Studio (GPS)
GPS is an evolving platform for cultivating deep and meaningful engagement with our international partners. Look for partner profiles and impact stories, but also opportunities to “harvest” student projects, COIL (collaborative online international learning) courses and travel-based engagement for faculty, students and community members. We will feature international partnerships that include both higher education and community-focused organizations to allow for deep and reciprocal impacts. With the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP) as the foundation for GPS, we are excited to take our international partnerships further and deeper toward new possibilities for engagement and collaboration.
The week of October 1st we will welcome invited GPS liaisons to UB/Buffalo for a week of sharing, capacity building and engagement. Our guests will represent partnerships in Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica and will engage through presentations, studio sessions, and programs with our UB and Buffalo communities. With a focus on social innovation, global health, and community development, we will have many opportunities to explore synergies and shared interest. And we look forward to introducing our global friends to the many cultural, entrepreneurial and civic gems that Buffalo has to offer.
This fall we will be launching the Global Partners Studio (GPS) Journal that will be open to undergraduate and graduate students as well as our international partners. This open-source digital journal will be an accessible and dynamic place for sharing collaborative research and experiential learning projects, and connecting resources and opportunities. The journal will also be a repository for impact stories highlighting the points of connectivity and synergy that evolve from high-impact engagement. We will be open for submissions this fall with an anticipated spring release of our inaugural edition.
GPS Digital Badge (Micro-credential)
For those looking to build on recent collaborative experiences, we will be launching a new Global Collaboration digital badge (micro-credential) in the fall. Participants will be mentored through a series of reflective and integrative exercises, allowing them to gain deeper insights while developing compelling narratives to support their academic, career and/or civic-related goals.
10 Year Anniversary Community Trip and Book Release
Next year (July 2019) will mark the 10 Year Anniversary of my first trip to Tanzania, the genesis of our unique global engagement model. To honor and celebrate our extraordinary relationship with our partners in Tanzania, we will be hosting a community trip in collaboration with a local travel organization. We will also be releasing an updated version of our book detailing the evolution of our engagement over the past 10 years. Stay tuned for more on both of these exciting initiatives.
Just two weeks ago we welcomed home a class of UB undergraduates who had traveled to the Mara Region of Tanzania as part of a new Winter Session study-abroad course.
While the students returned with new perspectives on community development and memories to last a lifetime, the course represented an exciting milestone for our BTEP (Buffalo Tanzania Education Project) community, a welcome achievement as we celebrate our fifth anniversary.
If you haven’t heard of the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project, you are unfortunately not alone. With no budget, no formal infrastructure, no official presence or identity, we have evolved almost entirely under the radar. And yet, at least in my view, BTEP represents a wonderfully exciting engagement initiative worthy of attention and exploration.
The premise for BTEP is simple yet powerful. By coming together around a shared vision with clearly articulated goals and areas of focus, we can leverage our individual engagement efforts toward greater impact and sustainability.
BTEP’s efforts have focused primarily on the children and women of Tanzania, and specifically on an evolving school project in the village of Kitenga. To be clear, we didn’t actually select this community nor were we actively seeking partners for collaboration. Instead, our partners- the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa (IHSA)- found us.
Our investments have been small but significant. In 2009 we traveled to Mara and thanks to Kevin Crosby were able to create a video (see kitenga.wikia.com) to help attract contributors and frame our approach. Realizing the importance of getting close to our partnering community, we have facilitated group visits with over 40 members traveling to Tanzania- all at their own expense- to learn, study, serve and contribute.
We have welcomed researchers, students, community members and organizations, insisting only that individual projects are championed by BTEP members, thus avoiding the need for administration, budgetary involvement, or official oversight. And while in the beginning we were able to provide more extensive facilitation and support, our coordination is now limited to convening occasional BTEP meetings and fundraisers.
Our impact to date? From a fundraising standpoint it’s been modest but significant. We have focused our efforts on supporting projects that were well within reach, bridging funding gaps to realize construction of classrooms for the Early Childhood program; the first block of classrooms for the Secondary School and the Dormitory (which is still under construction); a playground for the Early Childhood School; and a bore well and latrines.
To be clear, there is still a long way to go toward opening the School, with construction costs continuing to escalate. The scale of fundraising is well beyond the capacity of BTEP, although many members have become heavily involved in related efforts with several creating a non-profit, Girls Education Collaborative (GEC), which continues to make significant steps toward the ultimate goal.
But from an engagement standpoint our impact has been nothing short of amazing. Here are just a few highlights:
• Three doctoral dissertations all focusing on Tanzania
• Field placements and a travel course experience for Social Work students
• A study-abroad course for undergraduates examining community development within the context of the Mara Region
• Design and construction of a playground made possible by a team of architects, students, faculty, and community members associated with BTEP
• Donation and shipment of solar panels by Solar Liberty Foundation through BTEP
• Construction of a deep bore well and plans to construct latrines and a second well through the leadership of Buffalo Sunrise Rotary Club and other participating Rotary clubs
• Development of the Girls Education Collaborative (GEC) by several BTEP members
• Various research, writing projects and presentations made by BTEP members
• Other contributions of medical equipment, donations, and service
As BTEP continues to evolve, members have begun to journey beyond Kitenga and Mara to build relationships and partnerships in new regions of the country. And while many Western New Yorkers have discovered Tanzania through their own avenues, they seem to eventually find BTEP in interesting and circuitous ways, helping to grow and shape our initiative beyond what we could have ever imagined.
On Friday, March 7th we will come together for our 3rd BTEP fundraiser to support a number of education and development related projects in Kitenga, Lindi, and Arusha. The event will be held from 6:00 – 8:00 in Allen Hall on the UB South Campus. Tickets are $20 and $10 for students. Please contact me for additional information or to reserve tickets.
I hope you will consider joining us and spreading the word about our exciting engagement initiative.