Faculty share international experiences to inspire others


When nursing and midwifery graduate students travel to Uganda for clinical immersion experiences, they see first-hand the ways pregnancy and birth medical care in South Sudanese refugee settlements contribute to maternal mortality.

Working with midwives in a different cultural setting gives students the opportunity to reflect on maternal care across the globe, Ruth Zielinski, clinical professor of nursing, said at a March 17 panel discussion.

“It’s something we talk a lot about in class, but to actually be able to live it, to reflect on it — we do a lot of debriefing — I think is really, really important,” Zielinski said.

With international engagement as one of President Santa J. Ono’s priorities, the panel hosted by U-M’s Council on Global Engagement examined how studying abroad and international fieldwork can further that mission, and how the university can provide tools to help faculty develop international programs.

“Michigan has this tremendous body of resources, so you don’t have to figure this out on your own,” said David Wallace, a clinical associate professor of information in the School of Information.

“There are so many areas, so many departments and centers that are doing this kind of training and preparation and understanding … and it makes a huge difference for us.”

Judith Pennywell, director of the International Center and CGE chair, greeted the packed University Hall in the Alexander G. Ruthven Building, and introduced the event titled “Faculty-led study abroad and international group projects: success stories and lessons learned.”

The discussion aimed to highlight ways in which faculty develop courses, fieldwork and program ideas, articulate the critical value of international experiential programs, outline ways      to prepare to take students abroad, and inspire other faculty to do the same.

Besides Zielinski and Wallace, the panel included other faculty members who have created and led successful education-abroad programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Other participants were:

  • Tatiana Calixto, lecturer II of Spanish, LSA.
  • Jacob Napieralski, professor of geology, director of the Master of Science in Environmental Science program, and director of Geographic Information Systems certification in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters, UM-Dearborn.

Valeria Bertacco, vice provost for engaged learning, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and the Mary Lou Dorf Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, moderated the panel.

She first asked panelists what they hoped students could achieve abroad that they would not be able to do on campus.

Calixto, who has led several groups of students in Peru, Costa Rica, and Argentina for intensive Spanish experiences, said she wants students to immerse themselves in a new environment and experience the full context in which the language takes place.

By engaging with the community and using creativity to solve cultural barriers, she said, students will grow and cultivate as global citizens.

“I want my students to feel the culture and to develop their own ways of navigating the culture,” Calixto said. “I believe that every place has a music, and that’s what I want my students to feel — to feel the music of the place they are in.”

Napieralski and Wallace both spoke to the ways studying abroad can affect students in the long term. They said learning to navigate a new environment, monitor safety, and engage with new cultures allows students to explore their independence and develop life skills.

“It’s quite enlightening when a student opens up and realizes that this experience is something that they didn’t really anticipate would affect them personally; of course, academically, intellectually, sure, but these are personal skills. It’s the social moments and the collaborative spirit that comes out of the course,” Napieralski said.

After the panel discussion, those at the event participated in roundtables to discuss developing faculty-led programming and projects.

They were also asked to identify barriers and brainstorm ways that their college, unit or the university at large can support faculty in making their dream programming a reality.


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