From Belize to China, the College of Education, Health and Aviation is investing in international partnerships and teaching students the value of global learning.
What began as a spring break study abroad trip has evolved into a collaborative effort to strengthen literacy education in Belize.
Since 2007, Dr. Jenn Sanders, head of the School of Teaching, Learning and Educational Sciences, has led an annual international perspectives in literacy study abroad course in Belize. Education students spend a week co-teaching and providing support for Belizean educators on how to teach literacy through in-class demonstrations, professional development workshops and lesson planning.
The literacy education focus is a directive from the Belizean Ministry of Education (MOE) and its chief education officer, Carol Babb. As one of the highest-ranking members of the MOE, Babb supports national literacy programs to increase literacy rates and implements school improvement plans to increase the quality of education.
Babb’s connection to OSU began in 2007 when she joined the College of Education, Health and Aviation’s Belizean doctoral cohort. The program was designed to meet the need for an advanced degree option in higher education that was otherwise unavailable for Belizean students.
Members of the MOE, including Babb, recently traveled to OSU to discuss how to develop and sustain teacher leaders within literacy education in Belize.
“They don’t currently have the educational opportunities to be literacy experts,” Sanders explained. “We are looking at what can we do to develop the teacher educator’s expertise in literacy so they can train their own teachers in good literacy practices. What can we provide them in terms of ongoing coursework, professional development or academic programs? The ultimate goal is to make sure the initiatives are sustainable.”
As the group tackles these questions and works toward solutions, EHA students have a front-row seat. They can build international connections and form meaningful relationships that profoundly impact their world view.
“These students are all going to be teachers, so for them to travel abroad and work with people who look and speak differently than them, it’s incredibly important,” Sanders said. “Some of them have never been exposed to ethnic diversity ... It’s a good experience for them to be outside their comfort zone and for them to be the learner. It makes them look, see and appreciate things in a very different way.”
Literacy education isn’t the only program placing value on international experiences; the higher education and student affairs (HESA) program agrees that the best type of learning is achieved by learning from others, and it’s doing everything possible to expose its students to international leadership.
“We are in a shrinking global village,” said Steve Wanger, associate professor in HESA. “In order for students to be effective leaders, they have to be conversant with international issues. The issues we look at are increasingly impacted by what’s happening globally.”
That philosophy spurred a partnership involving EHA, OSU’s Division of Student Affairs and the University of Science and Technology Beijing (USTB) to launch the Joint Center for Student Affairs and Research Professional Practice.
“We share so many common issues in higher education and student services,” Wanger said. “Partnering allows us to better address increasingly complex issues. These issues are no longer just state, regional or national issues; they are truly global issues.”
The center provides an international platform for OSU students, faculty and staff to exchange ideas and research in the field of student affairs. Initiatives include hosting visiting scholars, facilitating international internship experiences, establishing faculty and student exchange programs, exploring dual degree program options with USTB and launching a joint student affairs research journal.
“This all stems from a larger global vision for our college and fulfilling the larger mission of the university,” Wanger said. “Investing in collaborative partnerships shows people that we take our mission seriously and that we value international perspectives.”
Current programs, like the Symposium of Student Affairs, an annual event on OSU’s campus that gives administrators an opportunity to share theory and best practices for student success with partner institutions in China, remains a priority for the center. Over the last 10 years, the symposium has hosted more than 400 student affairs administrators from 30-plus Chinese institutions. Topics include career services model and career development, leadership development curriculum and activities, how to build resilience, campus threat assessment and other practices.
“The program brings administrators together to discuss student affairs theory and practice and helps create a bridge between U.S. and Chinese universities,” said Dr. Vivian Wang, manager of China programs and development at OSU. “We are able to showcase OSU to Chinese academic institutions. It’s a practical way to share the knowledge we have with the world, which is important to OSU’s land-grant mission.”
In addition to Belize and China, the college looks forward to strengthening and expanding existing partnerships with Dong Nai University in Vietnam and Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla in Mexico. Regardless of what the future holds, the College of Education, Health and Aviation is committed to cultivating global connections and fulfilling its mission to improve the lives of people in Oklahoma, the nation and the world.
“It’s our ethical responsibility,” Sanders said. “When you learn and know certain things, when you have the opportunity to be educated and have certain experiences, it’s your job to give back and let others have those opportunities and experiences as well. As an educator and as a university, it’s our job to be involved in global learning and to facilitate opportunities to learn from each other, both domestically and abroad.”