World Leaders

UMBC is connecting students around the globe through a new online community leadership class for teenage English language learners administered by UMBC Training Centers.

The idea for the course was sparked when Joan Kang Shin ‘08 Ph.D., language, literacy and culture (LLC), and assistant professor of education, was contacted by the U.S. Consulate General in Brazil. Shin trains teachers for the U.S. State Department’s English Access Microscholarship Program, which provides English education to talented teens from economically disadvantaged areas, and Brazil’s English Language Officer was looking for a way to continue these students’ education once they graduated.

“They go through this really great program and improve their English, and then they’re like ‘ok now what?’” said Shin. The English Language Officer was hoping that the answer might be a program that would prepare these students, already given an advantage through their English education, to be leaders in their communities.

Shin contacted her former LLC classmate and UMBC Colleague Joby Taylor ’05 Ph.D., and director of the Shriver Peaceworker Fellows program, about developing an online course.

Taylor immediately saw the potential, and set to work adapting community engagement content from the Peaceworker program into an online course that teaches leadership while supporting students’ still-developing English skills. The resulting class, the Access Alumni Community Leadership Challenge, leads students through a variety of self-reflection, community understanding and leadership exercises, culminating in a proposal for a project in students’ own communities.

“We end at the proposal stage because we don’t pretend to know how to implement these, but we wanted the students to have a concrete takeaway and to put their ideas in a form that would be as easy to present or implement as possible,” Taylor said.

The class was a success in Brazil, which offered it twice, and news of it spread to other countries. This semester several Central American nations have partnered to offer the course to their Access alumni, and a class is being planned for students in Yemen.

“I wanted to build this in a way that it can go anywhere in the world with very modest adjustments,” said Taylor. A Peaceworker Fellow is currently serving as the teaching assistant for the class, and Taylor said that, with Fellows as teachers, UMBC could potentially offer classes in several countries simultaneously.

Now that the class is off the ground, Shin and Taylor are eager to find ways to enhance it. One is through a new partnership with Arundel High School’s global studies program. UMBC has partnered students at Arundel High with students enrolled in the Access class, and the pairs will complete parallel activities and hold biweekly conversations.

Taylor hopes that these conversation partners can be just the first step of a lasting partnership with Arundel. “If there’s a way for the Arundel students to be registered in the class and co-participating, we’d love it,” he said.

The class is also serving as a research opportunity for Heidi Faust ’15 Ph.D., LLC, the class’s English language instructor. She realized that the pre- and post-course conversations in which she evaluates students’ English proficiency were also great opportunities to gather data for her research on how educational institutions can mediate the impact of their power status and cultural background.

“We don’t want to come into the course and say we’re going to tell you how to make your communities better,” she said. “Our hope is that it’s not this top down, unidirectional flow of information. We want them to come back to us and say, ‘this is how we think we can change our communities.’”

Finally, UMBC is bringing this online class into the offline world by inviting participants to campus. Students from Arundel High school will visit later this month, and this summer, Brazillian students will come to campus for an experience that will include activities with the American high school students, a trip to Washington D.C. and a homestay.

“We’re creating our own intercultural camp experience for them,” Taylor said.