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Wofford College receives grant from Aspen Institute Stevens Initiative

Professor to expand virtual exchange with students in Egypt, Lebanon

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Wofford's Dr. Courtney Dorroll, director of the college's MENA program, has received a Stevens Initiative grant that will span across disciplines, including religion, government, languages, literature and Middle East and North African studies.
2016-04-04

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College has received a two-year grant to use virtual exchange to increase cross-cultural understanding and equip young people to participate in a global economy, the Aspen Institute Stevens Initiative announced today (Monday, April 4, 2016).

The project, to be led by Dr. Courtney M. Dorroll, assistant professor of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at Wofford, is one of 10 new projects funded through a national competition.
Wofford is among the first wave of virtual exchange programs to be funded by the Stevens Initiative, a public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Virtual exchanges uses technology for sustained, people-to-people education programs. The Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding between youth in middle school through post-secondary and equip a generation of globally minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world.

The announcement marks the first major step in the Stevens Initiative’s plan to scale up people-to-people exchanges between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. The Initiative provided $5 million to support online programs that will bring more than 20,000 young people together to engage in cross-cultural learning experiences. The programs reach 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and 25 American states.

Under the Stevens Initiative, Dorroll will scale up a classroom virtual exchange pilot to integrate the exchange across disciplines at Wofford, supplement it with research resources, expand the project’s reach, and conduct thorough impact evaluation. In addition to training modules for instructors, live exchanges between students and a comprehensive library-generated research guide will be published to be used for virtual exchange activities. The project will span across disciplines, including religion, government, languages, literature and Middle East and North African studies.

“In fall 2014, I started a small virtual exchange with a professor in Cairo, Egypt,” Dorroll says. “Wofford students were able to interact with peers in the MENA region, the part of the world they were studying and researching. This small scale project now will expand to include students in Egypt and Lebanon and many of Wofford’s MENA Program affiliated professors. The program will allow students to share histories and cultural artifacts through a virtual genealogy museum, discuss films through blogs and interact in Q&A style Skype classroom sessions. The virtual exchange will bring Wofford to the MENA region and the MENA region to Wofford.”

The program at Wofford will launch this fall.

Other examples of the work to be undertaken by grantees of the Stevens Initiative funding include:
• Online English, Arabic and Kurdish language exchange between students in California and their peers in Morocco and Saudi Arabia;
• Storytelling through virtual reality for middle and high school students in Kentucky, New York and Jordan, including Syrian refugees;
• A collaborative anthropological project between high school students in Morocco and Chicago;
• Global leadership activities for students in Iraq, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington and Wisconsin.
• An online program exploring how the media portrays people in the United Arab Emirates and various states across the United States.
Most programs will launch in spring 2016 and continue for a period of two years.

Stevens Initiative logo 250wide“This is the beginning of a global classroom. Wofford will be a pioneer in an exciting and dynamic field,” Elliot Gerson, executive vice president of the Aspen Institute, says. “Our vision is to spark conversations between young people in countries around the world – to exchange ideas and information and to work together on addressing important issues. We look forward to working with Wofford to achieve this vision.”

The first Stevens Initiative award competition was open to U.S. non-profit organizations. In addition to holding future rounds of the award competition, the Initiative will share best practices and support research to address which methods have a measurable impact and have the potential to reach all young people as the field grows.

The Stevens Initiative is a public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens. By fostering structured online engagements between young people in secondary through post-secondary education, the Stevens Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding and equip a generation of globally minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Housed at the Aspen Institute, the Stevens Institute is a collaboration between the family of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Department of State, the Bezos Family Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Algeria and Morocco, and Microsoft, Twitter, Mozilla and GoPro. For more information, go to www.stevensinitiative.org.