“Jordan: Sustainability at the Margins” | Looking back at the 2020 ACOR-CAORC Faculty Development Seminar

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This group shot shows seminar participants and several ACOR staff, as well as representatives from Safi Kitchen, a SCHEP-supported tourism enterprise located near the south of the Dead Sea.

In January 2020, ACOR kicked off the new decade in the company of twelve faculty members visiting Jordan from the U.S. They were joining us for just over two weeks through a program put on in partnership with the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) under the theme of “Sustainability at the Margins.”

This program was just one of a broader series of Faculty Development Seminars CAORC has held in recent years; other seminars have taken place in India, Pakistan, and Senegal. Planned and executed in partnership with American Overseas Research Centers like ACOR, these courses are specifically designed for faculty from U.S. community colleges and minority-serving institutions (“MSIs”).* The goal is provide a more global perspective to students from these campuses, which have historically been left out of the experience of undergraduate study abroad, even as millions of students turn to these institutions each year for opportunities in higher learning.  In the case of “Sustainability at the Margins” at ACOR, none of the dozen faculty participants had ever been to Jordan before, and most had never been anywhere in the Middle East or Global South at all. Thus, this was an opportunity not only to explore Jordan but also to immerse themselves in discussion about regional and global issues from a totally new perspective.

Educators from these particular educational institutions—community colleges and MSIs, including, in this cohort, schools serving historically Black, Latino, and Native American student groups—face a unique set of challenges and opportunities in the classroom. As regards “global perspectives,” students at these schools often have first-hand experiences of internationalism, coming from communities in which migration and multiculturalism are personal realities as much as academic subjects. At the same time, community colleges and MSIs are tasked with teaching historically under-represented and under-resourced populations of students, many of whom, in the words of one ACOR Seminar participant, “have never set foot on a plane.” Furthermore, across the hundreds of thousands of U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit in a given year, the MENA region only attracts a tiny fraction.** So, what will it mean to bring a taste of Jordan to community colleges and MSIs? How would traditional study-abroad models of global learning have to be adapted to reach more socioeconomically and ethnically diverse learning institutions?

“Sustainability at the Margins” participants were here with us in Jordan in order to lay the foundation for solutions to these questions, particularly as pertains to topics of academic interest in the Middle East. The twelve participants were chosen from more than 80 total applicants and represented a wide array of academic and professional expertise. With our local partners from various sectors opening the space for collaborative learning and dialogue, participants in this seminar deepened their knowledge of local history and culture while also taking on issues that are common the world over.

LOCAL EXPERTISE, GLOBAL KNOWLEDGE

Through this program, ACOR was certainly true to its mission to “advance knowledge of Jordan, past and present.” Though some readers may wonder if this focus is highly specific, in fact what ACOR’s geographic commitment means in practice is that we hold a deep awareness of local issues, an awareness that is necessarily complex and interdisciplinary in nature. Thus, throughout seminar activities, ACOR could ensure that the many interests and specializations of each faculty participant were brought to the table for discussion.

Topics addressed were manifold, including but not limited to: belonging and identity, environmental sustainability, political systems, urban development, religious studies, refugees and migration, gender, tourism, economic development, archaeology and ancient history, higher education, and more. “ACOR organized an array of lectures in such a way that local experts were able to help us appreciate and understand the country…. [E]ven if we were non-specialists in their particular field, they communicated in a way that we could make links to our own field of research,” commented Elizabeth Ursic of Arizona’s Mesa Community College. “We’ve had the opportunity to see things and do things that we would never normally get to do if we just came to Jordan on our own,” observed Marjolein Schat, who teaches biology at Tompkins Cortland Community College in New York, as well as through the Cornell Prison Education Program.

Seminar activities were not only lectures but also hands-on learning opportunities, including literally breaking bread with Jordanians in their residences. The theme of sustainability returned again and again, whether in conversations about long-term refugee assistance strategy or local cultural heritage preservation. Dialogue was open and critical questions encouraged; the ultimate goal was to facilitate exchange. “We were not led down a path, and no clear agenda was being expressed,” said Joylin Namie, an anthropologist at Truckee Meadows Community College in Nevada.

The diversity of subjects addressed was a strength, even in ways that surprised participants, most of whom had preconceived expectations about which sessions would prove most useful to their learning needs. For example, Laura Penman, of Monroe Community College in New York, was particularly eager to learn about contemporary water management. She was pleasantly surprised to find that engagement with the ancient world during the seminar provided meaningful lessons on such current affairs. “One of the most fascinating parts for me is to see how culture and technology work together to help create solutions to problems,” she commented, reflecting on the use of ancient water management techniques by present-day local communities near Petra and Umm al-Jimal.

Much of the program took advantage of ACOR’s center of operations being located in the capital city, Amman. However, trips to other regions of Jordan were also useful for putting topics of learning into a wider context. Visits to Ghawr As-Safi, Umm al-Jimal, Aqaba, and Wadi Rum allowed participants to connect with distinctive local communities across the country, their uniqueness reflected in the diversity of present-day customs on top of a varied archaeological record apparent in each location. Overall, the geographic breadth of program activities added a sense of dynamism that kept participants agile in their approach to a plethora of academic subjects.

It’s not a stretch to bring up the concept of recycling at Umm al-Jimal, where the Ummayad- and Byzanetine-era buildings were composed of materials that had been first used by Roman and Nabatean communities at the site. Photo by Abed Fateh al-Ghareb/USAID SCHEP.

THE CLASS CONTINUES: TEACHING AND LEARNING

Though seminar participants may have been playing the role of student while at ACOR, they have since returned to their campuses in the U.S. to teach. Now they bear a unique responsibility to carry the torch of global learning on their campuses, sharing what insights they have gleaned about their subject matter’s connections with phenomena in Jordan. Each will report back with the lesson plans they develop and implement, and they will also be composing reflection essays on the ideas that stick with them most. They will have this experience at ACOR to lean on in the semesters ahead.

“I know the value of study abroad,” said De’Etra Young of Tennessee State University. “International opportunities better prepare students for the global workforce.” Young was particularly excited to use her observations in Jordan as a starting point to spark conversations with students about environmental justice and agritourism, topics salient in her local community. Similarly, faculty from New Mexico and Nevada were excited to bring back international comparison points related to tourism and water management.

As observed by Bryan Shuler of Hillsborough Community College in Florida, an experience like this can inspire reflection on a philosophical as well as practical level. “What I’m taking away from this is the term fluidity—fluidity in terms of people, in terms of culture, in terms of society, in terms of history…. [In Jordan] people are related to each other by business, by family, by culture, by language, by society…. [T]herefore we need to be aware that things can be affected by an action in another place.”

Some faculty participants were eager to enact cultural exchange in their classrooms in a more literal fashion. While in Jordan, they exchanged contact information with local professionals and educators so as to facilitate virtual exchanges later on and even explore opportunities to build study abroad options for their students. Bryan Shuler’s application of his newfound knowledge was going to be almost immediate. “I am working right now with the IREX Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge with my students and students from Jordan this coming semester,” he explained. The initiative will entail his bringing together of a binational team of students to research and present solutions for a particular global sustainability problem. His time with ACOR, therefore, was invaluable: “I want to have a good basis!”

For teaching support, participants ultimately have each other to rely on, as well as ACOR. Since returning home, WhatsApp and email have served as lively forums for crowdsourcing multimedia classroom materials and addressing pedagogical challenges as they arise; these twelve educators, with shared goals and environments, are thankfully able to provide nuanced mutual support. ACOR also has many digital resources that can be of use in their classrooms, even at a distance. Such electronic learning resources will be especially crucial this year, due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and its impacts on global travel and academic programming.

Ultimately, ACOR is eager to learn from these educators just as much as they learned from their time with us. How will the ideas and experiences they had in Jordan translate to diverse educational contexts in the U.S.? How can ACOR better serve the upcoming generation of study-abroad students and researchers, the demographics of which will undoubtedly be different from the past as American society grows more and more ethnically diverse? On top of supporting the development of these faculty members as global educators, we at ACOR greatly value this incredible opportunity for our team to see Jordan through their eyes.

Please check back soon for further blogs on this topic, written by program participants for publishing on the ACOR and CAORC websites. ACOR would like to extend its gratitude to the partnering organizations who helped bring about the success of this initiative, as led by former ACOR Director Barbara Porter, Associate Director Jack Green, and Glenn Corbett, Program Director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the support of the Petra Moon company in Jordan and the many implementing partners of the SCHEP team.

The ACOR-CAORC faculty development seminar to Jordan was generously supported by funding through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. 

For more on trip activities conducted during this Seminar, please click here to be taken to the corresponding Facebook photo album.


* Minority-Serving Institutions are institutions of higher education in the U.S. that serve historically underrepresented populations. This includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. To learn more about MSIs, explore a summary article from the U.S. Federal Government at https://www.doi.gov/pmb/eeo/doi-minority-serving-institutions-program

** Just 2.7% of all Americans study abroad for academic credit do so in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to 2019 data from International Education Evaluators.

By Jacqueline Salzinger, Development & Communications Officer

ACOR is a nonprofit academic organization supported by grants, endowments, and contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Please consider making a donation today, online or by check to our office in Alexandria, VA.

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