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Study Ebroad Connects Students to the World

By Kim Pozniak

Just as school was drawing to a close for spring break and college kids across the country were preparing for a fun week at the beach, several dozen students from four Catholic universities spent some of their remaining class time tackling more serious concerns.

Adriana Palma

Adriana Palma, a student at Cabrini College, participated in a Study eBroad session on migration in 2007. Photo courtesy of Jerry Zurek

As part of Catholic Relief Services' Global Solidarity Network: Study eBroad program, the young men and women were gathered in front of a big screen to hear from one of CRS' experts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via video conference. Bill O'Keefe, CRS' senior director for advocacy, who has traveled to Israel and the Gaza strip numerous times, sat in his office in Baltimore using an internet connection, headset and microphone to explain the complexities of the decades-old conflict.

The live video conference was only one in a series of program activities, which many of CRS' partner universities have incorporated into their social justice curricula. After reading essays written by CRS experts in the field and hearing from them during a live web discussion, students explore social justice issues by posting their reflections and questions on a discussion board.

Students said the session changed their perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I once believed that both sides of the conflict were proponents of violence. But I now see that both sides are also striving for peace," said Villanova University senior Bridget Connell after listening to O'Keefe's presentation.

Another Villanova participant, Shannon Phillips, said "O'Keefe did an excellent job of removing his own opinion from his work. After explaining both sides, [he] discussed specifically what each country needs to work on to potentially achieve peace."

Shaping Young Minds

Launched in 2007, CRS' Global Solidarity Network uses web-based technologies to connect students of CRS' partner schools with the agency's experts in the field and at its world headquarters. To date, thousands of students from Cabrini College, Villanova University, Seattle University and other schools have used this platform to incorporate global issues into their studies. Using internet and teleconferencing technologies, students and faculty in the United States connect with CRS staff overseas to discuss topics like food security, peacebuilding, and migration.

After participating in the session in late February, Theresa Rigoli from Seattle University gained a new perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I have always seen the conflict as beyond my reach, both physically and mentally. But things are slowly changing for me. I do not want to give the impression that I am so out of touch with global society that I did not understand the gravity of the situation. I just never understood how I could fit into a solution."

Getting Connected

Similarly, having the opportunity to speak with CRS experts who work in places like El Salvador, Mexico, Uganda or Senegal, means that students often gain a new perspective on topics they've previously studied in class.

"CRS and our partner schools share a common concern for social justice and to educate young people to be social catalysts for change in the world," says Kevin Kostic, CRS' University programs advisor who oversees the program. "Through Study eBroad, students can draw on the experience and expertise of our staff and hear from people directly working on the issues they're learning about."

During another session last year, students heard from CRS' Rick Jones in El Salvador and Erica Dahl-Bredine in Mexico about the root causes of migration, urging them to look beyond immigration reform in the United States and examine the economic situations that push people to migrate.

At a time when the financial crisis started to mushroom and people were feeling the effects of a plummeting economy, the ensuing online discussions displayed an interesting mix of emotions and perspectives on immigration, including topics like migrant workers, illegal immigration and deportations.

Dr. George and Cabrini students

Freshmen in the 'Justice Matters' core curriculum class at Cabrini College are joined by Dr. Marie A. George, President of Cabrini, during a Study eBroad session on migration and Fair Trade in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Linda Johnson

"At the end of the session, the students were able to look past the immigration issue in the U.S. and gained a much deeper understanding of the push and pull factors of migration and the impact it has on families," Kostic explains. "Both faculty and students commented on how their interaction with CRS' migration experts expanded their understanding of the issue."

"After reading the essays, my entire outlook on the issue of migration, legal or otherwise, has shifted completely," one of the participants recalls. "I now feel compassion and regret the uneducated opinions I formed based solely on media reports."

In another session, students heard from one of CRS' peacebuilding officers in Uganda who had worked with child soldiers, and another staffer working on peace projects in Ghana. In all, there are four sessions per academic year, and faculty and students from various disciplines from the humanities to the sciences commit to a two-week time period to review essays, post their comments and participate in the live Webcast.

"The Global Solidarity Network gives students a first-hand way to learn about and be involved in solutions to the pressing needs of our vulnerable brothers and sisters," said Jerry Zurek, professor and chairman of the Communications Department at Cabrini College. "Through this network, CRS and the partner universities are involving students in the great work of creating global solidarity. The students leave class inspired, because they have joined with fellow students around the country and with CRS partners around the world."

The Study eBroad program has proven a successful tool in supporting CRS' efforts to forge bonds between young adults in the United States and people living in poverty overseas. Since its inception, over 3,000 students have benefited from CRS' expertise in social justice, and likewise, CRS staffers have been able to share their experiences with what might be the future generation of humanitarian workers.

Kim Pozniak works as a communications officer for CRS and is based in Baltimore, MD.

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