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Center Wins State Department Grant

George Guess, codirector, Center for Public Finance Research

George Guess, codirector of the Center for Democracy and Election Management

The Center for Democracy and Election Management in the School of Public Affairs has received a $250,000 grant to become the first-ever university to implement the State Department’s Global Connections and Exchange Program.

The program pairs high school classes in the United States with counterparts overseas. The yearlong partnership is designed to empower youth to use technology to tackle universal issues, such as gender equity, health, environment, diversity and human rights.

To date, primarily nongovernmental organizations have administered the program, part of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Landing the grant was quite a coup for CDEM.

“This project is all about engaging in civic activities with the help of technology,” said Vassia Stoilov, a doctoral fellow at CDEM. “We have a double focus; we’re trying to get them more civically involved and get to know each other’s cultures, to break down stereotypes, and it’s also about teaching them technological skills.”

Twelve civics and history classes in six U.S. public high schools each will pair with a class in Algeria, Iraq, or Yemen. The American schools are geographically widespread, stretching from Denver to Des Moines to Washington. One teacher and one student from each overseas school will visit its U.S. partner school during the year.

“The program is centered around two main things,” said Nicole Hark, logistics specialist for CDEM. “The first is monthly video conferences. They’ll partner through Skype, and we have funds allotted to provide Web cams to the overseas schools. We have a Wiki-space page so that each pair has a discussion board. We’re providing the overseas students with a flip camera in hopes that they’ll [document] their own communities.”

CDEM is writing a curriculum that will be incorporated into the participants’ existing classes. Two School of Education, Teaching, and Health students are helping to draw up the lesson plans, while two SPA students at CDEM are working on the technology side of the project.

“Since we’re trying to introduce more civic responsibility, a lot of it relates to things like voting, community service, diversity, U.S. history,” Hark said. “We’re [hoping] to get them to better understand what they can do in the world.”

The grant fits perfectly into a major part of CDEM’s mission, codirector George Guess said

“Anything that can increase mutual understanding between current conflict and post-conflict regions such as the Middle East and our own is critical, even more so because we’re talking about high school kids,” he said. “When you focus on groups like that you’re hitting them at the earliest possible stage of where they’re most affected by the media and their local cultural influences.”

The grant is for one year, but CDEM hopes to continue, and possibly expand, its involvement in the future.