UCI's Global Connect lends curriculum expertise to U.S. Congress


UCI's Global Connect meets with Loretta Sanchez congressional aide to discuss program's federal expansion, funding

Budget cuts to the UC system have forced many university programs to either get creative in finding funds to stay afloat or risk losing extra programs, many of which provide a variety of services to the local community. Global Connect, an educational partnership program under the School of Social Sciences that seeks to address short-comings in 8-12 international studies education, is one such program that relies on partial UC funding for operating expenses. Through a pending federal bill, the group may have found an opportunity to bring in new money and expand their program across the country in the process.  
 
In July, California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives asking for $200 million in funds to ramp up international studies education - a subject area that is not part of the current California state education standards - in K-12 classrooms. The bill is modeled in large part after Global Connect's high school curriculum program, the first UCI outreach program to become an established academic course for California's schools. This week, Jessica Fernandez, legislative aide to Congresswoman Sanchez, visited UCI to talk shop with Global Connect leaders about further utilizing their program as a nationwide international studies curriculum model.  
 
"The U.S. and World Education Act is an important step in improving teacher competency in international studies education and an excellent opportunity to provide funds for programs seeking to accomplish this goal," said Fernandez. "Global Connect is an ideal way to move forward in addressing both of these areas."  
 
Founded in 2001 by Ellen Schlosser, current director, Caesar Sereseres, social sciences associate dean and political science professor, and Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor for student affairs, the program aims to fill the international studies curriculum gap in local schools while extending the UC mission of engaging faculty and students with the local community. The group brought together UCI faculty, graduate and undergraduate students to develop global issue-focused lesson plans that could be taught by UCI affiliates alongside high school teachers in Newport Mesa and Saddleback School District high schools.  
 
Through weekly in-class instruction, high school students learn about issues such as terrorism, gross domestic product, and AIDS in Africa with a large portion of the material coming straight from the mouths of UCI faculty and graduate student experts who are known internationally for their work in these areas.  
 
"We don't dumb the material down for the students," says Sereseres who teaches a lesson on the importance of being a global citizen. "These high school kids really get an in-depth look at social science topics that are an important factor understanding globalization and the many issues that go with it that are crucial to the U.S. remaining competitive in our ever shrinking world. Social sciences and the study of our current international landscape teaches us about the future."  
 
The curriculum changes from year to year to account for the continually changing global landscape - a problem when trying to teach from textbooks which can typically take years to reach publication. The program's ability to change with the times, says Sereseres, is what sets it apart from others.  
 
Undergraduate and graduate students also teach material and supplement lessons brought in by faculty, allowing them an opportunity to try their hand at teaching - a profession many UCI Global Connect graduates have gone on to pursue. They also serve as mentors and role models for the many students with whom they interact. At the end of the semester-long-course, the high school students get to visit the UCI campus and be university students for a day.  
 
The experiences, says Tammy Lin, a third year international studies and business economics major and member of Global Connect, help them see that going on to college isn't some scary, unattainable goal - an important point considering that some of Global Connect's participating high schools have historically low rates of senior applications and acceptances into UCI.  
 
"The very hands on, collaborative learning style the program promotes helps students develop advanced reading, writing and analytic skills while learning about the world around them," says Schlosser.  
 
For the UCI student participants, it's been a breeding ground for future Fulbright scholars as five former participants have since received the prestigious award. "Global Connect is an amazing network of people who put a their hearts and souls into the program so that more amazing people come out of it," Schlosser says.  
 
Sanchez's office seems to agree. "Global Connect is a model program to include in legislation that would make sense to push across the nation, not just within California's borders," says Fernandez. "Doing so is ambitious, but it's a good goal and one we're hoping to work together to achieve."  
 
Sanchez's office - and Global Connect - is hopeful the bill will be passed before the 111th Congressional session adjourns.  
 
Learn more about Global Connect http://www.socsci.uci.edu/globalconnect/.

Friday, August 28, 2009