Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer at Macalester: from classroom to real-world

Just as important as doing hands-on learning is reflecting on the experience. Because Hanson believes interpersonal reflection is important, the IGC recently began hosting events for students staying in the Twin Cities over the summer to do internships, volunteering, jobs, and research. She believes these gatherings “give a natural space for students to think about and reflect on various things: What do I want to do outside the academic setting? How is my summer experience relevant to academic purposes and real-life ones? What am I learning about myself through these experiences?” 

Meet Omar Mansour ‘15: He’s a junior from Salt, Jordan. This summer Omar decided to stay in the Twin Cities to assist with a research project led by Dr. Christy Hanson, Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship. “It’s been a great experience working closely with Christy,” said Omar. (On a side note, faculty members at Macalester often urge students to call them by their first names to lead to more engaging relationships.) 

He reaffirmed his academic passion for global health by doing summer research with Professor Hanson, says Omar. Having planned to major in chemistry, he found “a new passion in Global Health that I had never considered before coming to Macalester,” he continues. He got interested in global health after taking courses such as Medical Geography, Spanish, and ultimately Hanson’s class in global health.

Hanson wants the Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC) to help more students like Omar. “The IGC is a place where students can find ways to engage in a new idea, passion, line of thinking, or vocational aspiration through hands-on experiences and leadership training,” said Hanson. Emphasizing the importance of experiential learning, the IGC offers various avenues of opportunities for students to engage in learning outside of classroom: the internship office, the study away programs, civic engagement center, and more. “The Institute complements what happens in the classroom. It’s a chance for students to explore how to connect their liberal arts foundation to how they engage in the world now, and to explore how they might use it in the future. They may discover lines of study or work that they wouldn’t have thought of before coming to Macalester by engaging with communities off  campus.” Plus, international students like Omar can find opportunities to explore new ideas and ways of thinking different from those back home.

The summer research project that Dr. Hanson has been leading offers this kind of experiential learning by allowing students to apply classroom knowledge to real-life matters. She is working closely with the government of Kenya and the World Health Organization (WHO) to critically analyze Kenya’s Tuberculosis and HIV programs, and to help shape the country’s next three-year plan for dealing with these leading killers. Says Hanson,  “We have a team at Macalester and a team in Nairobi working together to identify and solve problems.”
Her summer team at Macalester includes four students, who have diverse cultural and academic backgrounds.  “The students are working with me in lots of different ways, each drawing upon the student’s interests and skills but all adding to one overall body of work,” says Hanson. “It’s the liberal arts in action. The Kenyan government has been excited by what we’ve been able to bring to the government in terms of our creative thinking, problem solving, and analytical work.”

Omar has been contributing his statistical skills by working on in-depth multivariate analysis, which has provided ways of understanding the barriers to care for people with stigmatized diseases in Kenya. He has been analyzing two years of patient data to gain insights not only into patients, but also into the entire health system of Kenya in order to determine what needs to be improved. “I’ve been getting a lot of help from Vittorio Addonna, an associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. I learned a lot from working with him through this project.”

Macalester offers students many ways to engage in global issues with open minds and critical perspectives. So don’t be afraid to try new things and venture out of your comfort zone. As Omar puts it: “Try new things until you find what you really like. You may fail a lot, but don’t stop trying.”