Campus News

‘Lasting impression’

Through exchange and collaboration, the university provides people from different parts of the world the opportunity to establish inroads where none existed and to understand each other’s conditions through common experience.

For eight UGA students and five faculty from 11 departments and disciplines, concepts like Arab-Muslim culture, ancient history and civic engagement came alive this summer during a two-week service-learning course in Tunisia.

This international and multidisciplinary student-faculty collaboration grew out of the expanding UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership. Inaugurated in 2003 to enhance e-learning in the North African country, the partnership has flourished at UGA, with more than 25 UGA faculty and staff having visited Tunisia since 2003. More than 60 Tunisian faculty from across the country have visited UGA to take part in e-learning and higher education management workshops. The summer of 2006 saw the project broaden its reach into public service and outreach and include students from both countries for the first time.

Takoi K. Hamrita, UGA engineering professor and director of the partnership, assembled an array of faculty and staff from across UGA steeped in outreach and keen to the importance of student participation. The program was supported by the U.S. State Department, the President’s Venture Fund, the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The two-week program, which included daily Arabic lessons and guided visits to historical sites, allowed UGA students and faculty to work closely with University of Sousse students as well as local elementary and high school students.

Though collaboration with elementary and high school students is common at UGA, the program is the first of its kind to create the opportunity for a Tunisian university to collaborate with students at these levels. Students from the three layers of education came together to engage in discussions concerning social and economic issues-from juvenile delinquency to the environment-using art in various forms as a vehicle for communication and self-expression.

At the end of the two weeks the resulting paintings, photography, film, music and theater pieces were presented at a closing reception for parents, teachers and administrators at the school of performing arts in Sousse and will later be presented at UGA.

“This effort, though a modest pilot effort, has multiple significant implications for Tunisia,” Hamrita said. “It set a tangible example for how the university could be demystified by opening its doors to elementary and high school students and their parents, while highlighting the critical role the university can play in bringing the three layers of education together.

“Using art as a vehicle for collaboration and dialogue between students carries powerful potential that includes enhancing art education in elementary schools, something Tunisia is very much interested in,” she said.

By engaging with the Tunisian students in this project, UGA students and faculty had the opportunity to share their experiences with service and outreach projects and motivate the Tunisian students to create their own.

“We have established a relationship with the Tunisian students that goes well beyond major and specialization to a deep respect for each others’ work and a shared commitment to service and outreach,” said Erica Wilson, a graduate student in the family and child development department.

“So often, you can become submersed in your own field, surrounded by people just like yourself. This experience has allowed me to interact with others from many different disciplines and open up to various ways of thinking about issues,” she said.

The rich Tunisian culture and warm hospitality left a lasting impression on UGA students.

“We were actually standing at ruins I’d learned about in AP European history, ground that Hannibal had walked; it was remarkable,” said Cole Sherer, a computer science major.

“It is a simple concept, but people tend to spend more time looking at the outside rather than the inside,” said Jessica Buday, a biological engineering student. “If nothing else, the idea of similarity between all people has been reinforced as a result of this trip.”