As we gathered on Friday to celebrate the conclusion of our first GPS Institute, the success of the week was palpable. Our guests from Ghana, Jamaica, Tanzania and Zimbabwe were mingling warmly with colleagues, community members, students and partners (both old and new), taking final photographs and discussing plans for future initiatives. But even more than the spirit of collegiality and friendship that permeated the room, the boldness of the emergent ideas and themes displayed on white boards (see photo gallery below) spoke of the Institute’s true catalytic power. On one side of the boards were country-specific initiatives and priorities (purple) that evolved from the week’s conversations and sessions. On the flip side were the “bones” of a new comprehensive system (blue) for transforming global partnerships into an engine for high-impact learning, capacity building and innovation. While exciting, these ideas—or rather the cultivation of ideas—was the very impetus for the Institute and the broader GPS (Global Partner Studio) initiative. By inviting our partners to UB to connect with various stakeholders and potential collaborators, we hoped to create a springboard for further growth and engagement.
The Institute kicked off with Opening Presentations on Monday afternoon. We invited our partners to “frame out” their respective work, introducing their countries, regions and institutions along with the partnerships and initiatives already underway, and closing with their goals and dreams for broader engagement and collaboration. The presentations drew a diverse and vibrant audience, including students (graduate and undergraduate), UB and external faculty members and researchers, community educators and technology partners, and SUNY colleagues (see photos from Opening Presentations).
This robust engagement continued throughout the week including Tuesday’s Pedagogical Innovation Session which introduced partners, students and potential collaborators to our GPS resources and learning opportunities, highlighting COIL (collaborative online international learning), customizable short-term study abroad, VR/AR (Virtual and Augmented Reality), our new Global Collaboration Digital Badge, and GPS Digital Journal. In addition to introducing the value of these opportunities for UB undergraduates, we discussed ways that other audiences- most notably our global partners and (international) graduate students- could benefit from and contribute to these endeavors.
In addition to catalyzing pedagogical innovation, the Institute also sought to build capacity building for individual partners within their respective areas of focus. Our guest from Tanzania, Gerald Noah, was invited to provide a guest lecture on Women’s Health for Barbara Wejnert’s class offered through Global Gender Studies. Hosted by doctoral student Xingyu Chen, Gerald shared some of the many challenges facing women and girls in rural Tanzania, highlighting experiences from the Mara Region where he teaches future community development officers at Buhare Community Development Training Institute. The students benefitted from his real-life accounts and Gerald was impressed with the diversity of majors and professional interests drawn together in the course.
This notion of interdisciplinarity was a theme that resonated strongly with Gerald and our other invited partners throughout the week. We built on this idea through three Innovation Modules (STEM education, health and entrepreneurship) designed to introduce our partners to exciting UB initiatives towards “stretching” their notions of what is possible through collaboration. Trips to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) 3D printing and tinkering labs and an engaging conversation with Andy Olewnik (Director of Experiential Learning Programs) introduced the idea of engaging international (interdisciplinary) teams around problem-based learning, connecting them with UB students and faculty towards the incubation of new ideas and curricula. During a subsequent visit to Crosswater Media to explore the potential of VR and AR, and associated technology, we discussed ways to bring these ideas to scale given existing challenges and limitations with infrastructure and resources. These ideas were further emphasized through a visit to the Biomedical Corridor and exploration of health-based innovation and cancer research. Other visits included a tour of Bak USA, UB's Blackstone LaunchPad and the New York Power Authority in Niagara Falls.
Weaving together the many ideas, insights and conversations gleaned throughout the week was the focus of Thursday’s Studio Session. We were pleased to host a diverse and engaged group of faculty, staff and students who offered ideas and suggestions for building on collaboration while promoting equity, capacity building, and engagement toward more impactful and sustained impacts. Faculty participants discussed “bandwidth issues” and the conversation quickly morphed into a complex mapping exercise suggesting ways to harvest and scope student projects while building on diverse interests, models and the latent potential of (international) graduate students. And again the ideas of interdisciplinarity and problem-based learning emerged as unifying and resonant themes.
As we wrapped up the Institute and said goodbye to our new colleagues and friends, we were (are) inspired by the opportunities that lie well within our reach. It is clear that we have started something that is powerful and timely, and with a collective will and the support of our UB community and global partners, we are poised to do great things together.