David Edmunds / Global Studies

I am seeking funding to facilitate a partnership between the undergraduate program in Global Development Studies and the Global Civil Society Lab. The latter is an initiative of Global Grounds, a new center organized by the provost’s office to enhance UVA’s global presence.  Mead funding will allow me to invite 10 students from GDS 3100 (a core course in our major) to participate in a series of workshops at the GCSL where they can learn from community leaders about how to initiate social change.

One of the important goals of the GDS program is to educate students to learn differently. In contrast to how many have been trained before entering our program, we ask them to understand the limits of their knowledge, to be constructively critical of the conceptual frameworks they have grown up with and, in the process, learn to notice and, fundamental to my proposal, appreciate knowledge produced by others from different geographic and social locations. We already do this within the classroom, practicing rigorous liberal arts thinking across a wide array of global development topics. But the university has culture and context that itself can be exclusive, hierarchical and unaware of non-academic sources of knowledge. We need to demonstrate for students that a) important knowledge is generated outside the university; b) it takes practice to notice and appreciate this knowledge; and c) effective global development work must build on this knowledge, in its full technical and conceptual richness. Our students (and later, our graduates working as development professionals) certainly bring their own knowledge to an encounter with others, but they must learn how to learn from those not normally thought of as teachers if they are to be effective agents of social change.

Over the past year, I have worked closely with the staff of Global Grounds/GCSL to create opportunities for students to interact with non-academic mentors, and to do so with my facilitation.   Together, we now propose a six-part series of bi-weekly, two-hour workshops at Global Grounds for 10 GDS students, led by a community-based mentor-practitioner and organized and facilitated by myself. The workshops would allow students to 1) explore both the theoretical and practical challenges of learning from mentor-practitioners, with an eye towards preparing for the implementation of an actual activity “on the ground” in the mentor’s home place at a later date and 2) reflect on the process of learning how to learn in a collaborative way – as examples, what types of questions generate good conversations, what settings facilitate discussions, what verbal and visual types of communication work well, how to tackle translational problems, how to check for misrepresentations of someone else’s knowledge, and what context-specific factors shape planning to do something “on the ground.”

Workshops will be organized in sets of three, with each of two mentors responsible for three successive workshops. The first workshop in each series will focus on discussing differences in how people learn, what areas of knowledge are considered important, and how ideas are communicated across social and cultural differences.  This will also be a trust- and relationship-building workshop, among mentors, students and faculty.

After the first workshop, students will be asked to address a problem of identifying, appreciating, integrating and/or applying knowledge generated from different social locations, an assignment that will reference a tangible development problem proposed by the mentor. Fellow students, mentor-practitioners and I will review the written responses through a shared Collab site before the following workshop. Assignments are not meant to be onerous, but creative, aspirational and thought-provoking. They will frame the discussions during the second workshop, co-led by the mentor-practitioner and me.

During the third workshop in the series, we will sketch a plan for working together in the mentor’s home place, drawing on lessons from the first two workshops, and covering such details as schedules, funding, activities, roles and measures of success. We expect this workshop to be an exercise in integrating theoretical concepts concerning knowledge production with the practicalities of project planning. At the end of the workshop series, students will have the opportunity to choose to apply to work with either of the two mentors. The mentor-practitioners will be responsible for assembling a team, and I will continue to work with selected students to prepare funding proposals.

Students would leave each set of workshops with a) written responses to questions raised in discussions concerning how to work across bodies of knowledge and the practices that evolve from them and b) a plan for work in a mentor-practitioner’s home place, including budget and fundraising ideas.  These concrete outputs will teach students other work-related project management skills, but do so within a collaborative effort, with feedback from faculty, mentor-practitioners and fellow students.  I will also ask students for a final, creative group presentation on their experiences during the workshops, reflecting on what they learned, how they learned, and what it means for their education going forward.

I have in mind for the mentor practitioners one of two people I’ve worked with for many months at the Westhaven Clinic, a public housing clinic in Charlottesville.  The first candidate is a community health worker who has helped us identify social and economic barriers to self-management of chronic disease.   She would be able to talk about the problems they’ve had implementing healthy lifestyle programs (many of which have been introduced into the clinic, but with modest success).  These include transportation, cost, scheduling, and cultural issues that make it difficult for the poorest residents to follow through on the advice they are given.  The parish nurse is also involved, and has a background in community organizing too.  She could step in should the community health worker be unavailable.  Students would first observe, then participate in our discussions focused on understanding the issues Westhaven residents face, and how to generate and implement ideas for addressing these issues.

A second mentor practitioner would come from ALIIVE, a Native American-led youth development organization on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate’s Lake Traverse Reservation.  I have worked with a couple of different organizations at the SWO, but haven’t spent much time with ALIIVE.  I therefore have some notion of the cultural differences and particular socio-political histories that SWO citizens bring to any discussion with academics, but am earlier in the process of building relationships with ALIIVE staff and in planning action-oriented research projects with this group.  Again, the students would first observe, then participate in this process.

While the workshops will be substantive in nature, it is my hope that these events will provide a new context for students to both engage with one another, with me, and with mentor-practitioners whom I like and trust. They will also be able to observe (and critique) how I interact with non-academics, something we discuss as an essential relationship-building skill in global development.  I intend for these meetings to be convivial occasions and would propose that they begin or end with the sharing of a meal as a group.

Finally, I would like to have a single student intern track the workshops as one potential model for GCSL’s work with mentor-practitioners over the coming years.  Students in the workshops would be invited to contribute to reflections on our learning process, creating a “meta-learning” opportunity for them. But their main focus would be on learning with/from me and the mentor-practitioner, while the intern took notes on the workshops as a potential model.

Proposed budget:

Stipends for 2 mentors, each of whom will help lead 3 workshops $600

Refreshments for 6 workshops at $150 each $900

Support for student intern to collect and organize written and recorded materials for analysis ($10/hrx 40hrs) $400

TOTAL $1,900