North American Mobility Program
By Christina Lee
Photo by LeAnna Shanks©
The Program for North American Mobility allows students to participate in semester-long study abroad exchanges at partner schools in Mexico or Canada.
But this program is more than just your run of the mill study abroad program. What makes it unique, other than the $5,000 stipend allotted for travel, boarding, and miscellaneous expenses, is the fact that participating students complete an online course and conduct a community research project in addition to their exchange.
The 3-credit online course, “Introduction to Sustainability,” not only teaches students how to endure in various life situations, but also how to “help others in the community endure” as well, says Sharon Benz, Special Projects Coordinator and Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities and Civic Engagement at Daemen College. The course focuses on teaching students how to be “conscientious and considerate of future generations and of the future [of the environment]. It isn’t about living in the now,” Benz explains, it is about being “socially responsible.”
In addition to the online course, students complete a community research project in the community they will be living in for either the fall or spring semester. This project is meant to help the community so they see results they can be proud of.
Daemen natural science professor, Dr. Brenda Young, focuses on sustainability, so it was a “natural transition” that she be a part of the program. She has been an integral part of the program for the past two years in addition to working with Dr. Denise Mills, who screens students for the language proficiency required to participate in one of the two partner institutions in Mexico. There is a language requirement “because if you can’t speak the language, you can’t eat,” jokes Young, who adds, “it’s to ensure that students are able to effectively communicate with those in the community they will be living in.” Classes in partner institutions in Canada are taught in English.
Daemen is part of a consortium of six partner universities, including Universidad La Salle, The University of Guanjuanto (Mexico), The University of Northern British Columbia, St. Francis Xavier University (Canada) and Prescott College (USA), all of which offer credit and scholarships for an experience working in local communities. These projects are overseen by faculty members at each student’s home institution and are an opportunity to make a positive change environmentally, socially, culturally, and economically.
Young speaks highly of Daemen senior, Tina Martini, who is currently studying at Universidad La Salle in Mexico City. “Tina is working at a non-profit and doing a lot of good things for the less privileged,” says Young proudly. “Her first community project was cleaning the drinking water.” Tina is now working with the community to help them get their handicrafts approved by the Fair Trade Commission so that they can sell them for more and have better opportunities for their goods.
She will be combining this experience with her senior thesis, which relates the process of fair trade to sustainability. Tina is first in this program, which actually isn’t all that new at Daemen. It has been here for the past six years, directed by Mills for the first four years and the last two by Young. However, the program changed about a year ago and participating students, now referred to as “sustainability scholars,” are required to complete the online course in the semester prior to their exchange. The community research project also became integrated into the program. At graduation, “sustainability scholars” receive a certificate in “Sustaining Communities” in addition to their diploma.
When asked about her favorite part of the program, Young playfully says, “I get to visit all the sites,” but a moment later she smiles and confesses, “I love hearing the stories from the children. It’s always such a life-changing experience. I know it sounds trite,” she admits, “but it’s really true.” For more on the North American Mobility program contact Brenda Young at (firstname.lastname@example.org)