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Dornsife Global Development Scholars Program

October 16, 2017

With support from benefactors Dana and David Dornsife, Drexel established the Dornsife Global Development Scholars program in 2014. Working in close partnership with World Vision, the Dornsife Global Development Scholars program allows Drexel University students to work on development projects relating to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in up to 23 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The innovative Dornsife Global Development Scholars work alongside World Vision on projects ranging in depth and breadth. In the past, students have: investigated water quality monitoring done by the national government and NGOs; researched the impact of water, hygiene and sanitation in relation to disease; used Muppets through the Sesame Street WASH UP! Program in rural schools to help train teachers and students on proper hygiene practice; and examined the impact of drought on hygiene for future policy-making decisions.

Drexel students accepted to the Dornsife Global Development Scholars Program work on these projects for two to six months, as either a non-credit bearing international experience or an international co-op. The international experience comes in the form of summer field practicums, research field experiences, long-term dissertation field-work, and others. The international co-op allows students to work for three or six months, while earning co-op credit. These opportunities allow students to experience fieldwork in their majors early in their academic careers. Katrina Lewis (Zambia ‘16), who participated in the program for her first co-op, explained, “Getting into nursing I thought I would want to be bed-side, but now I realize that I want to travel and work in clinics, not just hospitals. A lot of the healthcare population is from elsewhere outside of the US, so I feel better equipped to interact with people who are not from the same place as I am.”

Currently, there are approved locations for placement in the Dornsife Global Health Scholars program in western, eastern, and southern Africa. As the World Vision WASH portfolio continues to grow into some of the most difficult to reach areas around the world, the Dornsife Global Development Scholars program will continue to expand to more sites across the continent, as well as to sites in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

The Dornsife Global Development Scholars Program is open to all matriculating Drexel University students. Regardless of major, classification, or previous experience abroad, the most competitive applicants are those whose skill sets best match the needs of World Vision and the communities they serve.

While it may seem like a scary prospect to be in a foreign country for so long, Greg Kunkel (Ghana ‘15; Malawi ‘17), program alumnus, has some words to put apprehensive students at ease: “For several students in the cohort last summer, it was their first time outside of the US, so the program is really for anyone. Don’t be scared just because you haven’t traveled – other people on the program will look out for you.”

Additionally, the Dornsife Global Development Scholars program offers scholarship support to offset program-related expenses to include airfare to and from the country, in-country project travel and housing, monthly food stipends, and visa expenses. The program is open to domestic and international students of all levels and all majors, to allow the opportunity to any student that could both benefit from the program and also make an impact in rural communities served by World Vision.

Beyond field experience, several scholars noted their improved soft skills gained through new cultural experiences. Many alumni of the program note that learning about negotiating and understanding new cultures are useful inside and outside of their academic learning and intended careers. For instance, several scholars remarked that timing was more flexible in their areas; Mariah Mennano (Lesotho ‘17) spoke of the patience she had to learn in adjusting to the interpretation of time in an unfamiliar culture.

The scholars also mentioned that they learned how to be independent. Mariah explained, “It’s one thing to move away to college. It’s different when you don’t have any friend with you and you’re in Africa.”  In adapting to their environments, the students set out to build relationships. Katrina formed a close friendship with her manager, and was invited to pre-wedding festivities, meaning she was able to learn first-hand about Zambian wedding customs. Greg noted that he made connections that have opened opportunities even back in Philadelphia.

A debrief upon returning highlights the importance of the students’ experience abroad focusing on a real understanding of global health issues and how a simple respect for humankind can foster relationships across many different cultures. Several Dornsife Global Health Scholars agreed that simply learning a few key words and phrases in the local languages earned them a great deal of respect and appreciation in the communities. The relationships built through this program can be meaningful connections, both personally and professionally. Jerry Nutor (Zambia ’16; Zambia ‘17), a scholar who worked with World Vision on two separate experiences, explained, “You aren’t there to show people you are a student from a developed country who knows a lot. You need to be able to learn from them.” Jerry emphasized his personal development experience by explaining how he was able to navigate and network with industry professionals, politicians, and community leaders to make an impact in underprivileged communities.

Applications for next year’s cohort of Dornsife Global Development Scholars are now open. The priority deadline is November 10, 2017. For more information about the program, please contact Idris Robinson, Assistant Director of Global Health and International Development and Manager of the Dornsife Global Development Scholars Program at itr24@drexel.edu.

Special thanks to Idris Robinson, Jerry John Nutor, Katrina Lewis, Greg Kunkel and Mariah Mennano for their contributions to this article.