Faculty seminar studies food insecurity and global health in India

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This May, as the Class of 2014 prepared to embark upon new educational and professional paths, a group of seven Gettysburg faculty boarded a plane ready to embark upon their own journey.

Over the next twelve days, they would travel throughout northern India to learn about food insecurity and global health in the cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Funded by a 2013 grant from the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, this trip marked the first of a series of faculty seminars abroad aimed at expanding the international perspective of coursework across Gettysburg’s curriculum.

IndiaWhen they organized this trip, Dean of Global Initiatives Rebecca Bergren and Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues Caroline Hartzell aimed to recruit faculty participants who had not integrated an international component to their coursework or who had little to no expertise in South Asia. “As the world’s largest democracy and as a growing economic power, India is such an important world location,” said Bergren. “Our faculty must be prepared to help their students understand India’s history and challenges.”

The group selected for the trip comprised faculty from the College’s religious studies, health sciences, anthropology, biology, mathematics, and education departments. As part of the application process, faculty were asked to describe what they hoped to achieve through the trip, and to suggest how they might use this experience to enhance and broaden their course offerings.

“Students love to hear about first-hand experience and observations in class,” noted anthropology professor Amy Evrard. “I knew that this trip would provide an abundance of information on agriculture and women’s issues—two of the main topics I cover in my courses.”

During the spring semester, participants attended a number of on-campus workshops exposing them to the region’s languages and cultures. Once they arrived in India, partners at the School for International Training (SIT)—which hosts an average of 20 Gettysburg students per semester through programs in locations such as Brazil, Morocco, Nepal, Tanzania, Switzerland, South Africa, India, and Peru—provided a dynamic program that immersed them in both scholarly discussions and on-the-ground realities of health and food insecurity in India.

Taj Mahal“India can be overwhelming for its complexity and the sheer vastness of its land, population, languages, cultures, and issues,” said religious studies professor and trip leader Megan Sijapati, whose research experience in India and Nepal helped her guide her colleagues throughout the twelve-day trip. “We wanted to provide them with experiences to meet with Indian scholars from a variety of higher education institutions, NGOs, and other activists and leaders that would help them better approach this complexity and get them excited about incorporating units on India into their teaching.”  

The weeks’ program included lectures from local scholars, as well as a number of site visits in Jaipur, Delhi, and Agra. The group visited an organic farm in rural Rajasthan, low-income communities and schools in Jaipur and New Delhi, a foundation that teaches farmers alternatives to toxic pesticide use, and a nonprofit that produces 40,000 chapatti an hour to provide free lunches for school children. They also networked with local university faculty on topics of mutual academic interests.

“The informal conversations we had with SIT faculty and staff, scholars from some of India’s finest universities, elementary school teachers working in slums, and farmers promoting organic farming were some of the greatest sources of learning,” said religious studies professor Buz Myers. “How can experiences like this not have an impact on one’s research and teaching?”

Health sciences professor Amy Dailey agreed on the value of this trip for enriching her work.

“Most of my research is focused on health disparities in the U.S., and I have a particular interest in community-based participatory research in Gettysburg,” she said. “This trip has helped me to realize that many of the issues we are tackling locally are being faced globally, too.”

Along with helping these faculty to internationalize their academic expertise, the trip also equipped them to better advise students seeking to study in India or through the SIT program. Bergren and Hartzell are working to see that the College can continue to offer these trips for faculty, and are in the early stages of planning next year’s faculty seminar abroad.

FacultyFor now, the trip participants are back on campus reflecting on their trip and planning how they will be incorporating this experience into their coursework.

Education professor Divonna Stebick is among them. “This was the first time I had ever visited a developing country, and it was a very exhausting—as well as enriching—experience,” she noted. “All of this was more than worth it. My experience in India was life-changing and one of the most valuable professional development experiences in my career.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Christine Shanaberger, associate director of communications/coordinator of presidential communications 717.337.6806

Posted: Fri, 18 Jul 2014

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