Education - Page 2 - Acquiring transferable skills

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Acquiring transferable skills
Career and personal learning experiences

By E. Rose Scarff, Contributing Writer

One thing that was gratifying for me was to see students in this project, who have never had any experience in inner city Baltimore, working with the dialogues of senior African American citizens that showed them a reality that they are not really used to,” says Felipe Filomeno, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and global studies at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). “They have this intergenerational and cross racial learning going on.”

He is speaking of work he is facilitating in the Honest Conversations: Faith Community Dialogues on Immigration and Race project between a number of faith-based groups in southeast Baltimore’s African American, white and Latina/o immigrant communities to explore misconceptions they may have of each other. The project is funded by Maryland Humanities.

“The project helped me to understand what assumptions people have regarding race and the immigration process,” says Matt Harrington, a rising senior in political science at UMBC, “and how these assumptions shape their outlook on people who are different from themselves.”

Researchers are observing and taking notes during these conversations. Audio is also being captured with the idea of sharing what is learned in these conversations with other communities in Baltimore and elsewhere.

“The people who participate in these conversations,” says Tania Lizarazo, Ph.D., assistant professor of modern languages, linguistics and intercultural communication, and the person spear-heading the audio portion of the conversations, “are either community organizers or active members of the community and that’s why they want to participate in the dialogue. Storytelling is something that comes naturally to them.” Graduate students help facilitate this important work.

Being able to share their stories is important for those telling them, and for those hearing the stories. “We want to invite other people to participate and share their stories,” says Lizarazo, “and sharing these stories will encourage others to share theirs.”

It is also a humbling experience. “Here we are with these people that were already doing this kind of work in the ’60s,” says Filomeno. He adds that the work attracts a very diverse set of students.“The skills of research and the dialogue itself are highly transferable.”

Putting stories to work is also a theme of the cultural sustainability certificate that Goucher College is adding this fall to its graduate program of the same name. This inter-disciplinary program prepares students to document particular cultures and help them thrive within their environment.

“We wanted to create certificates so if a student didn’t have the time to finish a full M.A., they could focus on a particular certificate,” says Amy Skillman, academic director of the program.

“Our M.A. students may also choose to add the certificate so when they leave the program, they have a specialty.”

Course work introduces students to ethical strategies and cultural implications of working with communities, including documenting them. A course in oral history helps students do in depth interviews to gather powerful stories.

Another elective could be how to show a culture through photography, or audio and video.

Students learn how to identify the narratives of a story and the cultural practices that are important to the culture. They also learn about the impact their work will have on the community.

“We have some students who come to gain the skills, knowledge and theoretical foundation,” says Skillman, “but also the actionable strategies to preserve the culture. We have other students who may have traveled around the world and witnessed discriminatory practices against particular cultures. They want to learn how to take action to create conditions so those cultures can thrive.”

Students do a research project that might include photographic documentation, or audio or video, as well as written documentation. “In a field lab they begin to put some of those practices to use,” says Skillman. “It may be their own community, or a cultural or geographic community, or a work force community.”

The course work for both the certificate and the M.A. can be done online except for a short residency program at Goucher in the summer.

“The people I see doing this are those who really want to create some positive change,” says Skillman. What they learn through this program will strengthen what they are already doing.

Incoming freshman at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland are introduced to skills that will help them throughout their life in the innovative iSmith program, which stands for Influential, Innovative, Informed and International. The iSmith experience is meant to sharpen students’ soft skills and critical thinking.

“The principles of strategic innovation and entrepreneurship and leadership can be applied to one’s personal life as well,” says Rajshree Agarwal, Ph.D., director, Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets. All incoming freshman attend a Creating a Purposeful Life course.

“We ask students to think if they are behaving like responsible CEOs of their own life,” says Agarwal. “Have they found their purpose and what makes them happy? Have they defined what success looks like to them?” The students do in-class work, journaling, small group work and have mentors outside class.

“They can so easily walk away from class and forget about what they learned,” says Victor Mullins, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate studies. “We give them time to reflect.”While they are acquiring the skills and knowledge they will need in their business career, students will be learning how to solve problems, how to adapt quickly to constant change and work with diverse groups of other people as a team.

“We used to spend a lot of time with our freshmen and with our seniors,” says Mullins, “but now we are extending our focus to sophomores and juniors.” The sophomore focus will be more on global acumen, critical thinking and becoming a better analyzer.

Although the end goal may be to get a good job upon graduation, that’s not the only goal.“We want them as close as possible to the best position for them when they interview,” says Mullins. He mentions a student who had turned down a job with a large salary because during the interview he became aware of the racism prevalent in that environment. He later found a job elsewhere for less money, but one that fit his values.

“That’s exactly what we teach them,” says Agarwal. “Money is the reward, not the reason. What you want to do is be happy, not make money.” That’s good advice for anyone.