MSU Denver students made—and saw—history this past summer during an 8-week study-abroad trip to Ethiopia.
The 15 students, selected on the basis of academic achievement and interest in the social sciences, were the first from the University to study in the east African county, where they explored its culture and history through excursions to historical sites and rigorous classes co-taught by professors from MSU Denver and Aksum University (also spelled Axum). The students, along with three faculty members and a staff member, were supported by a $272,425 U.S. Department of State grant awarded to the University to solidify its partnership with Aksum University.
“It was amazing. Each student had a different individual experience. They got to explore their own unique interests,” says Adrienne Christy, web and multimedia developer for the Education Technology Center. Joining her were Ali Thobhani, executive director of the Office of International Studies and project director for the trip; Jacqueline McLeod, professor in the Departments of History and African and African American Studies, and Julie Reyes, assistant professor of anthropology.
Christy’s documentary film of the trip, which will be finished this spring, will show how the students were transformed by their experience and include footage of their excursions to several locations such as Addis Ababa; the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela; the castles in Gondar, and the Debre Damo, an ancient monastery in the mountains, only accessible by climbing a rope on the side of a five-story cliff.
“I’ve always learned about the diversity, but I think I actually got a chance to see it,” says student Juanita Valdez, who studies African and African American studies for teaching licensure in secondary education. She said Ethiopians are a very proud people. “They definitely know who they are.”
“Ethiopia was attractive because it was the only country that maintained its independence through colonialism,” says Valdez, who had never traveled overseas before. “They trace their lineage all the way to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. They still have those strong ties to their history.”
The Building Sustainable Study Abroad Capacity grant paid for faculty salaries and most of the students’ expenses, including airfares, lodging, meals and local transportation. They paid their own tuition for the nine credits hours they took at Aksum University.
Thobhani says it was an important step in strengthening the relationship established in 2009 between MSU Denver and Aksum University.
“The first goal (of the trip) was to help Aksum University in building its capacity to receive American students in the future,” Thobhani says. “The second was to create an opportunity for American students to study in a nontraditional destination.”
Plans are in the works for the president of Aksum University to visit MSU Denver in the spring, when he will meet with faculty and administrators make connections in the community and discuss ways to further strengthen the partnership. The University has led several initiatives, including a book drive for Ethiopian students and fundraising for an elementary school in Adwa. It hosted the Aksum mayor, and a delegation from MSU Denver visited Ethiopia last summer, and President Stephen Jordan led a second delegation there as part of partnership.
Thobhani says the University will continue looking into ways to build upon the partnership, while exploring similar funding opportunities. He says the University has recently received a grant to take students in the Teacher Education Program, along with Denver Public Schools teachers, to Turkey next summer.
“It’s important for our students to know about the rest of the world,” he says.
Other trips planned
MSU Denver officials will also be going abroad this fall to strengthen the University’s ties to partner institutions.
A second visit to Albania and MSU Denver's sister-university, the University of Shkodra, is planned for Oct. 23-28. President Stephen Jordan, School of Professional Studies Dean Sandra Haynes, Thobhani and two faculty members will talk with their Albanian counterparts about next steps for the University's partnership. The country is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
And, an MSU Denver delegation headed by Vicki Golich, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, Thobhani and Kelly Huang, the administrative assistant for the office, will head to China for a Nov. 13 conference then to Yunnan Radio & Television University (YRTVU), which has had a partnership with MSU Denver since 2007. The delegation also will deliver a letter from the city of Denver to officials of Kunming, one of Denver's sister cities.
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