On Dr. Eddie Henderson’s desk sits the latest issue of Condé Nast Traveler and an ivory elephant figurine. On the bookshelf are framed snapshots of Henderson atop an elephant from a recent trip to India and a photo of him with a group of West Texas A&M University students in front of the Taj Mahal.
While some might think him to merely be a jet-set traveler, a closer look reveals a photo that paints a different picture. This photo shows a beaming Henderson with an orphaned Mexican girl atop his shoulders, grinning from ear-to-ear.
Dr. Eddie Henderson, dean of the College of Education and Social Sciences, along with Dr. Angela Spaulding, associate dean, and their students have been traveling to central Mexico the last two summers. There, they have formed a bond with 35-orphaned girls and the four nuns who care for the children.
Their faculty-led, course embedded travel is part of the “Go Global” student travel initiative in the College of Education and Social Sciences. Henderson, Spaulding and faculty members are working to broaden students’ horizons with travel opportunities in 2008 to Mexico, India, Peru, Thailand and England, just to name a few.
“We are extending the WTAMU classroom into international communities,” Henderson said. The excursions range from ten days to two weeks and focus on achieving student learning outcomes within a service-learning context.
For instance, students who traveled to Mexico have positively impacted the lives of the orphaned girls at the Santa Julia Orphanage in San Miguel de Allende. WTAMU graduate and undergraduate students have completed educational assessments of the children’s general intelligence and achievement in reading, math, writing and spelling. Students also prepare reports in Spanish for the nuns and teachers of the children. Undergraduate students develop teaching materials and methods based on the assessment results and work directly with the children and their teachers in increasing their academic performance. These efforts have resulted in greater academic accomplishments and educational growth for the girls, according to Henderson.
The continuing demographic shift of individuals and families from Mexico, Central and South America has resulted in more Latino students in the Texas public school system. Students participating in the “Go Global” initiative are gaining cultural insight and skills better preparing them to meet the needs of all children in their future classrooms, including English language learners.
“The travel opportunities are changing perceptions and creating cross-cultural understanding in meaningful ways,” Henderson said. “Our students are gaining valuable insight into our global community and developing a broader understanding of and appreciation for diverse cultures.” Henderson and Spaulding are actively engaged in scholarly research related to the development of cross-cultural understanding. They have been invited to present their findings at several international conferences.
Henderson says that each travel opportunity is planned around a service-learning component and accomplishing student learning objectives. “It’s not about sightseeing,” Henderson notes. While some sightseeing is involved, like the group of students who visited the Taj Mahal in 120 degree weather, the main focus is on service and cross-cultural understanding. For example, students participating in the faculty-led excursion to Peru in July 2008 will be immersed in Peruvian culture while they assemble and install 150 stoves in remote homes over the course of five days.
“We attempt to structure the student experience as authentically as possible,” Henderson said. “For example, our students participate in Mexican cooking classes taught in a Mexican home, not in a cooking school for gringos. We travel by public transportation including the Indian trains and Mexican buses.” Additionally, students participate in a variety of cultural experiences including bullfighting lessons and salsa dancing.
Students engage in significant preparatory work prior to embarking on their journeys. Several books are required reading to educate the students about a country’s history, religion and social issues. Writing assignments before, during and after travel are also key, and a day of orientation is conducted to manage students’ expectations.
Henderson says one strategic goal is for a majority of students in the college of education to experience international travel before they graduate. Recently, an endowment was established to provide financial support to undergraduate student travel in the college.
“Our students are members of a global community,” Henderson said. “Our goal is that our graduates will be prepared to fully participate in the social, political and economic life of the nation and the world. We’re confident our “Go Global” initiative advances our mission in a meaningful way.”
And as for the girls from the orphanage? Henderson believes that one day we will welcome some of them as students into the WTAMU family.
If you’d like to learn more about the “Go Global” program, or to read journals posted during the excursions, visit the College of Education and Social Sciences, or visit the girls at the Santa Julia Orphanage.