Global Engagement grant to bring African students to UNL

Patrice McMahon
Patrice McMahon

Thanks to a grant from the State Department, 20 of the best and brightest African students will spend four weeks in January in focused classes and activities at UNL related to American government, politics, civic engagement and community service.

The $216,000 grant was secured by Patrice McMahon, director of Global Engagement, Linda Major, director of the Center for Civic Engagement, and Damien Pfister, assistant professor of communication studies, to host a winter U.S. Institute on Civic Engagement.

The grant allows the students to attend classes and activities at UNL starting Jan. 5. The students are chosen by the State Department, but McMahon said UNL students also will be chosen as mentors.

The program will provide a series of lectures on American government and history, American society, rights in the United States and the world, and digital media and civic activism. Lectures and seminars will include 20 UNL undergraduate students chosen for the program. Classes will be coupled with relevant site visits and co-curricular leadership activities.

The program will culminate in an integrated service tour in Alabama and Mississippi before concluding in Washington.

McMahon said UNL and Lincoln provide a good home base for the institute -- Nebraska's state government will be in full working mode during the students' stay. The city of Lincoln is also diverse with many cultural offerings, which helped secure the grant, she said.

“Since the early 1950s, Nebraska has become an increasingly popular location for refugee resettlement and immigration,” McMahon wrote in the grant proposal. “Lincoln has the fifth largest refugee population per capita in the United States. The community has been greatly enriched by these new Nebraskans, but also by the city’s growing Native African, African American, and Latino populations.

“Additionally, Nebraska is ideally located in the middle of the United States. Too often the United States is represented by a focus either on New York or California; our program will provide foreign students with different picture of American life and culture.”

While the gathering will focus largely on the African students, UNL students will benefit from having African students on campus. The students chosen as mentors will have the opportunity to do a study-abroad trip to South Africa the following summer.

McMahon said she hopes this will motivate the UNL students to keep in regular contact with their African counterparts and to continue to talk about their experiences from the classes.

For UNL, hosting the sessions creates new connections with fellow host universities, which number about a dozen around the United States.

“It is a benefit to join a broader consortium of universities that are doing this for the State Department,” McMahon said. “We are joining an elite group of universities.”

The winter institute is the only one funded by the grant, but institutions can re-apply, which McMahon plans to do.

“For many of the universities hosting these institutes, it has been a multi-year program and I hope that will be true for UNL as well,” she said.

McMahon will be the academic director of the institute and Major will work as administrative director. Pfister will be assistant director. Several other faculty will give their time to teach courses during the visit.

-- Deann Gayman, University Communications