By Hilary Armstrong
While the Lawrence University campus may appear to the casual observer to be quiet and mostly deserted in December, much learning is still taking place and some on quite distant shores. The Lawrence students have a holiday recess that takes them from Thanksgiving until after the New Year, but not all of them are heading home for a vacation. This year two groups of faculty and students, traveling in two very different directions, will no doubt both return with new knowledge, experience, and tales to tell.
With support of a grant awarded to Lawrence by the Henry Luce Foundation in New York, one group of 13 students and four faculty is headed to China as part of the college’s multi-disciplinary initiative “Sustainable China: Integrating Culture, Conservation and Commerce.” Led by Jane Parish Yang, associate professor of Chinese, and Jason Brozek, assistant professor of government, the students will be focusing on sustainable economic development, natural resource management, urban growth, and cultural and historic preservation.
“This grant offers our students first-hand experiences in China with study tours to both rural and urban sites as well as research opportunities on environmental and cultural issues, such as ethnic minorities and economic development,” said Parish Yang.
The traveling class will begin their journey in the renowned international metropolis of Shanghai and then move to Wuxi, in the Jiangsu Province. With its rapidly developing industry and infrastructure, Wuxi has become know for its prosperous economy. From here, the group will travel to Guiyang, the capital of the Guizhou Province. This area will afford them a broader understanding of old and new as they view the clearing of farm villages and the building of infrastructure for new cities.
The majority of their time will be spent in Guiyang, in partnership with the Guizhou Normal University, home of the Institute of China South Karst. Here they will work to improve understanding of how the three “Cs,” culture, conservation, and commerce, must be integrated to achieve true sustainability. They will attend informational sessions and engage in service learning projects.
Guiyang is home to many minority ethnic groups. Some of the Lawrence students will delve into the Miao ethnic minority. They will look at the batik-making process of the Miao women and connect how this traditional handicraft, using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique to create beautiful fabrics, can be preserved and compete with the automated international marketplace.
Next on their itinerary is Shenzhen, in the Guandong Province. Here students will witness the effect of the first Special Economic Zone. “In just 40 years, this area has transitioned from a small fishing village to a population of more than 10 million. It has become a highlight of China due to rapid economic growth,” explained Brozek.
The group will finish their travels in Hong Kong where they will contemplate historic preservation in a city of this scale. Land is extremely valuable, and understanding how to balance the preservation of history with the potential income that can be gained by selling to developers will be the focus. They will witness urban growth first hand, and view how the harbor reclamation has given way to massive skyscrapers. The students will return at the end of the month with a better understanding of the connection of culture, conservation and commerce–– Chinese style.
A second Lawrence contingent is heading in a totally different direction, West Africa. This mini study-abroad group of 16 Lawrence students and two faculty members will travel together with students and personnel from Milwaukee School of Engineering and DePaul University to Sierra Leone. This field experience is courtesy of a government class, by the same name, that the students are enrolled in, “Field Experience in Sierra Leone.” Claudena Skran, professor of government and a frequent visitor to Sierra Leone, is leading this trip.
“Community engagement is the primary focus of this trip. We are looking to encourage students to truly experience all that the community has to offer in a new environment and culture,” said Skran.
The individuals enrolled in this course are charged with developing and implementing a project that concerns economic, political, and/or environmental issues important to the area. Some of the Lawrence students will work with MSOE students to install a computer lab at Njala University in the capital city of Freetown. Others will collaborate with DePaul Conservatory of Music students to implement mini-music camps in area schools.
Accompanying the individuals on this trip will be books donated by the Appleton Public Library. These surplus books will provide the Lawrence students the opportunity to start up a small library in the Conforti School in Calaba Town, a school originally founded to cater to orphans, underprivileged, displaced or disabled children, and now numbering close to 600 students.
The relationship with the school began as part of the Kids Give Program. Founded by Professor Skran, this is a university-affiliated nonprofit organization whose mission is “to educate students in the United States about African life and cultures and promote informed giving while providing children in Sierra Leone with the opportunity to learn and become the next great leaders of their generation.”
Beyond opportunities to learn from national and local leaders while in Africa, one topic that the Lawrence students will focus on is health and nutrition. They will visit hospitals and clinics, looking at issues affecting women and children of the region. Comparisons will be done of the body mass index (BMI) measurements of children in the schools they are working in, compared to statistical norms for children of the same age. The Lawrence students will also visit maternity clinics in both urban and rural areas looking at childhood malnutrition and the correlation to beliefs on nursing.
Mackenzie Dwyer, a senior biology major from Reedsburg, WI, is using this short-term educational experience as the basis of her senior project. She had never taken government classes until now, and has long wanted to visit Africa. Dwyer is a great example of the interdisciplinary nature of these classes and experiences, and her research on nutrition will cross multiple disciplines.
“This is the true liberal arts that I came to Lawrence for, but missed out on until now, trying to get in all of my biology classes,” said Dwyer. “I came to Lawrence for the strong academics, but I fell in love with the atmosphere and opportunities. Where else can you sit with a professor and figure out how to go to Africa.”
Both groups will return to the states just before Christmas. As part of each educational experience, the students will put together presentations for the Lawrence community at large. There will be fascinating experiences and much learning to share.