Girl Rising, the Future and the UnClassroom

Girl Rising, the Future and the UnClassroom

Communication Studies / Harrington School-Wide

For women across the globe, especially in third world countries, the path to obtaining an education is impeded by societal, cultural and familial challenges that affect women more harshly than men. In order to share the stories of young girls who have surmounted these roadblocks, the Harrington School of Communication and Media and the Provost’s Office have sponsored a screening of Girl Rising,” a documentary that follows the stories of nine girls around the world who have risen above various roadblocks to receive an education. The documentary will be shown on November 13th at the Center for Biology and Life Sciences Auditorium at 4:30 p.m.

As a former international recruiter for the University of Rhode Island, Nancy Stricklin, Assistant to the Provost for Global Strategies and Academic Partnerships, has always felt it was important for students to have a deeper understanding of worldwide issues, such as the global educational gap between men and women. Viewing a documentary like “Girl Rising,” Stricklin said, helps students appreciate the freedoms enjoyed in the United States in regards to educational access, and facilitates meaningful thought about what life is like outside of the US.

“We encourage students to study abroad or take part in international service opportunities but I fully understand that its not always possible for some students,” Stricklin said. “That’s why I think its important that we bring experiences like this to URI, so we can help students increase their global competency and broaden their knowledge of worldwide issues.

Co-sponsoring the screening of “Girl Rising” is only one of the ways the Harrington School has sought to illuminate the struggles of women regarding education. In Spring 2014, the Harrington School will launch the UnClassroom, an interdisciplinary program where students will work on projects that a real-world client will use. One UnClassroom course is partnering with the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, a non-profit organization based in Providence that works with partner colleges and universities to provide a full four-year US undergraduate education, leadership and social entrepreneurship training for Afghan women. After graduation, the alumnae return to Afghanistan and take up leadership roles in their country.

“We’re thrilled to be participating as a subject of the UnClassroom,” said Christian Wistehuff, Executive Director of the IEAW. “We’re glad that we can find creative ways to work together and tap into the rich resources, expertise and energy of the URI community.”

The UnClassroom course will work with the IEAW to provide a sophisticated and up-to-date communications strategy that will broaden the IEAW donor base and better able them to connect with school and employment partners for IEAW students, according to Wistehuff. Wistehuff also expressed hope that the UnClassroom course would raise awareness of the organization, and help the IEAW communicate more efficiently with  key constituents.

“As a Rhode Island-based organization, it seemed like a natural fit to provide URI students with the opportunity to look at the Initiative as a client for this program,” said Wistehuff.

While the IEAW will be benefitting from student work, students will also have much to gain from taking part in the UnClassroom course. Students will be able to execute a communications plan in a safe environment, and will have the support of the organization, the faculty, and real world practitioners based in Providence and New York City who have agreed to lend their expertise to UnClassroom students. According to Communication Studies Professor Daphne Wales, teacher of this UnClassroom course, this style of hands-on experiential learning is something that students and employers have been yearning for.

“There’s an increased want and need for this kind of experience from both employers and for students looking for employment,” said Wales. “This partnership allows students to develop skills that they’re learning in the classroom and synthesize that material in real world experiences, versus simply simulating that experience in the classroom.”

The UnClassroom method of teaching, said Wales, allows students and faculty to challenge themselves to a higher level of learning than the traditional model of teachingOnce needs are identified by the client, students will work on projects to meet those needs, an experience which is vastly different from merely completing an assignment in a classroom. While Wales said that UnClassroom does not diminish the standard method of teaching, she said it would instead “up the ante” by adding a real world application to student work.

“This kind of teaching model relates to what many of us would call what makes for a good teacher: a synergistic and reciprocal relationship between students and faculty,” said Wales. “Faculty are stimulated and challenged along with students and there’s a tremendous potential for both of those parties to rise to a higher level of production, demonstrable understanding, and product.”

Providing students with an opportunity to bring project-based learning into the classroom has been an initiative the Harrington School has been developing since the summer of 2013. During that summer, Professor Frank Romanelli, the Project Leader of UnClassroom, met with a group of Harrington School faculty to develop ideas and goals of what they  imagined project-based learning would be at the Harrington School. This is when the term “UnClassroom” was born, and where it was decided that students would not study theory, but would be “learning in the doing,” according to Romanelli. Not only would students be embracing real world learning at URI, but they would be given opportunities to make positive change through partnerships with organizations like the IEAW.

The motto of the Harrington School is: working together, we use communication and information to make a difference in the world,” said Romanelli. “What partnership can live up to that motto better than this one?”

 By: Kimberly DeLande