History In the Making: Oglethorpe Visits Cuba

Dr. Mario Chandler and Dr. Viviana Plotnik, together with President Schall, led a group of OU students on an educational trip to Cuba over winter break as part of a course focusing on Cuban history, politics and culture.  This is the first Oglethorpe University educational trip to this country.

The course, taken for academic credit, included extensive lectures, readings, films, homework, and other requirements. The trip focused on hands-on exploration of Havana’s extensive Asian heritage, the historical and contemporary importance of Cuba’s tobacco industry as well as the island’s economic importance.  After the trip, each student had to turn in a journal and each are required to write a reserach paper due later in the semester.

The trip coincided with Delta Airlines’ adding direct flights from Atlanta to Cuba in December 2011. The decision allows  for flights for passengers with close relatives in Cuba, for those who are involved in the medical or agricultural business sectors, or for education or religious activities. OU’s group was on one of the first  flights to Cuba, just a few days after Christmas. Dr. Chandler shared his thoughts on the trip with the OU Blog.

OU Blog: How did the trip to Cuba come to fruition?

Dr. Chandler: The idea for the OU trip to Cuba was inspired, in fact, by President Schall, who has great interest in the Spanish language and Latin American issues.  The President approached me and my colleague in Spanish, Dr. Viviana Plotnik, and shared with us his desire to see such an opportunity come to fruition for our students.  Dr. Plotnik and I designed the itinerary and course, which received an enthusiastic and immediate response from the campus community.  We were able to put all of the organization pieces together during the Fall 2011 semester.

OU Blog: Why was this trip important?

Dr. Chandler:  For me the trip to Cuba symbolized one important, but all-encompassing notion: opportunity.  This trip constituted an opportunity for Oglethorpe students to engage Cuban culture, history, and society on that country’s terms rather than through a five-decade long filter of misunderstanding and distrust between Cuba and our country.  Unfortunately, the average American students’ views about Cuba are often imbued with misunderstanding, so an opportunity to challenge popular opinion by allowing students to meet Cubans and engage issues from an internal perspective is a powerful and potentially transformative educational experience.  As Spanish professors, Dr. Plotnik and I couldn’t be more proud than to have had the chance to shepherd our students in their navigation of this wonderful opportunity, an exercise that takes place, ideally, in the people’s language…Spanish.

OU Blog: How was the Oglethorpe group received by the local people?

Dr. Chandler: Our OU group members were consummate ambassadors throughout our Cuban journey.  We were proud to see our students using the Spanish language for engaging in daily contact with Cubans, for holding conversations and maintaining discussions, and for cultivating acquaintances that extended beyond the typical tourist demarcations.  Frequently, throughout our Cuban travels, we used public transportation alongside Cubans going about their daily tasks or ate peanuts while strolling the country’s prados and malecons, in small but significant ways bringing us closer to our Cuban hosts and erasing barriers on both sides whether real or invented.

If you would like to learn more about this trip, Dr. Chandler, Dr. Plotnik, and Oglethorpe students will give a presentation about their experiences as part of tomorrow’s OU Day celebrations. Join the conversation, “OU Student Reflections on Cuban Culture–What Happens in Cuba Doesn’t Stay in Cuba,” on Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 12:10 p.m. in the Conant Performing Arts Center. For more photos from the Cuba trip, check out Flickr. For more information about Oglethorpe’s study abroad program, check out OUSA’s page.

Oglethorpe’s First Lady on the Road in Uganda

Last month the OU Blog told you about a lecture and book signing by author Twesigye Jackson Kaguri and organized by Oglethorpe’s Women’s Network.

In Kaguri’s book, A School for My Village: A Promise to the Orphans of Nyaka, he describes his amazing journey from a small farm in Uganda to the ivy halls of Columbia University, and then home again to build a tuition-free school for almost 500 Nyaka orphans.

Affected by the Kaguri’s story, Betty Londergan, President Schall’s wife, journeyed to Uganda, to see the work of Kaguri’s Nyaka AIDS Orphan School wtih her own eyes. Read about her experiences and follow her journey on her blog:

Nov. 11 – You are welcome here, Bet-ty!
Nov. 14 – Somewhere over the rainbow…
Nov. 17 – Not the same old song.

Oglethorpe to Award Three Honorary Degrees at May 7 Commencement

Researcher and author Dr. Richard Wrangham is a trustee of the Jane Goodall Institute and a former trustee of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

The Oglethorpe University 2011 commencement ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 9:00 a.m., on the academic quadrangle of the OU campus. President Larry Schall will preside over the ceremony that will honor more than 250 graduating students.

This year, Oglethorpe will present honorary degrees to three distinguished members of the civic and academic worlds:

Award-winning poet Linda Bierds

–  Award-winning poet and University of Washington Professor of English Linda Bierds will receive a Doctor of Letters honorary degree.

The Honorable Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta, will receive a Doctor of Laws honorary degree.

Dr. Richard Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University, will receive a Doctor of Sciences honorary degree.

Each honorary degree recipient will address the Class of 2011. Past honorary degree recipients include such well-known names as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Woodrow Wilson, and Amelia Earhart.

Additional commencement ceremony details may be found at www.oglethorpe.edu/commencement. Continue reading

OU in India: Investing in Change through Social Enterprise

OU President Larry Schall journeyed to India to participate in the 2010 Enterprising Schools Symposium, along with the inaugural class of the IDEX Fellowship for Social Enterprise. Launched in early 2010, IDEX is a unique early entry professional development program for recent college graduates interested in the field of social enterprise. IDEX is managed by Oglethorpe University and sponsored by Gray Matters Capital.  

From Hyderabad, India:

I will never complain about Atlanta traffic or Atlanta drivers again. Today I ventured out on the street on foot for the first time and crossing the street is virtually impossible for the faint of heart. After standing and waiting for an opening for 15 minutes I finally found someone else crossing and attached myself to his hip as he just wandered out amidst hundreds of cars and cycles zipping by.

I am in Hyderabad visiting Oglethorpe’s 11 IDEX fellows, a group of recent college graduates, from OU and five or six other colleges in the States, spending a year in India working in what are called Affordable Private Schools or Enterprising Schools. Their mission is to assist the owners of these schools—in Hyderabad alone, there are over one thousand in operation–to develop sustainable business plans and improve the quality of education across the sector. These schools are also known as slum schools because only the poorest of the poor attend these places in a attempt to improve the lives of the lives of their children (the public system is a disaster here at least for these children). So the parents pay a few dollars a month in tuition as an alternative.

Each of our fellows is placed in a different school and the schools vary widely. One I visited yesterday had 600 students enrolled, from age three to sixteen, in a building a whole lot smaller than our homes. The first grade had close to 90 students in a room about 20 feet square. Yet, it was all orderly and there was learning going on, although certainly not at a level any of us would accept.

Grace Model is Ember Melcher’s school, a 2009 OU graduate. I spent a couple hours with her school owners, an amazing couple who have put everything they have into this cause. Ember is trying to help them figure out how much revenue they bring in and what they are spending. Their tuition is the lowest of all the schools we are working with and it has remained virtually the same for all nine years since the school opened. Despite that, about 25% of the parents are unable to pay and the owners cover their costs from their own pockets and with the help of a few donors. Ember has started a library at Grace Model, their first.

Allison Grossman’s (Emory, 2010) school, Lohia’s Little Angels, is run by Miss Lohia, and if you ask me, she is an angel. I got to spend some time with the eighth grade girls who have become Alli’s little posse. In just a few weeks, the attachments are palpable. This little gang of six who performed a dance for us last night at the international symposium on APS schools that is being held in Hyderabad this week were as poised and outgoing as any 13 year olds I have ever met. I am already trying to figure out how to get Alli’s entire posse to Oglethorpe.

It’s just remarkable to me how much our fellows are accomplishing. They are changing a little part of the world as their own lives are changing in ways they could not have imagined.