Heidi Eschenbacher, Fran Vavrus, Matthew Thomas, and Ferdinand ChipindiWorking in Lusaka, Zambia, left to right, Heidi Eschenbacher, Fran Vavrus, Matthew Thomas, and Ferdinand Chipindi.

World classroom

Global brainpower and a balance of theory and applied experience set Minnesota’s comparative and international development program apart

FERDINAND CHIPINDI was teaching more than 800 students at the University of Zambia in 2013 when he made his first connection with the University of Minnesota. He had risen quickly through UNZA’s ranks after completing his bachelor’s degree, retained to serve on the faculty of education while beginning a master’s degree. Yet Chipindi knew he needed a doctorate to meet the demands of his job, his students, and his country.

Zambia made the transition to multi-party democracy in 1991. More than three times the area of Minnesota, it is a nation of 14.3 million people that regards education as a basic human right. Despite impressive progress during Chipindi’s lifetime, Zambia’s educational quality remains poor and its challenges are daunting.

Chipindi got the name of a U.S. contact, Matthew Thomas, ’13, who emailed him back. There was a team in Zambia right now, Thomas wrote.

Less than an hour later, Chipindi met Heidi Eschenbacher, ’11, and Roozbeh Shirazi from the University of Minnesota. They were in Lusaka for work on a U.S. Agency for International Development project. STEP-Up Zambia* is a five-year effort in which the University of Minnesota is collaborating with Zambian leaders and educators to improve educational quality through policy-relevant research by Zambian faculty.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is a rare opportunity,’” Chipindi remembers. He was impressed by Eschenbacher’s passion as the project coordinator and immediately sought ways to get involved and contribute from his UNZA position.

A year later he met the project’s co-principal investigator when she came for a workshop with the partners. Frances Vavrus is a renowned international educator with years of engagement in Tanzania, Zambia’s neighbor to the north. Chipindi observed her grasp of the issues, personal warmth, and skill working in groups.

“In the workshop, we struggled to put across our thoughts,” Chipindi says. “She is able to get the concept quickly, and to phrase it in a way that helps to decode it.”

Vavrus saw an engaged scholar.

“He was asking thoughtful questions and facilitating among his colleagues,” she remembers. “He was a critical thinker and also had the professional experience that is generally the mark of a more mature scholar.”

Chipindi was encouraged to apply for the University’s doctoral program in comparative and international development education (CIDE). He was accepted with full support, including a Mellon Scholarship, and last summer he bid farewell to his students, colleagues, and family.

Comparative and international development education program track

Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development

M.A. established 1986, Ph.D. 1993

The combination of comparative, international development, intercultural, and international education provides unusual breadth.

Comparative education: an academic field of study that examines education and societal relations in one context (country, region, or state) in relation to another context in order to understand similarities and illuminate differences

International development education: research, study, and application of knowledge about the role of education in the development of societies

Intercultural education: research, study, and application of knowledge about interpersonal relations among different cultures and the role of education in fostering these relations

International education: an interdisciplinary field of study and practice that situates education within international relations and globalization and considers how education can prepare students to engage in international or global issues

Chipindi joined the University of Minnesota as an international student, bringing his years of teaching expertise and knowledge of Zambia’s educational system, culture, and challenges to the classroom. He jumped right in, taking five classes, serving on the college curriculum committee, and participating in the U’s Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change.

“In my classes, I began to look at my classmates as resources available to me—for peer review, for so many things,” says Chipindi, “and I have never been so engaged when reading and then discussing what we read.”

He began to see how to choose his dissertation topic—which, he notes, could have been imposed upon him. Instead, he is examining what motivates him and the topics to which he responds most strongly.

At the semester’s end, Chipindi flew home to spend the break with his wife and young children. And in January, he got to join in another STEP-Up Zambia workshop. Vavrus, Eschenbacher, Thomas, and Chipindi facilitated the workshop in Lusaka with staff from the national ministry, the University of Zambia, and ZAMISE—the principal institution that prepares special education teachers.

“I can see my life changing,” he says. “But more than that, as a member of the teaching fraternity, I know the benefits to the students will be great—our nation and its people are the ones who will really benefit. It’s very, very exciting.”

Bringing the world to the classroom

Step into any CIDE classroom, and the brainpower from around the world is impressive. The program currently enrolls 95 doctoral students and 33 master’s students from 21 countries on four continents. Not all have professional experience like Chipindi’s, but they bring cultural knowledge and years of experience in varied settings—schools, international development organizations, government, for-profit and non-profit groups, and more. That global breadth and depth of the student cohort is one of its key strengths.

“CIDE is multicultural and international in terms of students,” says Erica Ledesma, ’06, now working with the Diversity Network at Diversity Abroad, a consortium dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusive excellence in international education. “The perspectives in the room were a huge factor in the benefits I gained. It helped me learn how to question my own assumptions and thoughts.”

The power of the cohort continues far beyond graduation, says Holly Emert, ’08. She came to the program after years of teaching that included China and a Fulbright in France. Today she is based at the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C., where she manages the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program.

“When you finish, you are part of a network that is so valuable,” says Emert. “I can name 10 CIDE people around the world right now that I contact on a regular basis.”

The strength and diversity of the CIDE student body is not a coincidence. It grew from a focus on courses and curriculum by founding faculty in the early 1980s, who engaged students from across the University. A rich curriculum with depth in three areas—comparative, intercultural/international, and international development education—made CIDE stand out, nationally and internationally, from the start (see box above left, and read the related story, “Theory and practice“).

And the faculty, marked by a collaborative, applied approach, only became stronger. Vavrus and her colleagues have worked to update and hone the coursework and cohort model on campus while remaining deeply engaged in work around the globe. They continually meet working professionals in their own environments, some who are drawn to Minnesota.

In CIDE, international and U.S. students and faculty learn and work as partners. Essentially, everyone is an international learner and teacher.

Bringing the classroom to the world

Joan DeJaeghere was a CIDE doctoral student with a lot of international experience when, in 1999, she accompanied professor David Chapman to Pakistan to evaluate a girls’ education program funded by a major foundation. Chapman is one of the world’s leading international education consultants and evaluators.

“That was a pivotal experience,” says DeJaeghere, who grew up on a farm in western Minnesota. She had started asking questions about inequalities while studying international relations as an undergraduate. “The trip allowed me to return to questions of development and what education can do to address inequalities.”

The experience also sparked DeJaeghere’s thinking about how to make graduate education more connected to problems and projects. As she completed her doctorate, started a family, and continued to teach and work for international organizations, she applied for grants in collaboration with Chapman and other colleagues that allowed her to test research questions. Many of those grants also provided learning experiences for graduate students. In 2007 DeJaeghere was hired into a CIDE faculty position.

“I am trying to bring together the areas of international education and international development education in my work,” she explains. “How could we bring a grant program into the classroom, and the classroom to a grant program?”

After leading a three-year research project in eight countries for CARE, a humanitarian organization dedicated to women and girls’ empowerment around the world, DeJaeghere was approached by the MasterCard Foundation Canada to write a proposal, this time to conduct a six-year evaluation of a youth-livelihoods initiative in eastern Africa.

A 10-person research team sits in the shade around an outdoor table as one of them speaks.
Learn, Earn, and Save: In Tanzania, a Paraguayan youth development organization’s research team debriefed. Joan DeJaeghere is seated at the far end on the right; next to her, Laura Willemsen; center left, Nelson Masanche Nkhoma. Photo courtesy of Joan DeJaeghere.

In 2011, DeJaeghere and Chapman won the $3.4 million grant. It is a project that does what DeJaeghere envisioned: brings a research and development program into the classroom and the classroom to the field. Now in its fourth year, more than 50 graduate students in CIDE and other graduate programs have gained experience evaluating the work of three foreign youth development organizations working in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Nelson Masanche Nkhoma of Malawi and Laura Willemsen originally of Austin, Minnesota, are doctoral students who have traveled for three consecutive summers on the MasterCard Foundation Learn, Earn, and Save initiative. In Tanzania, they have worked with a Paraguayan foundation’s research team to conduct interviews with youth and stakeholders, to train local data collectors, and to analyze data. Before and after each trip, they prepare intensively on campus, working with the other teams going to Uganda and Kenya.

“It’s like a mini United Nations,” says Nkhoma, naming nationalities of other students on the project—Turkey, Egypt, Zambia, and many more. “It’s diverse but also a closely knit program.”

“There’s constant learning from each other—that’s a transformative piece,” says Willemsen. “Our Tanzanian colleagues call the team a family now.”

This year the team received some welcome news. A USAID report identified the evaluation assessment instruments developed and used in the Learn, Earn, and Save Initiative among the top five in a national search and review of measuring instruments relevant to youth education and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, DeJaeghere is looking ahead. She doesn’t let funding drive her research, she says, but takes those opportunities that let her pursue a question.

“The bigger question for me is ‘How is education changing youths’ lives?’” she says. “For example, it may be teaching people to be workers, but what is it doing for them as individuals, as citizens?” That is the topic of her book in progress.

Intercultural is local

Gopher football players Cameron Botticelli and Donnell Kirkwood did not imagine they would help to prepare a multicultural meal —with origins in Singapore—when they registered last fall for OLPD 5132, Intercultural Education and Training.

“We thought the class would be about diversity here in the U.S.,” says Botticelli.

“And it is,” says Kirkwood, “but we didn’t really expect how international it would be, too.”

Botticelli and Kirkwood were two of 18 students led by associate professor Michael Goh through a semester of learning about culture, in and out of the classroom.

One assignment was an Intercultural Quest. Another was an opportunity to serve as table-conversation facilitators for a huge annual community event, “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race,” sponsored by YWCA Minneapolis with support from a dozen major corporations and other organizations.

In the last weeks of class, everyone signed up to bring ingredients, from dry roasted peanuts to English cucumber and frozen hashbrowns. On the appointed morning, several students came early to help. Everyone arrived, leaving shoes by the door.

Table of colorful dishes, professor demonstrates for gathered students
Michael Goh set the table for a multicultural meal during the last session of his class. Photo courtesy of Michael Goh.

Around a dazzling table of bright dishes and vegetables, Goh provided an orientation to food ways adapted from his home country and taught the final class throughout the meal. Soon everyone was assembling wraps and the conversation was punctuated by laughter and reflections on the semester.

“Food—breaking bread—is a source of nourishment and cultural learning in how it unifies but also distinguished humankind,” says Goh. “It’s also a space where most people, even sometimes enemies, partake peacefully.

“When it comes to intercultural relationships, being invited to one’s home is a cultural act denoting a willingness to be vulnerable when reaching out to build bridges with others,” he says.

Goh started inviting students to his house for a meal 14 years ago. Once an international student himself, he was moved by the troubling fact that most international students in the United States never see the inside of a U.S. home. But he found that involving them in providing the ingredients was a golden learning opportunity—it challenged them to visit ethnic grocery stores and required an attention to detail required of intercultural encounters.

In CIDE, Goh draws on his background in educational and counseling psychology to help students learn how to learn. One example has been helping to develop the curriculum for the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, preparing CEHD’s teacher candidates for increasingly multicultural classrooms.

Doctoral student Doug Kennedy is an advisee of Goh’s who came to the CIDE program with years of teaching experience.

“I first learned about ‘CQ’—cultural intelligence—in his course,” says Kennedy. “I remember sitting in his office talking about how it could be applied to teacher professional development. As a teacher it made intuitive sense to me.”

Kennedy is working to find ways to understand and develop intercultural abilities. His work with Goh has led to more international collaborations and opening doors to research.

Last summer, Goh accepted an appointment as associate vice provost in the University’s Office of Equity and Diversity. He’s still teaching in CIDE but now also travels around the University system, listening, leading discussions, and challenging faculty, staff, and academic leaders to support a diverse and interdisciplinary community.

When the last students left his home after the multicultural meal last December, he was off to a meeting at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Read more about the comparative and international development education program in “Theory and practice.”

Story by Gayla Marty | Photo by Jason J. Mulikita, JJArts Photography | Spring/summer 2015

*Strengthening Educational Performance (STEP)-Up Zambia is a program in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training, and Early Education. It is supported by USAID through a contract to Chemonics International, with the U of M as a subcontractor.