Isenberg Students Foster Computer Literacy in South Africa
May 17, 2016
A key stop on Isenberg's annual course-based visit to South Africa in May is the Timbavati Foundation in the country's northeast corner. On the western boundary of the giant Kruger National Park game reserve, the foundation serves local communities by promoting conservation and environmental awareness, community development, healthcare, and education.
For the second year running, 30 Isenberg students, led by Isenberg lecturer and writing teacher Michael Schurter, are delivering donated computers for an initiative at Timbavati that is fostering computer literacy for local students and park rangers.
The stopover dovetails with an earlier trip in January to Timbavati in which 11 visitors from Isenberg focused on computer literacy and training. (They also brought along donated laptops for a local high school served by the foundation.) During their stay, the Isenberg students, a UMass doctoral candidate in education, and project leader Christina Monte conducted three days of seminars that imparted computer, math, and leadership skills to teachers and park rangers. “For the most part, we trained the trainers—the educators—in skills that have a decisive community impact,” emphasizes Monte, who is Isenberg’s Director of Undergraduate Enrollment Management and Student Success.
Through its ambitious mandate, Timbavati’s training initiatives serve 30 high schools, 21 primary schools, and 1000 park rangers. The Isenberg students devised and delivered lesson plans for 100 teachers and 100 park rangers. Michelle Eastman, the doctoral candidate and a practicing high school teacher, worked directly with high school teachers on math pedagogy.
Management Skills for Park Rangers
“We targeted park rangers,” notes Monte, "because they promote conservation, sustainability, and environmental awareness in the surrounding communities. They also monitor community health and safety and are the reserve’s first-line of defense against poaching.” Computer training for the rangers included a template—devised by Isenberg undergraduates Richard Egan and Kulsoom Rizvan—that streamlined activity planning. The students also introduced a lesson plan devoted to shared leadership practices.
The Bigger Picture
The long-term plan, explains Isenberg undergraduate dean Linda Shea, is to run two trips to South Africa each year--a course-related visit that includes delivery of donated computers in May, and a service-focused visit during Spring Break that offers training and hardware. "Our aim is to help jump start computer literacy in as many schools as possible," she says.
“Isenberg’s South African service initiatives and our other overseas course-travel options are participants in our Citizens First Program,” emphasizes Dean Shea. “The idea is to instill in our students a mindset of responsible citizenship, of gratitude, of helping others. Our aim is to build habits of helpfulness in one's home or dorm, in communities, and in places of business," she remarks. When students demonstrate that commitment throughout their years at Isenberg, they receive a Citizens First certificate honoring their accomplishments. “But for most of our students, that honor is an afterthought,” says Shea. “Their motivation is intrinsic. What we do is give them opportunities.”
During an Isenberg Citizens First service trip to South Africa, nine Isenberg students conducted three days of seminars that imparted computer literacy, math skills, and leadership savvy to teachers and park rangers at the Timbavati Foundation.