Ecology class connects OU with Pakistan, Guatemala

In an effort to help improve global education and understanding, Oakland University’s Office of Global Engagement has received two grants to help educators and students in Pakistan and Guatemala. 

The grants, both from the U.S. Department of State, are the $400,000 Exchange for Pakistani Secondary Educators and Administrators: Equity, Access and Learning Disabilities in Secondary Schools grant and the $25,000 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund. These grants mark the first time OU has worked with Pakistan and Guatemala. 

The Pakistan grant will bring 18 teachers and two administrators from Pakistan to help develop an understanding of learning disabilities and develop teaching strategies to accommodate affected students over two five-week periods in 2020 and 2021. 

“This is at a very basic level for these teachers who may not understand how learning disability and learning difference is affecting students in their classroom,” said Rosemary Max, executive director of global engagement. “It is a basic review of understanding how we see these issues in the U.S., how they manifest themselves in the classroom and how they [teachers] might adapt or understand what is happening in their own classrooms in Pakistan.”

At OU, Pakistani educators will attend seminars on learning disabilities and visit The Joanne and Ted Lindsay Foundation Autism Outreach Services (OUCARES) to learn about its programs. There are plans to visit local classrooms, and each yearly session will also include a cultural trip to either Chicago or Philadelphia.

The 100,000 Strong grant will have biology students from the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC) coming to OU as a part of the “Tropical Field Ecology” class.

“For the first time, in the summer of 2020, OU students are … going to Guatemala for approximately a 10-day-long course,” ecology professor Dr. Scott Tiegs said. “What is special about this … is that after we go there, a group of Guatemalan students will be returning to Michigan.”

When in Guatemala, the students will be looking at the myriad ecologies of the Central American country. The USAC students will be staying on campus and studying the freshwater ecology of Michigan at the OU Biological Preserves, Galloway Creek and the Au Sable River in Grayling. 

“When people think of the tropics they typically think of rainforests and coral reefs,” Tiegs said. “One thing I like to do with my class is to expose them to the diverse types of ecosystems that can be found in the tropics.”

Some of the ecosystems Tiegs plans on showing the class include rain forests, cloud forests and mangrove forests along the Carribean coast.

Aside from the educational portions of the 100,000 Strong grant, there is a cultural portion to the trips. Visiting students will improve their understanding of their host nation’s languages and do other cultural activities. In Guatemala, OU students will visit the city of Antigua and learn how indigenous people there have been responding to climate change.

“I think that textbooks and classrooms can only take you so far,” Tiegs said. “To really appreciate ecosystems, you need to experience them with your senses. You need to experience the humidity, the heat, to hear the birds … It gives you a lot more of an immediate, impressionistic understanding for how these ecosystems function and that is something you can really only get through these sort of immersive field experiences.”

Tiegs would like to thank the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, Alex Zimmerman and the international education faculty, The Office of the Provost, and University Housing for their help in writing and winning the 100,000 Strong grant.