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Off-campus studies office introduces two new programs in Mexico, Ethiopia

Carleton’s Off-Campus Studies office (OCS) is introducing two new winter break programs to its menu. “Food, Forests, and Resilience: Systems of Socio-Ecological Sustainability” will take students to Oaxaca, Mexico, and “Climate Change and Human Health: From Science to Practice” will bring students to Ethiopia. Both programs promote an interdisciplinary approach to education, weaving together practical and theoretical pedagogy from the social sciences and humanities.

Carleton’s “Climate Change and Human Health” program will explore the relationship between human health and household energy choices using Ethiopia as a case study. The program will be co-led by Environmental Studies Professor Tsegaye Nega and Chemistry Professor Deborah Gross. Nega has led several off-campus studies programs in the past, many of which included time in Ethiopia. In 2008, he spearheaded the “Energy, Health, and Environment” winter break program to Ethiopia and Tanzania, which focused on conservation biology and was run again in the winter of 2013 and 2016. The new Ethiopia program will mark Gross’ first time teaching Carleton students abroad.

While Nega and Gross’ program will feature content similar to that of past Ethiopia programs, it will introduce a new focus relevant to the professors’ current work. “This program is new in that it focuses specifically on getting students to actively participate in work related to the twin themes of the program: climate change and human health,” explained Gross. “The winter break portion of the program will involve student projects related to the health impacts of using cooking methods which produce high levels of air pollution,” she noted.

Nega is currently involved in a project to manufacture and distribute sustainable clean-air cookstoves to Ethiopian households in order to combat respiratory issues which arise from cooking with dirty fuels indoors. Carleton faculty and students have both been involved in this project. “[Nega’s] independent work directly influenced ongoing stove design studies based at Carleton. The winter break 2020 program builds directly on this work and on Gross’ previous offering of ENTS 289 (Climate Change and Human Health) in the spring of 2018,” explained Gross. Students enrolled in ENTS298 also had the option to travel to Ethiopia in August 2018 to participate in a pilot program focused on the implementation of clean-burning cookstoves within the household.

Nega and Gross are overjoyed to see that OCS will be providing students with the opportunity to study in Ethiopia again. “We were so pleased with the outcomes of the ENTS 289 class in Spring 2018, including the trip for the students who we could take in the summer, that we wanted to continue doing it, and have a chance to involve more students. Applying for it to be an official OCS program seemed the natural next step. We were thrilled when it was approved!”

OCS’ creation of the “Food, Forests, and Resilience” program marks Carleton’s first off-campus study opportunity in Mexico. The program is slated to be led by Biology professor Dan Hernández and Anthropology professor Constanza Ocampo-Raeder. Like the new Ethiopia program, “Food, Forests, and Resilience” will prioritize experiential learning, using the biologically and culturally rich community of Oaxaca as a case study for investigating the processes of agriculture, sustainable forestry and ecotourism.

The addition of these programs will bolster Carleton’s winter break portfolio to a total of four, three of which are based outside the U.S. “We would like to maintain a healthy balance between these short, course-embedded experiences and our term-long options that are more culturally immersive. This means offering somewhere between two and four such programs per year,” explained OCS Director Helena Kaufman.

OCS established the shorter format of the winter break program in the 1990s following the recommendations of Biology professor Mike McKone. “We created them to give students an opportunity to try something on a short-term basis with the hope that they’ll be inspired to do something longer in the future,” Kaufman explained. Kaufman also noted that “these programs are great for students who might not have the flexibility in their schedules to take a whole term off.”

Unlike term-long programs, winter break programs are designed to be a continuation of students’ fall term course work. Upon their return to campus, students will enroll in a second related course, during which they will wrap up their research typically through a project or paper. This “sandwich” model enables professors to both augment and contextualize classroom learning within real world experience. “Pedagogically, this is a dream situation,” Kaufman stated.

As all Carleton-run study abroad programs are implemented upon professor request, most programs will draw on the academic interests and scholarly research of the professor(s) in charge. According to Kaufman, OCS receives between three and six proposals for new programs per year.

Despite professors’ demonstrated interest in leading off-campus studies programs, the OCS budget is only capable of funding three winter break programs per year. While term-long Carleton programs are covered by student tuition, winter break programs fall outside the academic calendar and therefore pose additional costs, Kaufman explained. OCS is able to cover these costs in mediation, with the exception of providing student airfare. However, a number of grants are available to students to help offset costs not covered by the OCS office.

While the application portals for the new programs have yet to open, Kaufman is confident they will draw ample student interest. “Based on how many students showed up to the first interest meeting, it looks like these programs will be quite competitive,” she noted. Most Carleton study abroad programs are able to accommodate between 12 and 16 students.

Applications for “Food, Forests, and Resilience” and “Climate Change and Human Health” are due Monday, April 6, 2020.

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