Community college professors present creative ways to internationalize the curriculum at ICC 2020



Whether it is through courses on wartime poetry, water sustainability in Morocco, reflections on ancestry or a reality-call to contemporary genocide crimes, community college teachers are finding new ways to awaken and expand student’s understanding of the world.

Miguel Fernandez, Azra Mahmood, John Liffiton and Kristopher Otto spoke on Saturday, January 25, to scholars and educators assisting nation-wide to the Seventh International Conference on the Development and Assessment of Intercultural Competence, in Tucson, Arizona.

The speakers of the Creative Ideas to Internationalize Community College Classes symposium were all participants of a curriculum development program organized by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Arizona, a Title VI National Resource Center that promotes language and area studies. With the support of Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad grants and International Studies Partnership Program fellowships, the educators received support to create international content for their school’s curriculum. The program focuses on the educators’ own learning processes, as they are exposed to foreign language and culture; traveling overseas to Bosnia, Morocco, and Central Asia or engaging in partnerships in-country.

The programs, organized by CMES Director of Educational Outreach Lisa Adeli, are custom-designed to meet the needs of community college faculty. Many of them have a hard time delivering internationally driven content in schools where shrinking budgets and lack of time deter them from trying new things. Their students also face hardships that can have a deep impact on their learning process.

“We gotta slow down, meet them where they’re at,” says Kristopher Otto, a teacher at Hobbs High School in New Mexico.

Through the program, speakers designed creative ways of giving rich content to their students and exposing them to global realities.

Azra Mahmood, recipient of a 2019 Group Project Abroad grant, traveled to Morocco in summer 2019 and is now taking students in South Mountain Community College (Phoenix, Arizona) on a trip that explores the values and worldviews of western and eastern cultures. They look at different conceptions of time, cultural approaches to belonging and community building, and the roots of identity. She says that above all, she wants students to cherish and respect the diversity in the outside world, but also inside the classroom. The majority of her students are already global; they come from immigrant families and sometimes struggle with acceptance.

“It is important to see one’s culture reflected in our curriculum,” she says.

Other teachers find ways to develop this cultural immersion by collaborating with area studies scholars. Miguel Fernandez, a Literature Faculty at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, received a fellowship from the International Studies Partnership Program in spring 2019 that allowed him to pair with Austin O’Malley, from The University of Arizona. Together they selected and designed content that introduces students to unheard voices of the Middle East through literary forms.

Through landay poetry, Fernandez connects his students to the thoughts and experience of Afghan women in wartime. In his literature course with first-generation student veterans, they read Afghan women poets and delve into issues that would rarely be discussed otherwise. They study poetic structure, while also reflecting on Afghan women’s resistance to occupation.

Landays are a megaphone to get conversations going," said Fernandez. 

Landay are poetic forms of a single couplet that offer place-based images to Afghan tradition. The poems, of grief, lament, sex, humor and war, talk about “things you are not supposed to talk about”. They portray the views of women and allow students to connect with people that usually have no voice. “The Landay allows you to pivot on that,” he said.

In Scottsdale Community College, John Liffiton is taking a very different approach. For the past 20 years, he has been director of the Genocide Awareness Conference. A month-long Fulbright-Hays curriculum development program in 2017 gave him more resources to develop an intensive course program with emphasis on the 1990s Bosnian genocide.

Liffiton wants students to change their pre-conceived notions of who commits genocide and challenge them to engage in serious research and examination of these crimes. Most importantly, he wants them to recognize the fact that these atrocities are taking place today, right now, throughout the world.

“The best piece of compliment I’ve got from a student was: ‘You ruined my life: I wanted to be an accountant and know I want to help people’,” Liffiton said.

In rural New Mexico, Kristopher Otto had other needs. Most of the kids in his class are in the Free or Reduced Lunch Program, and some drop out of school to provide for their families. Otto encourages them to be first-generation college students and aim high for their dreams.

After joining a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad to Central Asia organized by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Otto started working in-depth on a program based on identity and cultural diversity. He says that these programs allow kids to cultivate self-esteem and confidence. Above all, he pays attention to the fact that the challenges that students grow up with have a “generational impact on learning”.

This symposium was part of a larger 1.5 days college educator’s series organized by Clea Colin, from the University of Arizona’s Center for Latin American Studies, and Lisa Adeli, CMES. The talks offered a glimpse into ways that educators from diverse academic disciplines could incorporate broad international views into their class settings. Customizing content with the curriculum development program is a different challenge for each teacher. Step by step, each one of them works their way to open broader perspectives outside of the classroom.

 “When you work in these places, is not a job: it is a mission,” Otto said.


The Seventh International Conference on the Development and Assessment of Intercultural Competence was organized by the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language and Literacy (CERCLL), a Title VI Language Resource Center at The University of Arizona that seeks to provide professional development and discussion platforms for language and culture learning.

The poems Fernandez uses in his class are a work of compilation and translation by Farzana Marie, a writer, poet, U.S. veteran and stroke survivor. You can find them in her book Load Poems Like Guns: Women's Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan.


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