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Growing Kalamazoo Connections - May 2021 Update

May 2021 brought the first anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, which has begun to transform the way issues of systemic racism are seen in this country. The road to address structural injustices in the USA is very long and winding, but this work is essential in order to build a brighter future for all people residing here now, and for all future generations. It is our hope that our work to connect people, across difference, can play a tiny, yet constructive, role in this transformation.


We have had a busy month, from connecting college administrators from Panama with WMU, to panel discussions on volunteerism and civic action, with the Mayor of Kalamazoo and KYDnet. Meaningfully, during the meeting with our mayor, together with peers in Louisville, KY, we were humbled to have a visitor from Gaza join us in the midst of heavy bombardment. We were talking about infrastructure, and how we build and secure it for people at the municipal level. Just how vital clean water, air, access to the internet, and connection to the electrical grid are, was made crystal clear to all of us. We discussed civic engagement around these matters in communities in Kalamazoo and Louisville, as well as in Libya, Panama, Palestine, and Zimbabwe. As citizen diplomats, we create these discussion and dialogue opportunities. We see just how important these connections are and what can happen when diplomacy and dialogue fail.


Wishing everyone time for peaceful reflection as we work together to build a brighter future for all on our shared planet.

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

A clipping from the handmade 1974 IVLP visitor to visitor guidebook.
Photos from the 1974 ‘Kalamazoo International Program Guidebook’ created by some of our earliest guests

Global Ties U.S. offered us the opportunity to share our plans for celebrating our 50th during this virtual year. (Also, happy 30th anniversary to VIPP at MSU!) In the piece, co-authored by Jodi and Ian, you will find the following:


"We are looking to our 50-year legacy to imagine and embark upon our next 50 with some answers to the questions of what authentic, meaningful, engaging, multilateral and equitable exchange could look like in 2022 and beyond?
As part of our birthday celebrations, we have two series—one launched and one poised to take off—to explore these, and other questions, with people who have come to Kalamazoo and who have hosted in Kalamazoo. We have begun highlighting snippets of these works in our monthly newsletter and blog post."

In the article, we also share a neat tidbit from our archives - a snapshot from a 1974 guidebook (pictured above) created by program alumni for future cohorts of visitors. You have to see it to believe it, and love it… We look forward to bringing you more stories from the past as we celebrate the future!


Read the full article here.

Media Education and Disinformation in the Digital Age - Six cities reflect on IVLP programming in this area

Earlier this month, we were featured (one of 6 cities) in a Global Ties U.S. weekly update piece on IVLP programming on virtual education, countering disinformation, and building digital literacy - i.e. how to use the internet to reach students and help them discern fact from fiction online.


We shared two iterations of a similar program - albeit under extremely different circumstances. We hosted an “Education in the Digital Age” program in August 2019 and again in March 2021. The first session had a spirit of innovation and excitement with visitors touring the WMU eSports Arena and area schools. The pandemic-time session focused on technologies and practices to reach highly-mobile and geographically-dispersed students online, something that, for many, had gone from a lofty goal and challenge to an absolute necessity in the interceding 18 months.


Above, we shared an original Global Ties U.S. tweet about the story, something you’ll see regularly if you follow and like us on one of your favorite social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Virtual Visits Create Connections


We continued to host virtual programming this month, kicking off May with a program on higher education, laying the foundation for future cooperation between universities in Panama and the United States. Our second session focused on ways cities and nonprofits work with volunteers to provide for the common good and improve the lives of youth facing barriers on their road to graduation and success in life and the workplace. Read on for further details.


Higher Education Cooperation

May 4, 2021

A screenshot from our early May program, "Higher Education Cooperation".
A screenshot from our early May program, "Higher Education Cooperation".

As part of a program called “Higher Education Cooperation”, 22 Panamanian university administrators, mostly rectors and provosts, met with peers at Western Michigan University to discuss potential connections between their universities and challenges and opportunities inherent in the international education space.


WMU Provost Jennifer Bott led off the discussion with a broad overview, while highlighting WMU’s commitment to international education. Associate Provost Paolo Zagalo-Melo of the Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education, provided an overview of the process WMU has for welcoming international students and sending American students abroad. Providing key details and follow up opportunities were Director of Study Abroad, Lee Penyak and Assistant Manager for International Partnerships, Alice Molvern. They went into depth on the challenges and logistics of supporting international education and the complexities and pitfalls commonly encountered by institutions involved.


Visitors were interested in issues of accreditation between institutions and financial aid services available to Panamanian students who might be interested in studying at WMU or other American universities. Both American and Panamanian attendees spoke to the benefits of speaking with individuals serving in similar roles across distance as the nature of their positions often inhibits deep and honest dialogue. A great opportunity!

Volunteerism and Civic Action - Creating Connections

May 13 and 14, 2021


In May we had the chance to join Meridian International Center and many fellow CBMs in a very broad form of programming in the virtual space. Typically, international visitors will come as a whole group and participate in each of their local visits with one city at a time, creating an exchange of ideas between local and international professionals. In this instance, instead of a series CBMs and cities, this new strategy included pairing relevant resources across the country with smaller sub-groups of visitors on given topics in panel discussions. We were delighted to be a part of this experience because not only were international visitors exposed to a wider array of resources than they might otherwise have in the virtual space, CBMs got to coordinate in ways we haven’t in the past and we got to learn more about enriching work happening in other cities across the U.S. (Miami, Louisville, and Salt Lake City). It was a learning experience for literally everyone involved and we look forward to more experimentation in virtual, and eventually hybrid, programming spaces!


Local Government and Infrastructure

A screenshot of our first session on local government.
A screenshot of our session on local government and infrastructure.

The first session in this experimental space was with the City of Louisville’s World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. We welcomed four visitors representing a wide geography - Libya, Panama, Palestine, and Zimbabwe - who were interested in local governance and its encouragement of volunteerism and civic engagement. Mayor David Anderson of Kalamazoo was joined by Janice Coates of the Office of the Mayor of Louisville to present on a variety of issues important to our cities, including broadband internet access and infrastructure, public trust in government, and volunteerism broadly. Participants asked a handful of questions and shared their own experiences, particularly in the realm of building trust in local government and the challenges and opportunities presented by this.


Providing Supports to At-Risk Youth

A screenshot from our second session focused on at-risk youth.
A screenshot from our session focused on supporting at-risk youth.

Our second day comprised an energetic panel of three professionals in the youth development space. Though part of the same overarching program, all of our visitors in this session were new to us! We were joined by visitors from Armenia, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, and North Macedonia. All serve as youth development professionals in their home countries, some working in schools, some in NGOs, and others in the government sector.


Kalamazoo opened the session with Ms. Bailey Crist, Assistant OST Program Development Coach of the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network (KYDNet). She spoke about the support KYDnet provides to area youth in meeting their daily needs, particularly in the social and emotional learning space. KYDNet has been instrumental in setting up and supporting area “Learning Hubs” which have served as dispersed classrooms at organizations around the city for students needing a place to work while schools have been virtual. She also discussed the specific needs of houseless children and their families in our community. Following her was Ms. Lauren Kellner Rudolph, Managing Program Director, Breakthrough Miami, an organization that provides multi-year mentorship from middle school through post-secondary education goals. Concluding this session was Mr. Abram Sherrod, YouthWorks Program Director, Salt Lake City who discussed an innovative program that supports at-risk students via one on one mentorship and paying students for their time and effort, earning upwards of $1,000 per school year for maintaining good attendance, quality school work, and good behavior.


Visitors were particularly interested in Bailey’s sharing of youth-driven support for houseless people in Kalamazoo, and the fellow speakers’ initiatives’ funding models and financial supports to participating youth. Toward the end of the session, we flipped the script and asked our hosts if they had any questions for our visitors and they happily obliged! In fact, one even said they wished there could be a whole reciprocal event with our visitors talking about their work and experiences. Hosts and participants connected directly after the sessions to continue their conversations, this is #CitizenDiplomacy at work.

Social Media Spotlight

Closing out our May newsletter, we wanted to highlight a post we shared for May 18th’s International Museum Day. Recently, we explored the virtual exhibit of the powerful “Filling in the Gaps” by Murphy Darden, from the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. We shared this as a Kalamazoo-themed cultural activity during a virtual #IVLP program facilitation workshop with Global Ties U.S.

Mr. Darden's artistic expression and collection is rooted in a "passion for teaching others about histories which have long been ignored in classrooms and in public discourse", chronicling Black history, from early settlement in Kalamazoo to the first Black Americans in space! When he found gaps in the archive, he filled these with his own work.

We'd like to thank Mr. Darden for sharing his vision and collection, and thank the Museum for digitizing a portion of this exhibit for the wider community!



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