Owning Our Future
Starting off the year right, 191 Community College Initiative (CCI) Program participants representing 15 countries on five different continents came together from 11 community college campuses for the CCI Program’s annual midyear Pathways to Success Program (PSP) during the second week of January. The PSP is designed to build participant skills in leadership, reflection, and goal-setting. With the theme “Owning Our Future,” this year’s workshops and guest speakers focused on how to identify, develop, and practice critical skills needed to become the leaders of tomorrow.
For the 2021-2022 program year the PSP was held virtually, with attendees joining in from 10 states across the country. This virtual session allowed participants from across the U.S. to join in safely and connect with their country people and other participants alike in a safe manner.
Distinguished speakers attended the event to provide words of encouragement on leadership, international exchanges, and the power of participants to positively impact not just their U.S. host communities, but also their community in their home countries as well. Anthony Koliha, Director of the Office of Global Educational Programs for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. Department of State welcomed the CCI international exchange participants, CCI staff, and guests and spoke about the significance of international education and exchanges to U.S. community colleges and communities.
Additionally, Dr. Eun-Woo Chang the VP of Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer to Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) later shared his moving words of wisdom as he spoke on his own past experience as an international student, transplanting to the United States from South Korea to pursue a Master’s degree from Minnesota State University.
Lastly, the CCI Program was grateful to have ECA Deputy Assistant Secretary Ethan Rosenzweig address the collection of CCI participants invigorating them with his belief that “International students, like you, represent the next generation of leaders around the world who will work with and alongside their American counterparts in diplomacy, business, technology, and many other fields.” After sharing his remarks, Deputy Assistant Secretary Rosenzweig led a Q&A session alongside Dr. Chang answering a wealth of thoughtful questions from CCI participants. As his time in attendance came to an end, the Deputy Assistant Secretary reminded the audience of international youths that “Each of you – all 191 – were chosen to participate in the CCI exchange program because of your talent and achievements, and because you want to make a difference in the future of your communities and your countries.”
Workshops & Activities
This year’s PSP kicked off with a powerful keynote delivered by renowned motivational speaker and author Sylvia Baffour. The Ghanaian-born Baffour connected with participants on her personal difficulties experienced developing as a leader away from her home country. Her speech culminated in a discussion on how CCI participants could work to strengthen their emotional intelligence and in doing so understand frame, and ultimately better communicate with others to develop themselves as better listeners and leaders. As Baffour noted “emotional intelligence, the currency of the 21st Century is what you need to own your future.”
Next, Juliana Garaizar, Head of Houston Incubator & VP of Innovation Greentown Labs, and Scott Gale, Executive Director at Halliburton Labs facilitated an environmental entrepreneurship workshop focusing on how to create financial opportunities through environmental preservation and sustainability. The session concluded with a panelist discussion including participants from Houston Community College who seek to implement entrepreneurial environment initiatives in their home countries.
To conclude the first day, the participants were led through a session on crucial conversations and the process of distinguishing between personal story and fact and were provided guidance on how to navigate tough conversations that might occur in the workplace or throughout day-to-day life.
To start the second day of the program, the Founder and President of Inspired Engagement Scott Geddis led the group through a “Utilizing Your Strengths and Building Strong Teams” workshop that encouraged participants to focus on how individual strengths and talents can enhance their success and create effective teams.
Closing out the day, David J. Smith, President and Founder of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education strengthened participants’ skills in conducting negotiations and conflict resolution.
Later in the week, journalist Kara Newhouse led a “Telling Your Story” workshop that outlined effective storytelling techniques and prompted participants to begin shaping their own stories about their academic exchange experience so far.
As the final session, Allison Myers, Program Director at StoryCenter hosted a media literacy workshop alongside media and disinformation subject matter experts from the College of DuPage. During the session, the group walked through ways to identify media disinformation, combat fake news, and strengthen journalistic institutions all while working to recognize the real-world consequences of disinformation in our communities. The session concluded with a trio of CCI participant panelists from Kosovo as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina discussing ways in which they seek to use the media skills developed in the United States to positively counter disinformation in their communities.
Bright “Suzy” Salitsi, a student journalist and CCI participant at Northern Virginia Community College wrote in her summary of the PSP that “On the issue of spreading fake news, [Myers] said some people do it because of any of the following: money, politics, power, and some simply share [misinformation] because they believe they may be saving lives by doing so.”
Susy went on to further elaborate that “Allison Myers also mentioned that 70% of false stories are more likely to be shared than true stories. Her advice to students and all who were present was that everyone should always cross-check any piece of information they come across on the internet before sharing it with others because misinformation can [have serious consequences].
Action Plans and Networking
As part of the PSP a cadre of participants conducted an open panel discussion on leadership in action with Kelsi Ward Molowa, Branch Chief of the Office of Global Educational Programs at ECA. The group of participants discussed their background and what influenced them in the creation of their action plans and broke down the steps they take on return to their home countries to make lasting positive impacts including connecting impoverished communities with access to recycled devices, creating new early childhood education opportunities in their community, and working with municipal governments to create effective waste disposal programs.
Later participants broke into groups with their country people to discuss ways to collaborate with one another to make completing their action plans more achievable. The sessions, filled with a chorus of laughter and smiles as the participants exchanged information in their native tongues, reminding them of the power they have when working alongside one another.
As part of the PSP the CCI Program invited CCI alumnus Gomolemo Mohapi (South Africa, IT, Northern Virginia Community College, 2017-2018) to share his experience returning to his home country and remind participants to make the most out of their experience. Gomolemo, who is now a Cloud Advocate at Microsoft works to connect South African youth with access to Microsoft technologies and get them interested in harnessing the power of computers. As Gomolemo shared in his own apt words “I now get paid to complete my action plan”. Gomolemo left off by reminding participants to take every opportunity they can while part of the CCI Program and make the most of every day spent with the world-class educators in the United States.
For the final day of the PSP, each college met separately in person to conduct guided reflections of the information and skills they gained throughout the weeklong educational program. In this final session, participants completed worksheets to develop their steps to success and finalize their action plans for their return to their home countries. The final day of reflection and review helped to ensure all participants are ready to own their own future.
Do you have a story that you would love to share with the Community College Initiative Program? Participants, alumni, instructors, staff, social hosts, and community members are encouraged to share their stories for the chance to be highlighted in future blogs and social media highlights. Follow this link to complete our “Submit A Story” form.
Written by Evan T. Flatt, Alumni Relations and Communications Coordinator Co-written by Bright "Suzy" Salitsi, CCI Participant