In this Q&A, we check in with new UD faculty member Malasree Acharya, assistant professor of political science and international relations, to celebrate the ways in which she has engaged her students in the learning process.
Assistant Professor of Political Science
Q: What are your top campus resources that support your teaching that you’d want your colleagues to know about?
A: In my first semester as faculty at UD, ATS, CTAL, the Library and the Horn Program have been instrumental to realizing a scholar-practitioner pedagogy in the classroom. Issues in international migration and the migrant journeys of people on the move as well as the ever-changing infrastructures and stories of megacities in the South demand multi-method learning techniques where students can engage directly with a variety of actors and stakeholders around the world.
CTAL facilitated my ability to organize conference calls in class to Lampedusa, Brussels, Karachi, Oaxaca, Jerusalem, Kolkata, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and New York City so that the students could have real-time conversations with humanitarians, scholars, activists, politicians, migrants and survivors, and artists and filmmakers who are all stakeholders in the migration process and are living in cities in development. We were able to use the technology rooms for a group conference call with the former International President of Medecines sans Frontieres and another scholar in the field in Lampedusa as we discussed Mediterranean Migration and then switched the feed so the next class could speak to one of the top contemporary artists in Pakistan. Whenever I needed extra support with outreach contacts to realize my Migration ‘Border Crosser’ Simulation Exercise or to find extra guests I could bring in for interview techniques or discussants, Kathy Pusecker, Paul Hyde, Stacy Weile and Rose Muravchik were all there to help with everything. The use of technology was instrumental to the class, and through talks with CTAL and ATS, I used both the iclicker and my own use of Poll Everywhere to find creative ways to have students think deeply about issues that at times may seem politically sensitive or uncomfortable, so that we could create an open space. UD Capture is also a fantastic feature for recording courses for students that may have an emergency or an issue that necessitates that they have to catch up with the class or review the course material.
The UD library helped me concretize this goal of hands-on learning by providing the necessary tools for the students to take on their own paths. Through the support of the library, we were able to organize a fantastic tutorial of resources for the students to set them on their path to conducting original group projects where they would partake in their own remote fieldwork and complement it with new and innovative resources and databases. I am so grateful to the SMDC for their continued support of my class. I have been able to regularly use equipment to record all of the hands-on activities throughout the semester, from guest lectures from scholars working on violence on Central American trains, to the role of Syrian male bodies in the wake of migration crisis. We also used technology for the Migration Simulation so that students could have a live interview with an asylum lawyer. Without the library and SMDC, I don’t think all of my goals of teaching could have been realized.
Additionally, I had great contact with Andrew Brett of Media Services and Carlett Spike from UDaily and Communications. Both of these wonderful individuals helped facilitate the filming of seminars and guest speakers and to help cover and provide additional perspectives to how media and communication can be used in the class while helping publicize to promote greater community participation in the course.
I am a faculty member in the Horn Program and I also want to highlight what a fantastic resource it has been throughout the semester. We used the space for group meetings for students as they conducted their own remote ethnographic research projects. Being in a space that promotes entrepreneurship helped expand the student’s mind– the space not only promotes the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation, but during our individual meetings to plan the group research and final deliverables of publishable op-eds, policy briefs, and websites, the students met Charlie Horn himself and several venture capitalists and learned to provide an ‘elevator pitch’ of their research. This was a lot of fun and the Horn staff’s willingness to provide support to innovation added a dimension to the semester that really brought the practical application of the student projects to light.
Q: What are some of the most exciting things about teaching students here at UD?
A: I’ve found that the UD students have extraordinarily curious minds and the drive to learn. Most of the students wanted to take my courses this semester because they are aware of migration and emerging cities across the Global South as pressing issues and they have come to educate themselves to worlds they have not known. Our goal in the classroom is to create a community of global citizens and at the end of the semester, I can say with confidence that these students are globally minded and have the potential to think the world in ways that will change the future.
The students absorb everything they got to experience, from the the conference calls around the world, to ceasing every opportunity for hands-on learning. In the process of seeking opportunities to conduct research, the students were so enthusiastic to join in activities, like practicing interviews at Delaware First, to visiting a movie theatre in King of Prussia to interview Bollywood movie-goers. The students are sponges– I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when students told me they needed to be excused from the class because they had lined up interviews with Sudanese migrants through Facebook and could get a clear connection to chat. Other students used Skype to repeatedly call the station chiefs of the IOM in Bangladesh and Myanmar to get answers, while others still were on calls to Kolkata about the subway system and one group even found a way to use satellite signals to contact a peace community in Columbia who were so happy to tell their story. These students take the foundation of what they learn at UD as a think-lab to then learn and create their own paths and I have felt so honored to part of their learning process.
Q: What excited you the most about teaching your classes this semester?
A: What I have been most excited about is how we put together a Migration ‘Border Crosser’ simulation exercise, where students had the opportunity to feel the psychology of what it means to be a refugee on the move.
The goal of my courses and my teaching this semester has been to provide a holistic picture of international migration and the role of emerging Global South cities in South Asia by trying to facilitate the students’ encounters with multiple perspectives and vantage points through as many hands-on opportunities possible in as many mediums and methodologies possible. We started the year with the opportunities to build tools from the library and to work to be a global community by meeting various stakeholders and scholars around the world and in the classroom.
Both classes participated as the migration students created backstories based on their group research projects (Sudanese refugee families, Columbian political protesters, Rohingya refugees, tsunami and Katrina disaster victims, etc.). The students had to use the green to find money, visited a refugee shelter and experienced bribing corrupt politicians and seeking asylum–all the while evading the ‘border police.’ Students were sent to a detention camp or to a meeting with a lawyer who could hear the asylum claim. Those lucky individuals granted the right to apply for asylum had to start filling out an application and asked, ‘What next?’ The thoughts that have emerged from this exercise have continued to haunt and change our thoughts around migration and mobility and added a dimension to the ways in which students have engaged their research and ethnographic projects with migrant, policymakers and city dwellers.
As global citizens, I always urge the students to ‘decolonize their minds’ in all that they do and with the help and support of such valuable resources, I have been proud to have shifted my own thinking and learning through all of my experiences with teaching and support at UD. I look forward to continued sharing of hands-on learning and the support I have gotten for work with community engagement for the future.
The next semester, I will pilot a course ENTR/POSC 467 for the first time called Cultivating Entrepreneurship in Policymaking and Public Institutions, where we will work with the Newark City Council to pilot new projects for issues in Newark in addition to meeting with policymakers and entrepreneurs around the world. I look forward to see where my global citizen students, with the help of so much support at the university can take their research to change the future!
Q: Can you tell us something that you learned during your initial two day new faculty orientation that you have found helpful this year?
A: The orientation drove home the idea that the newest classes of students not only want to see how what they are learning is applicable to the world, they want to put it into practice and affect change in the world. This knowledge helped shape my plans and to ensure that courses would be based on as many hands-on approaches possible. The students were definitely sponges for what they were exposed to and would carry forward what they learn in fascinating ways and it has been a pleasure to be new to the UD community where the students make us part of a global cosmopolitan community.
Q: How did the library help support your teaching and your students this semester, and what was most valuable about that collaboration?
A: Working with Meg Grotti, Erin Daix, and John Stevenson, Erin and John team-taught sessions with the students where they engaged in various fact-finding activities to familiarize them with the resources in the library suited to understanding migration. For the South Asian cities course, students had chosen their projects and were able to practice in the library how to find resources. What resulted is that we were opened up to a whole new set of databases unfamiliar to students and that they continued to use in their projects and presentations throughout the semester. John provided a brief tutorial through GIS and explained all the opportunities the students have to use the SMDC for their own fieldwork. The students also got to meet the dean, Trevor Dawes, who gave them an inspiring speech about conducting one’s own research. This experience was so important at the start of the semester because it not only laid a foundation and provided tools for students to take research into their own hands, but it also inspired them to really see that they could affect change through what they learned.