Thursday, April 18, 2013

JUSTICE goes to Chicago: Student Learning and Development in Education Abroad

On April 4th, a few members of the JUSTICE team had the incredible opportunity to present at the ninth annual Forum on Education Abroad conference in Chicago.
After the conference in DC last June, we were able to refine and perfect our presentation. As Reza says:

We were lot more confident and to the point. Our goals were very clear, the audience understood what we were trying to achieve.”
The presentation began with an introduction from Reza and Sarah about our Foundation’s role in honoring Jasmine by promoting fire safety. The introduction was followed by Grace’s story of surviving the Paris fire. As Grace explains:

“I felt as if my experience not only resonated with participants, but that they were moved to take action at their own universities. Study abroad administrators face so many institutional challenges when they initiate an effort to improve fire safety policies, but I felt as if we were prepared to offer them solutions and the tools they will need to overcome these barriers.”
After Grace’s moving presentation, I told my story about the London fire and explained the resources we offer to keep study abroad programs safe.

Then came the newest addition to our team: Tom Hayden, director of Health and Safety at George Washington University.  We are so appreciative of Tom's participation that he deserves his own introduction from Sarah and Megan:  
Sarah: "After there was a fire in the residences of some GW study abroad students, Mr. Hayden looked over all of GW's facilities overseas to make sure they met safety standards. Mr. Hayden proved not only that this could be done, but how easily and affordably it could be done. As a retired fire marshal and compelling speaker, Mr. Hayden brought immense authority and credibility to our presentation."

Megan: "We were lucky to have Tom Hayden presenting with us. He is the first university official to put our methods into practice. He has overseen the installation of smoke alarms in GW student housing overseas and started the discussion as to how universities can pay for this low-cost safety measure. Leading by example, I think that Tom's presentation reinforced our message. Now other universities will be not only inspired but pressured to keep up."
After we wrapped up our presentation came the Q&A, which was a remarkable and inspiring exchange of ideas.

Grace and Sarah explain how the audience was prepared and willing to engage with us:

Grace: "The study abroad coordinators and other university representatives attending our presentation seemed to express much more passion about fire safety at the conference this year. During the Q&A, some were eager to share their own methods for cutting through bureaucratic red tape and incorporating fire safety into their programs."

Sarah: “We get a lot of credit from our audience for the information and resources that we present, but the most beneficial part of the presentation for us is the feedback from the audience. Being relatively new to the winding world of study abroad bureaucracy, we were taking notes furiously as audience members shared comments and suggestions. One individual suggested that we pursue better standards for schools' incident reports when students are abroad. Another person pointed out that taking the steps that we prescribe may result in lower insurance rates. The collective enthusiasm was overwhelming and we were truly grateful for the audience reception.”

Finally, the Forum has asked us to take a more active role by drafting extensive standards for fire safety regulations.
Sarah explains what this means for the Foundation:

"We believe that this is the broadest and most tangible step we can take towards our mission of protecting all exchange students from tragic accidents overseas. We will present the first draft of these standards at our next conference in Santa Barbara, and work with our colleagues there to solidify these standards."

 We had such a rewarding time in Chicago working towards our goals with a receptive and compassionate audience. As Grace so succinctly puts it, “whether it is apathy about fire safety, financial logistics, or a combination of both, I think the take-away was clear: fire safety is simple and we can’t afford not to make these changes.”
The Chicago team
From left to right: Megan Clement, Suzanne Zwyssig, Reza D'Jahanshahi, Grace Flott, Sarah Blanc, Zoe Friedland