Leslie Flores dodges hummingbirds as she picks snapdragons in a fragrant mountain field.
This is college?
It is when the flowers are grown by an export collective in Ecuador, and Flores, a UW senior business major, is living and working beside the farmers to learn about realities of the developing world.
“I realized from this trip,” Flores said, “that I want to be part of an organization that would help underdeveloped countries instead of exploiting them.”
Such realizations were exactly what Marc Lindenberg, the dean of the Evans School of Public Affairs, had in mind while he reckoned with terminal cancer last year and sketched out plans for what became the Marc Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship, which was established by the university shortly before his death in May.
The center awards Marc Lindenberg International Mobility Grants with a clear purpose: to enable UW students to travel to developing countries with their professors.
“Marc strongly believed in the transformative power of having students go overseas,” said Elaine Chang, Evans School assistant dean and managing director of the Lindenberg Center. “He was an exchange student in Colombia himself.”
The first 21 grants went out in November, and Flores, plus international business lecturer Paula Laschober and students Erika Gulyas and Mari Matsumoto, were the first to actually travel, just before Thanksgiving break.
Upcoming Lindenberg-funded trips will range in academic field from anthropology (researching female genital cutting in postwar Eritrea) to zoology (using DNA to track elephant poaching in Tanzania).
A graduate student will head to Senegal with pathology professor Nancy Kiviat to develop breast and cervical cancer screening techniques appropriate for developing nations.
Two undergraduates, meanwhile, will travel to Costa Rica with forest resources associate professor Susan Bolton to begin an environmental assessment of La Cangreja National Park, the last remaining major forest between the Pacific lowlands and central highlands.
The scope of the 35 grant applications — which can fund up to four students each — gratified Chang. Faculty proposed to take their students on journeys that ranged in length from spring break to all summer. Many will involve undergraduates.
“Marc would have loved it,” she said. “This has everything to do with faculty-student collaboration and mentoring.”
The Lindenberg grants generally cover student-discount airfare and some basic expenses, Chang said.
Branch campus faculty taking part include Chris Demaske and William Richardson of UW Tacoma, who are bringing two undergraduates to collaborate with their Russian counterparts to produce student newspapers in both Moscow and Tacoma — a unique chance to participate in newsgathering essential to a free press in a society that is still trying to define what the term “free press” means.
Laschober’s grant enabled her to bring the three students to the November international convention of the development group Partners of the Americas in Quito, Ecuador, where the students got a rare inside look at farms and factories in a country struggling with poverty and a program of “dollarization.”
The students also made side trips. Flores first went to Ambato, where she stayed in the home of Ecuador Partners of the Americas members and worked in the group’s flower-export facility. She learned how the farm had struggled to find a profitable product, first trying pigs and orchard fruit before settling on flowers.
Then, in Quito, she toured a workshop called Mushug Pacha, a so-called microenterprise that trains young people to make decorative products for the home and office.
Flores will make a presentation on the experience to her fellow Certificate for International Studies in Business (CISB) students during winter quarter, but she has already begun to reflect on a career path in helping developing countries.
“I realized,” Flores said, “that my decisions could have the potential to affect a lot of people when I enter the workforce.”
For more information, see http://www.evans.washington.edu/research/