Making global issues local

A Minnesota community college balances being globally and locally focused.

Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, has found success in making global issues more personally relevant to students by focusing on a theme that directly affects its local community: diaspora.

With a long history of refugee resettlement, Minnesota is home to several immigrants from around the world, including Somalia, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma. Many have settled in and around Minneapolis, of which Bloomington is a suburb.

In 2018, Normandale received a two-year grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program to continue its campus-wide internationalization work through the lens of diaspora.

“This has given us a way to frame projects and discussions around the question of how and why people move through the world, while also helping students make valuable connections between local and global structures, histories, cultures, and languages,” says faculty member Jennifer Bouchard, who teaches English and French and coordinates the college’s International Experience Center.

Besides lending immediacy to the college’s globalization efforts, the project is a way to “honor the experiences, cultures and languages of our diverse campus community,” Bouchard adds.

The grant has funded the creation of a diaspora studies course, as well as an area studies program in Somali language and culture. In addition, Normandale has created a collection of resources that instructors in all subjects can use to start conversations about diaspora and related topics in their classrooms. These resources include video interviews with students and other members of the Normandale community who have immigrated to the United States.

To show that the college’s approach is having an impact, Bouchard points to the Somali Area Studies program. “The classes are consistently filled, and Somali-American students tell us they feel a stronger sense of belonging to our campus community,” she says.

The diaspora project builds on Normandale’s earlier work to bring global perspectives to students. These efforts began in earnest several years ago with a campus-wide initiative to identify what it would mean for students, faculty, and staff to be globally ready (see sidebar).

“There were 80 of us who worked to define global readiness for our college,” Bouchard says. “This definition has served as the North Star for our internationalization work.”

This is an excerpt from the April/May issue of Community College Journal. Look for it in mid-April.