Category: Park 51

Reflections on Terra Dotta U

The Study Abroad “provider world” has evolved over the decades that I’ve worked in the field.  This often happens when folks who work in higher education see a problem in international education and solve it internally…and if they have an entrepreneurial spirit, they realize they have a product.

This is very much the story of Terra Dotta, an idea borne out of working at UNC Chapel Hill and has been solving problems, for more than 200 clients a year, for more than a decade. Co-founders Garrett Christian and Brandon Lee also both have international education and tech experience, making them the right people to launch a tool that offers so much to our field.

I stopped by the April 2012 Terra Dotta U event in Charlotte, N. Carolina and it was quickly evident that there are swarms of users who are much more proficient in the technical talk of Studio Abroad (now Terra Dotta Software for Study Abroad) than I.  (For those of you who don’t know, Studio Abroad is a web-based software that allows you can maintain your own website, keep your program brochures online and up-to-date, accept applications online, organize data, and mitigate the risk associated with international travel and living.) Those attending were deeply engrossed in the new version of Studio Abroad, gabbing in a language that I struggled to understand at times.  Acronyms.  They can be tough! 

My observations, as a “newbie” to this conference is that besides being very welcoming and adjusting to some new lingo, it was clearly a strongly networked group who deeply understood how to ask the right questions about the ins and outs of Studio Abroad as a tool to increase efficiency at their own campuses/organizations.

There was a session on New Implementation for the true ‘newbies’ of the group.   The session covered the story of one university’s path to signing up for Studio Abroad – and it is one that will be familiar – exponential growth in faculty led study abroad, staffing challenges, the need for a centralized process.  The presenter spoke about how important it was for them to “change the culture of HOW we do things” on campus.

Another session, Troubleshooting Implementation, was designed to keep things as simple as possible for both students who are on the receiving end of web based forms and staff who are looking to maximize efficiency.

There were sessions for power users – those who could easily train their colleagues.  There was also a less tech focused sessions, Scholarship Programs, given by Claire Valdivia of the University of Maryland, College Park which guided participants through how to use the system to track scholarship applicants and ratings.

I spoke with an administrator who described using Studio Abroad as “the Cadillac” of data management for his campus.  He expressed that, at least for his large campus program, it saves him time and is very convenient.  His campus also agreed to allow some faculty leading programs abroad to have access to some data in the tool and he emphasize that they also found it rather intuitive.   Because his campus is quite large and they choose to utilize many of the features of Studio Abroad, they do have a ¾ full time equivalent person on campus to oversee the program.  Some may have concerns about needing staff to keep things running smoothly, however my opinion is that the first time you don’t have your reports and documentation in order during an emergency abroad, you will not be able to facilitate important communication when it is absolutely needed.  Needless to say, any lawsuit will cost much more to a program provider than a staff person who ensures that the data is organized and scrubbed – and readily available anywhere in the world.  24/7.  That’s what it takes these days to run study abroad safely and effectively.

Another attendee indicated that there was no need to reinvent the wheel within her organization when there was already a tool out there to track travelers.  This is increasingly necessary for organizations sending researchers, students, faculty and administrators out into the world.

Today, I spoke with a colleague who attended Terra Dotta U this past spring. I asked for his reflections with several months behind him to consider all he learned at the conference.  He commented that the biggest single takeaway was perhaps realizing the wide range of innovative ways that users are leveraging the tool – from query watches sending automatic emails to tracking and sharing course equivalencies to handling non-standard submissions such as program proposals.

If you are a campus with a growing study abroad population and imagine that you will soon get to the day where paper files or excel spreadsheets will not do the trick, or you envision your paper applications igniting a major inferno at the drop of a match, I’d encourage you to explore the resources that I had the pleasure to learn more about while at Terra Dotta U.  You can learn more about their upcoming 2013 conference here!

Disclosure:  I was not paid to write this piece.  However, I did have a press pass to cover this event and was grateful to spend a few hours in Charlotte with the attendees.

Interview with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

I had the unique opportunity of sitting down, one on one, with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Please enjoy this our conversation:

Read more

The Transformative Power of Intercultural Experiences

As an educator, I believe that intercultural experiences have an important role to play in a world situation that is – to say the least – very confusing. This year, 2011, marks a decade since the tragic events of September 11. Today's undergraduate college students were eight to twelve years old in 2001 and consequently have spent their intellectually formative years with post-9/11 media coverage, little of which addressed the need for intercultural understanding.

Read more

Park 51: Imam Fiesal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan’s Roles Change

A press release from Park 51 announced that Imam Fiesal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, will no longer be speaking on the organization's behalf. Imam Fiesal will begin his personal speaking tour next week. He and Ms. Khan will also not be raising funds for the project on this speaking tour.

Read more

30 Mosques Project: What’s Next for Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq

Aman Ali of 30 mosques presenting at Murray State University (Kentucky)

During IEW, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq gave their 2 hour presentation about their “Ramadan Roadtrip: 30 mosques/30 days/30 states” at several colleges.  I received terrific feedback about how they created meaningful dialogue about Muslims in the US.  (You can read more of my postings about their project and can watch the interview I did with them.)

Aman and Bassam sent this video “shout out” while on the road last week. (I thought it was particularly appropriate that they’re driving while filming  –  a big part of their 30 mosques adventure.)

During Ramadan 2011, the guys will be visiting the 20 states that they didn’t visit during this past Ramadan Roadtrip.  That primarily means they’ll be in the midwest, west coast and Alaska/Hawaii!

If you are interested in booking Aman and Bassam to speak about their experiences traveling across the US to learn about other Muslims in America, please feel free to contact me. They are available from February – July 2011 and during the week of September 11th, 2011, then again beginning in October 2011.  They can also speak outside of the US;  In fact they just returned from a speaking engagement at the US Department of State’s Youth Leadership Conference in Prague, Czech Republic.

Melibee Global has been assisting them with bookings at no additional cost (beyond their standard speaking fee) to the universities/conferences. I speak with Aman/Bassam regularly, so am happy to facilitate getting them to your campus or conference…and even you’re commencement!

Please share this posting with others in your life who may be interested in their 2 hour multimedia presentation (which includes Q&A.)  And make sure you mention that you heard about this wonderful project through Melibee Global, especially after their shout out!

Top 5 facts about Park 51, NYC’s proposed Islamic Center

I heard an interesting interview with Michel Abboud, the architect for the proposed Islamic cultural center known at Park 51. (I suppose we could also call it "the Islamic cultural center formerly known as the Cordoba House and incorrectly called the World Trade Center mosque.)

Read more