The desire to improve the quality of life in communities throughout the world and expand perspectives is at the heart of many University of Wisconsin Oshkosh faculty, staff, alumni and students’ passions.
Alumnus David Litman ’12, originally from Fond du Lac, is using his education in international studies from UW Oshkosh along with his law degree to make an impact in Sierra Leone.
Litman’s broader worldview is a product of his family.
He has two adopted cousins who were orphans of the civil war in Sierra Leone. His cousins have an older brother, Usifu Bangura, who was adopted by another family. Through a class at Bangura’s high school in Montana, Bangura learned about the Ebola virus, which prompted him to find his birth mother and help his home country.
When Litman heard Bangura’s story, he knew he wanted to pitch in. Litman connected with friends from UW Oshkosh to help raise funds for Bangura’s trip to Africa, as well as to help provide water filtration systems, educational supplies and more.
Service efforts like Litman’s set the stage for UW Oshkosh’s impact around the world.
Nearly 230 students, faculty and staff studied and taught abroad during spring interim, summer and fall 2016, and more than 100 international students enrolled in courses at UWO for the 2015–2016 academic year. In total, the University’s curriculum features more than 30 Global Scholar option courses and classes in seven languages, showcasing UWO’s commitment to expanding students’ perspectives.
Litman used the knowledge he gained at UWO to help Bangura provide long-term aid in his home country.
“After discussions, we helped provide a needs assessment for Usifu to take with him when he went to Sierra Leone to help in setting up a nonprofit,” Litman said.
Litman is working with fellow UWO alumni Jennifer Elkins ’14, Kasey Erb ’10, Katie Keelan ’14 and Madeline Meis ’13, to review the data Bangura collected to determine project proposals, prepare a nonprofit, draft a business plan and reach out to donors.
“Our goal is to have a pilot project ready to go by December 2016, when Usifu plans to return to Sierra Leone again,” Litman said.
Through his time at UW Oshkosh, Litman said he learned how important it is to try to understand the viewpoints and experiences of people around the world.
“There is no better way of bridging gaps politically than to understand each other. There is no better way to do that than through communication and getting involved with people around the world,” Litman said.
The interconnectivity of the world is evident in Oshkosh. Nearly 500 refugees reside in the city—the second-highest refugee population in Wisconsin. Oshkosh’s resettlement taskforce is working with the UW Oshkosh sociology department to collect data on refugees and gain insight into their experiences in the U.S.
“Over the course of several months we met with the resettlement taskforce, developed topics they wanted to learn more about and drafted survey questions,” said Paul Van Auken, chair and associate professor in the UWO sociology department.
During the spring 2016 semester, 20 students in Van Auken’s Applied Sociology class learned how to be sociologists by meeting with task force members, drafting questions and learning the process of developing a survey. For senior sociology major Karenna Jolin, of Rhinelander, the study changed her perspective.
“I’m learning how broken the world is and that these people need so much help,” she said. “On social media you see a lot of nasty things about other cultures and this survey is helping me to educate people that refugees aren’t as different as we think they are.”
Jolin has seen just how small the world is.
“This study changed how I view people and taught me empathy,” she said. “I didn’t know a lot about the refugee population, and it’s making me more aware of global and local issues.”
In northeast Wisconsin, World Relief Fox Valley connects people with community resources.
World Relief Fox Valley is the local branch of the international organization that partners with local churches to assist in disaster response, health and child development, and refugee and immigration services. The organization helps refugees as they enter the U.S. by picking them up at the airport, finding and furnishing residences, and helping them sign up for healthcare, find employment and navigate the immigration process.
World Relief Fox Valley Director Tami McLaughlin said the organization serves as a bridge between the community and refugees.
“A refugee is someone who had to leave their country for fear of persecution. Their biggest desire is to return to their home country. Because they can’t, they have to go through a lengthy process to be resettled, and it is a very formalized, intense scrutiny to come to the U.S.,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not that they don’t want to be there, it’s more that they have given up the hope of going back to their home country. A lot of refugees are coming to the U.S. to have a future for their children that they wouldn’t have in their home country.”
McLaughlin said the U.S. is a land of immigrants and humanitarians and she believes it is the duty of Americans to welcome those who have been persecuted.
“If you meet and talk with a refugee, you realize how much we have. I think we’ve lost perspective on what’s important. People who bring in different cultures and perspectives have something to teach us and we will be better for it,” McLaughlin said.
Maria Graf, academic instructional staff member in UWO’s College of Nursing (CON), shows her students the importance of taking time to understand where others are coming from. Taking a step back to understand her patient’s perspective is crucial to providing high-quality and effective healthcare.
Graf takes her students to the CON-run Living Healthy Community Clinic, where she also serves as a translator for the Hispanic population. The clinic provides confidential, cost-effective medical care to underinsured people with high deductibles and uninsured people who do not have the money to pay for traditional healthcare.
“We are looking to provide care that is culturally sensitive and appropriate,” Graf said. “We are not looking to impose our culture, but to meet in the middle—to respect their beliefs and then help them understand why it is important to adopt our Western medicine.”
It is Graf’s belief that she can learn something from every patient she meets and her background as a nurse in her home country of Peru that allows her to better serve her patients.
Graf leads two international clinical trips with the goal of making her students more knowledgeable in multicultural issues with a special focus on sustainability and inclusivity.
“Nurses need to have flexibility and know that not everything should be rigid…that healthcare should be looked at holistically. As nurses we need to be willing to modify our methods and understand others better,” Graf said.
With many cultural and technological differences between the U.S. and other countries, Graf said it is important not to dismiss patients’ beliefs. Instead, she said it is important to understand where the patient is coming from to determine the best care plan.
“Once a student has been abroad, they know the importance of establishing a trusting relationship between nurse and patient,” Graf said. “Our nurses learn to explain things in a way that avoids cultural imposition.”
As part of their clinical experience, students develop projects to solve a problem abroad. The challenges go beyond cultural differences. Many countries have limited access to technology in healthcare, so when students create their projects, learning to adapt to less technology is key.
“We coordinate with partner institutions to make plans that are sustainable,” Graf said. “It is our contribution as an academic institution. A university is a house of knowledge and it is our obligation to share that knowledge.”
Increasing knowledge around the world can have an economic, social and environmental impact, making the University a center for global change, Graf said.
Steve Dunn, finance and business law department chair and Center for Sustainable Enterprise executive director at UW Oshkosh, tries to make the world more sustainable and help others realize the international dimension of their actions.
“I have had the good fortune of meeting and staying with people in countries around the world,” Dunn said. “What people want is peace, for their children to have a better life than they do and to be educated. A majority of people like the U.S. and they want our country to lead. Many think we are not leading any more and that is what I address in the classroom—that we have to be a leader.”
Dunn looks at leading from a social and environmentally responsible perspective.
“I’ve worked with many companies, and many people understand that there is a lot of change going on, but they don’t always like to address it. It’s hard for people to take action when they don’t see the impact right away,” Dunn said.
In 2013, Dunn and a team of 25 UWO Master of Business Administration students worked on a supply chain management project with Mercury Marine, touring the plant in Fond du Lac to get a better understanding of the company.
“We then went to Suzhou, China, where Mercury Marine has a manufacturing facility and went up the peninsula of South Korea to visit Mercury Marine suppliers,” Dunn said. “The students got an understanding of how global supply chain operates.”
After the trip, students put together a report on their findings and shared it with Mercury Marine. Dunn said it’s important for his students to have global experiences and to learn to ask questions and see things from a different perspective.
“We need a global worldview to address sustainability issues, like not being able to grow enough food, which can lead to hopelessness and terrorism,” Dunn said. “It’s up to us to come together to address these issues.”