William & Mary

Partnership to give students an EdGE in service-learning

  • Service-learning in action:
    Service-learning in action:  W&M student Lorissa Simpson (left) from Camilla Buchanan's KINE 460 course works with co-teacher Catherine Ndiso to teach students at the Olderkesi Primary School in Kenya. Buchanan, an adjunct professor of kinesiology and health sciences, used the EdGE program to prepare students for that service-learning trip.  Courtesy photo
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W&M is the first university to offer Omprakash’s EdGE program campus-wide

Students at William & Mary who want to serve abroad but also want to connect directly with organizations instead of using established programs will now be able to do so more easily, thanks to a new partnership between the university and Omprakash.

Omprakash is a non-profit that connects people to more than 180 partner organizations worldwide to find volunteer, internship, research and giving opportunities. Its Education through Global Engagement (EdGE) program provides support for those endeavors by offering participants custom curricula and online classrooms as well as mentorship.

Beginning this year, William & Mary is partnering with the organization to offer its EdGE program to members of the campus community at a discounted cost, most of which is subsidized by the university. Although individuals or groups at other schools have used EdGE before, William & Mary is the first college or university to offer the program to people across an entire campus.

“The Omprakash platform provides the university another resource in helping us ensure that our students build capacity and respect the dignity of the communities with whom we partner,” said Drew Stelljes, assistant vice president for student engagement and leadership. “The platform provides principles of social justice for students to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the work.”

During the pilot year for the W&M partnership, up to 75 students, faculty and administrators will be offered use of the EdGE program. According to a press release from Omprakash, potential users may include professors who lead service-learning programs, administrators who want to add rigor to internship programs or students considering the Peace Corps and wanting to try a similar experience. People interested in applying should email Stelljes at adstel@wm.edu.

logoCamilla Buchanan, an adjunct professor of kinesiology and health sciences, helped make the partnership between Omprakash and W&M possible. In 2016, she used the EdGE program to prepare her students for a service-learning trip to Kenya.

Buchanan was so pleased with the program that she wanted to find a way to make the opportunity available to more students, who are often looking for “meaningful international learning experiences.”

“Many of our students do this through formal W&M study-abroad programs, but many others seek opportunities on their own,” she said. “Since I teach public health courses in kinesiology and health sciences, I very often have students come to me seeking help finding an opportunity to volunteer in a school or clinic in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Until I became familiar with the resources through Omprakash, I did not have any way to provide that guidance. I have talked with folks at the Cohen Career Center, and they also have many students asking for their help finding internships. Omprakash can help fill this void.”

Buchanan began working on the potential partnership with Stelljes and Steve Sclar ’11, EdGE co-founder and director — and an alumnus of W&M. Sclar used the platform himself while he was a student at the university, connecting with an organization in Tibet.

When Sclar later learned that his girlfriend (now wife) had used Omprakash on behalf of W&M’s Student Partnership for International Medical Aid to send money to Ghana, he contacted Omprakash’s founder — who happened to be a high-school classmate — to tell him about their experiences. In that conversation, the two talked about ethical issues in the international volunteerism industry, including providers making a significant amount of money off programs that offer inauthentic experiences, Sclar said. While Omprakash had a great model, Sclar believed it could do more to challenge the paradigm.

That conversation led Sclar to found the EdGE program. His vision was to offer gap year and college students an online learning system supported by a team of mentors so that the students could have the global engagement experiences they wanted but in an educationally robust and ethical manner, he said.

As he developed the program, Sclar sought the advice of David Aday, a professor of sociology and community studies at William & Mary who has long been involved in service-learning organizations at the university including Students for Medical Outreach and Sustainability and Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship.

Now, five years later, EdGE is being used by individuals and organizations at colleges and universities across the country.

Buchanan is hopeful that the EdGE program will be as effective for others around the W&M campus as it has been for her.

“More of our students who seek internships experiences on their own will have ethical, well-designed programs in which to participate,” said Buchanan. “Professors who use the resources will have well-prepared students for overseas travel experiences.”

Sclar hopes the partnership will supplement the opportunities already available to students at W&M and that it will be a model for more cross-campus partnerships at other universities.

“William & Mary already has such an outstanding reputation with regard to study-abroad, this seemed like a natural fit,” he said.