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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cultural Immersion Projects receives international award for innovation

University Design Consortium selects cross-cultural teaching placement program for its creativity

Jan. 19, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.-- The Indiana University School of Education has won a 2011 Innovation Award from the University Design Consortium, an organization founded to challenge public universities around the world to develop innovative strategies to address complex 21st century issues. The University Design Consortium is a project of Arizona State University and Sichuan University in China.

Cultural Immersion

Student teacher April Knipstine with some of children who live on sugarcane farms in the village of Kabula, Kenya during her teaching placement in Spring, 2007.

The School of Education was recognized for its Cultural Immersion Projects, which place student teachers in 15 countries, the Navajo Nation and Chicago Public Schools. Since the programs began in 1972, nearly 4,000 pre-service educators have gained professional experience in foreign, Native American and urban schools while gaining insight into the experiences of those in different cultures.

"At Indiana University, we have long stressed the value of cross-cultural experiences for our students," said Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson. "The student teachers who participate in the School of Education's Cultural Immersion Projects gain enormous benefits, as do the students they teach. The projects are outstanding examples of IU's engagement beyond the borders of our campus. We are very proud of this program and very pleased to receive this recognition from the University Design Consortium."

This award adds to the national and international recognition the program already has received. In 2001 the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) honored the Cultural Immersion Projects with the Best Practice Award for Global and International Teacher Education. In 2005 the program earned the Goldman Sachs Higher Education Prize for Excellence in International Education, along with two other IU Bloomington departments. But this new award is the first noting the entire scope of the project.

Laura Stachowski

Laura Stachowski

Print-Quality Photo

"I think it's a really wonderful honor, in particular because it includes the Reservation and Urban Projects," said Laura Stachowski, the director of the Cultural Immersion Projects. "The Overseas Project received the AACTE award and the Goldman Sachs award, but this one includes all of them, emphasizing the importance and value of the cultural and community involvement that student teachers have whether they're going overseas or on the Navajo Reservation or in the Chicago Public Schools."

The American Indian Reservation Project, begun by School of Education Professor Jim Mahan, formed the original experience for pre-service teachers. Within a few years, the Overseas Project began sending students to English-speaking nations. Since 1996 the list of placement countries has grown to 15, with Japan, China, Ecuador, India, Kenya, Russia, Turkey and Spain among the additions. In 2008 the Urban Project began a partnership with Chicago Public Schools, sending students to live and work in inner-city neighborhoods. After a year of preparation specific to the cultural sites in which they will be placed, student teachers spend a full semester on the Navajo Reservation and in Chicago and at least eight weeks overseas. Around 150 student teachers participate annually.

The University Design Consortium noted the unique nature of the Cultural Immersion Projects in the letter notifying Stachowski the program had won the award. "Your impressive teacher education program attracted the attention of our judges due to its creativity in addressing different cultures within and across countries as a major facet for the placement," wrote Kathryn Mohrman, the director of the University Design Consortium.

"Through this program, students gain a degree of intercultural competency unmatched in teacher preparation anywhere else," said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the IU School of Education. "Our classroom teachers are working with a more diverse student population than ever before. Participants tell us that the global awareness, confidence and skills they learn are invaluable to their careers and the students they teach."

Stachowski said she hears weekly from alumni who speak highly of their experiences.

"I hear from them again and again that it has changed their perspectives on the world, that it has opened up opportunities and possibilities that they wouldn't have dreamed of if they hadn't participated in this program," she said. "Even if they return to their hometown to teach, it's with a new mindset about the world and what they can bring into their classrooms to broaden the scope for their elementary and secondary kids."

Stachowski and Gonzalez will accept the award before the American Council on Education's 93rd Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 7. The program will be featured in the University Design Consortium's online Innovation Clearinghouse of Good Practices at after the awards ceremony.