Teaching Outside the Box
Donor-supported study abroad trips help College of Education students.
Some people are content to think outside the box. Gabrielle Malfatti wants College of Education students to stomp on their boxes and throw them in the trash bin.
Kristin Borgstede Nies, BS Ed ’07, M Ed ’08, bashed her cardboard cube when she taught fractions to 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds in Tanzania without flash cards, blocks or other teaching aids used in the U.S. She gave it another blow during a teatime conversation in the teachers’ lounge with her Tanzanian colleagues about how to teach language arts without books. And when she saw that a lack of books, language barriers and pervasive poverty can’t stop her from reaching a child excited to learn.
“Any time you can put yourself in a new situation, it can enhance you in so many ways,” Nies says. “I would go back in a second if I could.”
Nies was was one of three Mizzou alumnae and Columbia Public School teachers who traveled to Tanzania in May 2013 with three Mizzou students to assist them in student teaching during a short-term study abroad program. She teaches fifth grade at Paxton Keeley Elementary School.
Malfatti, the international and intercultural initiatives director for the College of Education, designs study abroad programs for the college around the theme “personal transformational pathways,” which is simply getting students to see the world with fresh eyes and personally understand cultural diversity.
The program is the initiative of Daniel Clay, dean of the college. The first trip to Tanzania was in 2012. In 2013, the college added a trip to India. The 2014 lineup will also include South Africa and Costa Rica and possibly Thailand.
For its first two years, the program has been supported by Steve Smith and Mary Jane Smith, BS Ed ’62.
The retired couple donated $15,000 to support the first group of students traveling to Tanzania through a partnership program with Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich. The students keep careful blogs about experiences while they’re abroad, which the Smiths read every day. After four weeks, they decided to double their donation the following year.
That $30,000 was divided evenly among the students, to cover transportation costs, which are more than $2,000 each.
The funding directly addresses one of the biggest roadblocks to increasing the number of students who study abroad — cost. “The College of Education is really smart about this,” says Jim Scott, director of the MU International Center.
Putting education students through these kinds of multicultural experiences is important, Malfatti says, because most teachers teach within 100 miles of where they were born, which can make relating to outsiders difficult. “Being a minority in a different culture creates a cultural awareness you can’t teach to students; you have to experience it.”
The experience has also helped students earn teaching positions after graduation. “They were the first called for interviews, the first to land jobs,” Malfatti says.