by Wynn Calder
Northern Arizona University's School of Communication initiated
an exchange program which in 1998 became known as International
Students Together for Environmental Protection (ISTEP). Conceived
on the assumption that all countries need to work together for
a sustainable future, ISTEP engages international students in
designing environmental communication campaigns for client organizations.
The campaigns are intended to increase public awareness and promote
individual, community and corporate solutions to global problems.
The first ISTEP project involved an exchange between faculty
and students of Hanzehogeschool, Hogeschool van Groningen in Groningen,
The Netherlands, and the School of Communication at Northern Arizona
University (NAU) in the spring of 1998. The project took place
at Hanzehogeschool and included students from The Netherlands,
England, Spain, France, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the United
States. Global warming was chosen as the first public awareness/action
campaign topic and Greenpeace agreed to be the client organization.
The first inquiry about exchange possibilities came from Iekje
Smit, a member of the Faculty of Economics at Hanzehogeschool,
who contacted the School of Communication in early 1997. Paul
Helford, director of the Office for Teaching and Learning Effectiveness
at NAU, visited Hanzehogeschool in June to give a presentation
and further explore the issue. Professor Smit then came to NAU
to teach for a year in the fall of 1997.
Dr. Smit's visit prompted a return exchange by several School
of Communication faculty. Kyle Majors, a service professional
at the School of Communication with expertise in technology and
telecommunications, went to Hanzehogeschool for the fall semester
in '97, and three professors traveled to Groningen, each for three
weeks, during spring semester 1998. These included: Lea Parker,
specializing in environmental communication; Richard Parker, specializing
in communication theory and research; and Richard Lei, specializing
Lea Parker and Smit chose global warming as the theme for student
campaigns. This topic, including its constituent issues, was especially
timely following the Kyoto conference, and is equally relevant
to students from different countries. In addition, thought Parker
and Smit, The Netherlands was an ideal location to study the effects
of a rise in sea level due to warming.
With their international office located in Amsterdam, Greenpeace
seemed to be a suitable client for the global warming campaigns.
Martina Krueger, public relations director for Greenpeace, readily
agreed to partner with NAU and Hanzehogeschool. She also consented
to allow students access to the organization's film and photo
archives and provided briefings and other information as needed.
In return, it was understood that Greenpeace could use any of
the final projects and other materials produced by the students.
Early in the semester Krueger gave an in-depth presentation to
students at Hanzehogeschool that included an overview of the global
warming problem and explained how Greenpeace communicates the
issue to the public.
Given the complexity of global warming, Parker and her colleagues
asked students initially to assess environmental problems in their
home communities and then share their findings with their fellow
students from other countries. Most of these environmental problems
related to the issue of global warming in some way - problems
such as pollution from industry or auto exhaust, energy consumption
etc. Students were then asked to examine contributing factors
to global warming and relate them to individual, community and
corporate behavior for the purposes of targeting audiences for
campaign messages. Prior to the final project for Greenpeace,
students studied communication techniques, research techniques,
audience analysis and many other necessary components of successful
For their final projects students worked in groups, each of which
produced a brochure, poster and video. Each communication tool
focused on particular aspects of global warming and aimed at specific
target audiences. Parker says she was "very impressed with
how well students from different countries worked together."
A campaign entitled "Turn Down the Heat" was produced
by one student group at Hanzehogeschool. The target audience comprised
students at polytechnic schools in The Netherlands. The goal of
the campaign was to increase student awareness about global warming
so that they would take more responsibility for the problem and
engage in environmentally friendly behavior. Specific goals included:
increase awareness of energy saving light bulbs and get students
to begin using them; instill behavior of closing windows and turning
off electrical devices when leaving a room; and have the students
become communicators themselves by hosting awareness events. A
logo was created for the campaign, to be used in posters and other
campaign materials, and an information packet was designed for
the target student group.
Feedback from students who took part in the ISTEP program was
uniformly positive. One German student, Katja Hauser, from the
University of Applied Studies and Research at Furtwangen, offers
the following: "The most exciting experience I had was working
with other nationalities, other cultures, other points of view,"
or, as another student put it, "different values and different
prejudices." Hauser continues, "I had to change my attitudes
concerning studying completely
. I liked the way the professors
and students worked together. Also, I've never had a study group
before but I appreciated it a lot." Furthermore, "we
were asked to think about everything in detail, not just listen
to what the professors told us
. Now I understand better
what [global warming] is about and how it developed." Hauser,
like many others, finished the program with a strong sense of
accomplishment. Unfortunately, she feels that for most students
the communication campaign was "a project for their studies
that had to be done, but now it's over and forgotten."
NAU professor Richard Lei found the international experience
at Hanzehogeschool to be particularly rewarding. "I found
the faculty contacts to be very responsive, the students were
interested in an American perspective and I learned a great deal
about the limitations of my own 'Americentric' opinions,"
he says. "Even though we talk about a global economy and
the global nature of marketing and advertising, we tend to see
issues and opportunities through our own narrow perspective. The
students came from a variety of countries and their diversity
added a great deal to the process. When we stripped away national
origins and perspectives and began looking at commonalties we
learned that many core issues transcend national origin and broad-based
solutions could be achieved."
Parker notes that students consistently produced high quality
material; "Students can now use these skills to create communication
materials as they enter into their various careers and become
part of the global community
. These students, who will be
future leaders in the sustainability effort, have also become
close friends through their group efforts, and will most likely
keep in contact via email after they return to their respective
Paul Helford, Lea Parker and their colleagues encountered several
challenges in administering the NAU/Hanzehogeschool exchange.
For example, faculty from the two schools had somewhat different
approaches to teaching and assigning work. At NAU, classes meet
regularly and are structured for presentation by faculty and discussion
groups among students, and students typically have individual
assignments. At Hanzehogeschool, the procedure is more student-driven,
with students assigned to work groups that meet regularly. Although
there is a class meeting time, students at Hanzehogeschool often
work on their own with the professor acting as a mentor. These
differences were primarily resolved through video teleconferences
which made communication easier and allowed faculty from both
schools to get to know one another prior to the visit to Hanzehogeschool.
Another obstacle involved conflicting semester schedules. While
NAU operates on a semester running from January through the first
half of May, Hanzehogeschool's semester runs from mid-February
through early July. "We did our best to compromise and make
it work," notes Dr. Lei, "but in the future, with additional
planning, we can make it better." Smit thinks the program
would be improved if the faculty exchange, like the student exchange,
lasted a full semester. This would have "a real impact on
the curriculum and maximize what the individual faculty member
can gain from the exchange." A final challenge was determining
what credits NAU students would receive for their work at Hanzehogeschool
and how these credits would transfer to coursework at home. Students
have received equivalent credits to date, but more standardized
approaches are being considered.
"I would strongly endorse the continuation of the partnership,"
says School of Communication Dean Sharon Porter, "although
much clearer planning is needed. On numerous issues there was
not enough agreement on how things would proceed
. If these
issues can be resolved and the curricular equivalencies established
to the agreement of both schools, I think there are some very
interesting items we could explore." Similarly, Dr. Lei says
he believes that "we need to critically review the partnership,
determine how we can make it stronger and find the resources to
keep it growing."
At the time of this writing, NAU and Hanzehogeschool are still
in the process of negotiating the next exchange. "We have
identified one NAU professor from the School of Communication
who will be exchanging with one lecturer from Hanzehogeschool,
but the details are still being worked out," says Parker.
Another Hanzehogeschool faculty member hopes to come to Flagstaff
next fall. "So far, no [client organization] has been selected
for the spring '99 campaign projects."
Unsure about the future, Paul Helford remarks, "Unfortunately
we have not been able to figure out how to continue the program.
We are still working this out." Karl Doerry, Director of
the International Studies Office, who has worked on the exchange
with faculty and administrators, is more optimistic: "The
academic and personal experiences of the students and faculty
have been uniformly positive, so that we will not let the administrative
obstacles stand in the way of the success of the exchange."
Lea Parker's enthusiasm for ISTEP is unequivocal: "This
is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my teaching
career. The students were among the best I have ever had, and
every one of them was excited about the prospect of contributing
to solving environmental problems." It will be unfortunate
if ISTEP does not become a regular fixture of NAU's School of
Communication. With the strong support of Parker and her colleagues,
however, the future looks good.
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