Later this week, Genille Gordon of the Bronx and Primrose Nyahwai of Harare, Zimbabwe will be on a plane to China, bound for a first-hand experience of another culture that both Keuka College sophomores hope will be transformational in their personal and professional development.
Nyahwai and Gordon are the first recipients of the Dr. Anne Marie Guthrie Educational Fund Scholarship, which was funded by Dr. Michael Hwang, administrative chancellor for Keuka College China Campuses. Since 2002, the Keuka China Program (KCP) has enabled nearly 7,000 Chinese students to complete an American bachelor’s degree in business at one of four partner universities — Tianjin University of Science and Technology, Jimei University in Xiamen, Wenzhou University, and Yunnan University of Finance and Economics in Kunming.
Dr. Hwang established the scholarship fund in memory of Dr. Guthrie, who died in October 2013 after an extended illness. Dr. Guthrie served 12 years as dean of the Center for Experiential Learning at Keuka College, and the two worked closely together during the creation of the KCP learning model. According to Dr. Hwang, she was a “great supporter” of the Career Management and Experiential Learning course, a “highlight and unique part” of the KCP curriculum.
“I am certain that the Keuka China Program would not have reached its credibility and status in China without that course. And Dr. Guthrie was such a key part of making all of this happen,” Dr. Hwang said.
Experiential learning is embedded in the Keuka College curriculum and flourishes in Field Period™, conducted each year by undergraduate students who invest several weeks into hands-on learning experiences. A Field Period™ may consist of an internship in a professional field, a community service or creative project, exploration of another culture, or a spiritual exploration study such as a charitable mission trip. Diversity is also upheld as a key College value, and the marriage of experiential learning and diversity in the Guthrie scholarship represents another unique offering where collaboration results in powerful opportunities for student learning.
Nyahwai and Gordon were selected for the honor on the basis of their GPAs, personal leadership accomplishments, and involvement in campus clubs and activities, according to Dr. Anne Weed, vice president for academic affairs. Weed was commissioned to review candidates and select the first winners.
While Nyahwai hopes to study Chinese practices of recycling and sustainability, with the purpose of implementing what she learns at an elementary school back in Zimbabwe, Gordon hopes to develop skills in understanding and collaborating with those in China and ultimately, to raise awareness of the shared humanity of individuals, back on the home campus. Both young women also plan to study Chinese dialects and glean as much as they can of a foreign language.
“Cross-cultural experiences, such as those afforded to Genille and Primrose through this scholarship, provide a new perspective on the world and allow students to learn about cultural differences through direct experience outside the classroom,” said Dr. Wendy Gaylord, dean of KCP for the College. “This is a major goal of experiential learning, and we thank Dr. Hwang for assisting our students in this way.”
According to Dr. Gaylord, Dr. Hwang’s generous funding will allow both young women to meet Chinese students, learn about campus life in China, and experience Chinese culture, in addition to completing their Field Period™ projects. The interaction with Chinese culture will continue when they return to the home campus in Keuka Park, as the College hosts many exchange students from China, Gaylord said.
The last time a Keuka College undergraduate spent time at a partner university in China was in 2010, when political science and history major Matt McFetridge spent the fall semester studying at the Yunnan campus. The experience was so profound for McFetridge that he ultimately returned to China after graduation in 2012, and is completing a master’s degree in international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, considered the “Harvard” of China.
For her part, Gordon said she is eager to better understand the Chinese exchange students who study with her at the home campus. While Chinese students may fear their English is not very good, the Americans lack cultural awareness of the Chinese lifestyle, Gordon wrote in her scholarship application.
“We’re a diverse campus, but when you get down to it, we don’t mix,” said Gordon, citing her observations that American and Chinese students sit apart in the cafeteria in addition to the irony that only international students join the international club. Before traveling to China, Gordon plans to interview Chinese exchange students here, and then build on what she learns interviewing Dr. Hwang and others overseas. Her Field Period™ work will center on creation of a video to raise awareness and inform her fellow students on the home campus how students from both sides of the ocean can come together as a community.
“I want to figure out how to communicate and get more comfortable,” said the organizational communication major. “I really hope to learn and grow and have it make a difference in the social structure on campus.”
When Nyahwai considers social impact, she thinks in terms of the health problems and even deaths caused in her home municipality in Zimbabwe, where she said garbage is not collected on a regular basis and recycling is minimal. As an international business major, Nyahwai said she has been taught to identify a need and learn to satisfy it. She already learned how China has battled rising pollution levels through recycling and she is hoping to visit a Chinese plant for firsthand knowledge of its production methods. She also wants to make networking contacts that may serve her well when she tries to establish an environmental ethics project at the Budirio 3 Primary School in Harare, Zimbabwe to educate students and the community there how to better preserve their natural environment.
“I’m amazed by how [the Chinese] utilize their cultural resources and benefit a large population. I want to learn from them, teach my own people and …take every day as an opportunity to learn. What the world really needs now is people who appreciate diversity, can integrate different views, learn from others and come up with something different. That’s why I’m excited.
“Overall, this opportunity is a great chance for me to put the knowledge I have gained through class work to actual practice in the real world, which ultimately is what Keuka [College] aims to instill in its students,” Nyahwai continued. “I’m open to everything China has to offer to me.”