UNC Soliya Partnership
Founded in 2003, Soliya (www.soliya.net) is a pioneering non‐profit organization using new technologies to facilitate dialogue between students from diverse backgrounds across the globe. Soliya’s flagship program, the Connect Program, is a unique cross‐cultural education initiative that enables college students in the U.S. Europe, and Middle East/North African countries to collaboratively explore relations between the West and the Arab and Muslim Worlds with the aim of
improving intercultural awareness and understanding. Facilitated by a cross‐ cultural team of young leaders drawn from over 25 different countries, the Connect Program enables students from across the globe to literally see and hear one another in a rich and intimate online environment utilizing the latest in “social media” and learning technologies.
Recognizing the profound role of media in shaping students’ perceptions of other cultures, Soliya trains participating students to critically analyze, create and exchange video segments illustrating their perspectives on world events. Through opportunities for cross‐cultural dialogue and collaboration, Soliya students examine and expand their own knowledge and perspectives about the “Other,” democracy, and intersections and contrasts among their own histories and religious and cultural traditions. Further, by developing an engaged, global network of young adults, the Soliya Connect Program entices and equips college students to play a constructive role in creating a more informed, just and peaceful global society.
As the result of a grant‐funded project in 2003 that brought specialists in international conflict resolution to the University of Maine‐Machias (UMM), Mike Kimball, then a UMM Assistant Professor, co‐developed and piloted UMM’s first Soliya course in 2004. The rewards to UMM Soliya participants in terms of learning outcomes, global civic engagement, and cross‐cultural understanding were so compelling that UMM has renewed its partnership with Soliya every year since then.
As part of his role as UNC’s 2007/2008 Robert O. Schulze Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies, Kimball collaborated with Soliya’s Executive Director, Liza Chambers, David Kendrick, Director of UNC’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning, and Marie Livingston, Director of the Life of the Mind (MIND) Program, to bring Soliya to UNC for the 2008 spring semester. Kimball offered Soliya to students through the MIND Program’s “Confluence of Cultures” course.
Soliya at UNC
In “Confluence of Cultures,” students prepared for their Soliya sessions through rigorous reading and writing assignments and class discussions. When the sessions commenced (two hour online group meetings, once per week over the course of a semester), students worked on their Soliya projects, which included producing a video and working collaboratively on a project with a Middle Eastern/North African partner. Classroom time included roundtable reflections, viewing and discussing documentary films and visits by guest lecturers such as Lahcen Ezzaher (UNC Prof. of English) and Joseph Ramagli (CSU graduate student specializing in Islam and social justice). A panel of students from Saudi Arabia also visited the class to share their culture and perspectives.
By the end of the semester, UNC’s Soliya students had engaged in a series of thoughtful, intensive, and rewarding personal dialogues with their colleagues in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, and Bahrain. Furthermore, during UNC’s 2008 Diversity Colloquium students shared their experience through a panel presentation, which included a sample of their video projects and a live uplink to a Soliya representative in New York via webcam. The innovative structure and content of their presentation led it to be selected by the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) as a May 2008 demonstration project featured on the front page of WCET’s website.
Students who complete the Soliya Connect Program gain entrée into additional opportunities for personal and professional development and global civic engagement. For example, several of UNC’s spring 2008 MIND students chose last semester (fall 2008) to receive 18 hours of facilitation training from Soliya. During the spring 2009 semester, some of them will be chosen to join Soliya’s team of facilitators for incoming groups of new students. In this way, they will gain marketable and transferable collaborative leadership and conflict resolution skills that they can use both via Soliya's programs and in other contexts at a local, regional, and global scale.
The Soliya Connect Program also contributes to cross‐campus and public dialogues about relations between the West and Muslim World. Examples include the Diversity Colloquium mentioned above, a public presentation by CSU’s Joseph Ramagli, and in spring 2009, a faculty luncheon and evening public presentation on women and Islam sponsored by the Schulze Endowment and Women’s Resource Center and delivered by Dr. Meena Sharify-Funk of Wilfrid Laurier University.
UNC's Soliya Project Goals
UNC’s participation in the Soliya Connect Program ensures and maintains:
- A place for UNC students in the Connect Program every spring semester via a Life of the Mind course
- UNC’s membership with Soliya’s other partner universities such as Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth, Tufts, the University of Iowa, and the University of North Carolina‐Chapel Hill
- UNC’s participation in Soliya’s global network of engaged students, faculty, and international experts, which currently includes over 60 university partners and 1,600 student alumni
- The leadership UNC has begun as the only institution of higher education in Colorado to become a Soliya partner
- UNC students’ unique and transformative opportunities for cross‐cultural communication, global civic engagement, and international study, which foster key skills in critical thinking, communication, media literacy and technology.
- Distinctive, interdisciplinary collaborations and dialogues among UNC faculty, staff, and students and the surrounding community
For more information
Link to Soliya Website