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13 new grants for virtual exchange from Stevens Initiative

The Initiative's programmes are connecting young people in the United States, the Middle East, and North Africa to build global life skills

Posted by Charley Rogers | November 23, 2017 | International

The Stevens Initiative has announced 13 new grants funded through an international competition to use online, collaborative learning to increase cross-cultural understanding and equip young people with the skills needed to thrive in a 21st century economy.          

Virtual exchange is an educational approach that uses technology to help young people learn key career and global competence skills, including collaboration with international peers, digital literacy, and language skills. The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to grow and enhance the field of virtual exchange, and to build career and global competence skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. The Initiative honors the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who devoted his life to building bridges between people from diverse cultures.                                                                           

"We are proud of the great impact the Initiative's programmes have had on thousands of young people across the United States and the Middle East and North Africa," said Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute, which houses the Stevens Initiative. "We want to grow the field of virtual exchange so that young people around the world have an opportunity to meet and learn with peers from different cultures and backgrounds."

The new programmes will expand the Initiative's reach to approximately 30,000 students in 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and 31 American states. Most programmes will launch in Fall 2017 and continue through the end of 2018. The projects include:

  • An entrepreneurship programme for students in Michigan, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia to develop an idea and enhance their pitches;
  • An engineering programme addressing common environmental and public policy challenges through collaboration between students in Arizona and the Palestinian Territories;
  • A coding and robotics programme for Syrian refugee students in Turkey and high school students in Massachusetts, Florida, and Louisiana;
  • A virtual design studio that connects bioengineering students in Maryland and the Palestinian Territories to develop low-cost healthcare solutions.

"Through the 2017 Stevens Initiative awards, we are connecting groups of young people in greater numbers than ever before and opening up exchange experiences throughout the Middle East and North Africa and across the United States," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Alyson Grunder. "We are honoring Ambassador Stevens' legacy by supporting shared learning and cross-cultural connections between youth in America and overseas. And we are tapping into the promise of the digital age to do so."

The Initiative's second grant competition was open to U.S. and MENA educational institutions and non-profit organizations. It prioritized virtual exchange projects that focused on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM); projects that are rooted in project-based learning; projects that support the education of refugees across the MENA region; and projects that propose in-person exchange to complement the virtual learning experience.

The grantees are:

Among last year's awardees is a project connecting high school students in Chicago and Casablanca to create an online museum featuring the discovery of a dinosaur in Morocco. Tiffany Childress, chemistry teacher and Civic Engagement Director at North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago, conducted this project in her class. She said it was the first time that technology was used in that way in her classroom. "Any time that my students get access to tech and what's happening in real-life science, I move closer to my goal of introducing students to science careers, which translates into economic opportunity and the ability to move into a different economic class," she said.

Housed at the Aspen Institute, the Stevens Institute is a collaboration between the family of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Department of State, the Bezos Family Foundation, the J. Christopher Stevens Fund, the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, Twitter, Vidyo, and LRNG.  Visit www.stevensinitiative.org for more information.    

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