U.S.-Pakistan Exchange Promotes Service-Learning

GW participates in a State Department-funded effort to support university civic engagement in Pakistan.

U.S.-Pakistan Exchange Promotes Service-Learning
July 22, 2013

By Julyssa Lopez

Three representatives from the George Washington University traveled to the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Pakistan last month to encourage service-learning. The effort, organized by the nonprofit Innovations in Civic Participation, brings 10 American and Pakistani universities together through a year-long grant from the U.S. State Department’s Embassy in Islamabad.

GW and NUST are the lead universities in the project. Four other American universities—Tulane University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Minnesota—join GW in the effort. Their Pakistani partner schools include Quaid-i-Azam University, the Fatima Jinnah Women University, the Dow University of Health Sciences and the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences.

Amy Cohen, the executive director of the GW Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service; Maurice Smith, the academic service-learning coordinator; and Emily Morrison, the director of the Human Services program, made up the three-person team that visited the NUST campus. They have been involved in the project since its inception last fall, participating in webinars and meetings to connect all the universities.

Service-learning is crucial to Pakistan, Ms. Cohen noted. At NUST, she learned about the Muslim concept of “waqf,” or “commitment to community,” which stems from the country’s dedication to “zakat,” or “charity.”

“As a central Pakistani institution, NUST is committed to improving and enhancing community life. It’s not a secret that there are long-term concerns around how to build a stronger commitment to democracy and to community development, so this is a strategy Pakistani universities are looking to adopt,” Ms. Cohen said. “There is huge cultural regard for and experience with service, but it needs to be further developed on an institutional level.”

Delegates from all 10 universities, including NUST, came to GW’s campus in March to begin the exchange on civic engagement and service-learning. Between June 25 and 29, the American universities sent their representatives to Pakistan to meet with partner schools. Ms. Cohen, Mr. Smith and Dr. Morrison met with NUST administrators and provided service-learning training and workshops to 25 faculty, staff and students.

The focus of the training sessions, Ms. Cohen said, was on “how to make service a part of courses, how to help develop student leadership for community service and how to integrate service experiences with academic content of courses.”

They also toured several organizations where NUST students perform community service. Witnessing the efforts of the Rawalpindi Eye Donors Organization, an eye hospital opened by students in the late ’70s, and a local orphanage taught Ms. Cohen’s team a great deal about how dedicated Pakistani students are to their communities.

“We saw how strong the student leadership was in advancing and continuing service activity. We can take that back to GW and learn how to improve even our own strong student leadership,” Ms. Cohen said.

Ms. Cohen noted the importance NUST places on engineering and technology, explaining the school runs a program that trains the community in skills like welding and machine-making. She was also impressed by the strides women are making in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines—at NUST, the female population outnumbers males.

During their visit, the U.S. delegates were able to celebrate the launch of Pakistan’s chapter of the Talloires Network, an international association of universities that includes GW. The newly established chapter will help Pakistani universities work with both local and international communities to improve civic engagement. 

“Pakistan and the U.S. are not so different in terms of the way they build service into their education system,” Ms. Cohen said. “They are doing quite a few things that are civically engaged but they simply don’t call it the same thing we do. Building a culture where everyone understands what service-learning and community-engaged scholarship means is important for both our countries.”