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Students learn with 'peers from across the world'

Over 1,000 students from around the world have taken GLE classes with DePaul Professor Kelly Tzoumis

Kelly Tzoumis
DePaul Professor Kelly Tzoumis (left) and Eduardo Verri-Liberado, professor at São Paulo State University - International in Sorocaba, Brazil, in the fall at the International Conference on Virtual Exchange in São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Tzoumis)
​​​School of Public Service Professor Kelly Tzoumis believes solving a complex problem like climate change requires individuals and communities from around the world coming together to bridge cultural divides. It’s why she’s so passionate about global learning experiences​, which provides students with a powerful international experience by offering virtual, side-by-side learning with peers from around the world.

“Study abroad is an outstanding experience, but it’s not an option for many students due to factors ranging from financial barriers to disabilities that prevent them from traveling globally,” Tzoumis says.

As DePaul prepares to celebrate 10 years of GLE course offerings, Tzoumis is set to release a book on the topic.

Expanding access and horizons

GLEs connect students with international faculty and peers within a course based at DePaul. “There’s no extra cost, and there’s no extra time commitment outside of the typical class requirements,” Tzoumis says. “As universities look for ways to prepare their students to be global citizens, GLE courses offer an opportunity for all students to learn more about their peers from across the world.”

GLEs can have a positive effect on the mental health of students who participate, according to Tzoumis.

Our research shows that students have increased self-efficacy and a feeling of wellbeing after participating in these courses and connecting with global students,” Tzoumis says. “Here’s something we as faculty can do right here in our own courses to help students with their mental health. To me, that’s very powerful.”

This past fall, Tzoumis taught a course that explores how different cultures view environmental issues. She partnered with São Paulo State University - International in Brazil, Metropolitan College in Greece, Navajo Technical University of the Navajo Nation, and Leiden University in The Netherlands. In all, 24 DePaul students and 60 students abroad participated.

The course incorporated an environmental sustainability simulated debate on offshore wind farms and climate change mitigation for coastal rivers. Students were paired into groups virtually and synchronously to simulate roles such as EPA regulator, governor, developer, or part of an environmental justice or indigenous group. Each role brought a different agenda. At the end, students voted on the proposed project.

Tzoumis has taught the scenario several times. Sometimes the project fails and sometimes students vote unanimously to move forward.

“The simulation is an excellent time for students to get to know each other and learn different cultural variables in language, approach and values. They are also learning leadership skills. During a time of tremendous conflict globally, these students are getting together virtually to discuss topics like climate change, energy justice and renewable energies,” Tzoumis says.

Sharing the GLE experience with others

Tzoumis began teaching GLE courses in 2016 and wanted to share her experience with a wider audience. Over the years, she’s taught more than 1,000 DePaul and international students through GLE courses. She is now co-editor of a new book, “Intercultural and Global Learning: Achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals,” that includes the lessons learned from global learning experiences from five continents. It is set to be released in June. She pre-launched the book in late February in Abu Dhabi with several of her GLE partners at the World Congress on Environmental Education.

Kelly Tzoumis and Katie Holloway
Professor Kelly Tzoumis and DePaul senior Katie Holloway presented together on the benefits of global learning experiences at a conference in Valencia, Spain. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Tzoumis)
“The book gives examples of how to expose students to different cultural experiences to build competencies. Part of the problem with finding solutions to issues like climate change is we’re in an increasingly polarized world. GLE classes build students’ understanding of these issues. When they go out in the world to work on sustainable initiatives, they have a skillset already developed. I am committed to helping students gain the intercultural competencies to become global citizens,” Tzoumis says.

One chapter in the book was co-authored by DePaul senior Katie Holloway, who led a group environmental sustainability simulation in Tzoumis’ class as a sophomore. In the chapter, Holloway discusses her experience leading the game while navigating a disability that prevents her from participating in study abroad. Holloway and Tzoumis later presented on the lessons learned at a conference in Valencia, Spain.

“Being in Dr. Tzoumis’ GLE course allowed me to connect with students from Brazil and Greece, some of which I’m still friends with to this day,” says Holloway, who is a film and television major with a concentration in cinematography from the Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media. “If it wasn’t for the GLE course, none of these opportunities would have been possible.”

Holloway’s experience is Tzoumis’ dream for GLE and students needing accommodations. Tzoumis co-founded and co-leads the DePaul employee resource group, A4, for employees with disabilities. She also advocates for providing accessibility for using inclusive accommodations for meetings and events. Tzoumis co-developed DePaul’s Disability Justice, Rights and Policy Studies certificate.

“Global learning includes experiences for all students because it’s accessible, it’s equitable,” she says.

DePaul plans to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of GLE programming at the university this spring. More information on the scheduled events around the anniversary will be available in the coming weeks.

Russell Dorn is a senior manager of media relations in University Communications.