Cornell Study Abroad Program in India to Launch in 2015

“We believe Cornell students will emerge from the program … as better global citizens.” — Prof. Andrew Willford...

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By Anika Sethy via The Cornell Daily Sun, 2/12/14

The University will launch a new study abroad program in Spring 2015 for students to work at a local learning center in Kotagiri, India.

The Nigris Field Learning Center — where the program will take place — was created in a partnership between Cornell and the Keystone Foundation, which works with local communities to solve natural resources and rural development issues in India.

Cornell’s program, previously set to begin in Spring 2014, aims to explore how to create sustainable environments by teaching students about biodiversity, the effects of urbanization and systems of governance that can implement environmental conservation, according to the program’s website.

The faculty lead on the program, Prof. Neema Kudva, city and regional planning, said that the

year-long delay was due to an underestimation of the complexity of the NFLC program. Kudva said that the NFLC is unique because it incorporates a diverse group of Cornell faculty from four different colleges. The scope and interdisciplinary nature of the project meant that planning the program took more time than Kudva and her colleagues had anticipated.

“There are different timelines, different priorities to balance,” Kudva said. “Our greatest advantage is the core group of thoughtful, committed people who have come together to make this project a reality.”

Unlike current study abroad programs in India, the NFLC program allows students to receive direct University credit, since classes are taught by both Cornell faculty and Keystone staff.

The partnership with Keystone offers several benefits for participants, according to Prof. Andrew Willford, anthropology, the cultural anthropologist on the core team for the program.

“Keystone has been the leading [non-governmental organization] in this biosphere working on issues of sustainability … and social empowerment for indigenous peoples,” Willford said.

According to Kudva, one of the strengths of the the program is that it enables Cornell students to study alongside community members from Kotagiri.

“[Students will learn] together and from each other while situated in the very environment they wish to study and understand,” Kudva said.

Kudva, who is currently in Kotagari setting up the curriculum and identifying research sites for fieldwork, said the program is open to a large variety of Cornell students.

“We would like to have six to eight Cornell students join us at the NFLC in spring 2015, from various programs across the University,” she said.

According to Willford, 15 students is the program’s absolute maximum capacity.

The idea for the NFLC was formed a few years ago when Dr. Pratim Roy, director of the Keystone Foundation, was a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at Cornell in 2011-12, according Willford.

“It was during [Roy’s] stay that the idea was born to create a field learning center in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, a complex and fragile ecosystem where both biological and cultural diversity is amazingly rich, yet also … encounters many challenges,” Willford said.

Willford believes that the firsthand nature of the program will mold students into more aware global citizens.

“We believe Cornell students will emerge from this program not only as better global citizens aware of some of the challenges facing indigenous peoples within their fragile environments, but better able to work collaboratively across cultural and disciplinary divides on practical solutions for various problems that are simultaneously desirable to local communities,” he said.

Prof. Steven Wolf, natural resources, one of the other core members of the NFLC team, said that the program was created due to a need for social and ecological change.

“Our approach — which is part of a learning challenge — is a response to what we perceive to be an urgent need for new models of how science and education can contribute to efforts to address social and ecological problems,” Wolf said.

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