Soliya Project1


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University of Northern Colorado's Honors Program students engage in a series of thoughtful, intensive, and rewarding personal dialogues with their colleagues in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, and Bahrain. During this live student-driven demonstration, discover how synchronous, web-based technologies serve as a conduit for new understandings across the oceans and cultures. As participants of the Soliya Connect Program 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. More info at

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Soliya Project1

  1. 1. The Connect Program Contact: The Organization Soliya is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to Africa, Asia, US, and Europe via Soliya’s customized developing a new generation of leaders with the online videoconferencing application. The medium is cross-cultural knowledge, communication skills, and remarkably intimate: participants can see each international connections to create a more informed, other’s facial expressions, hear tone of voice, and peaceful and just global society. The name, Soliya, even share a joke, yet be physically situated in derives from the integration of sol (Latin for "sun") locations as distant from each other as Doha, Cairo, with iyaa’ ( ‫ - إﻴﺎة‬an old Arabic word that means Rabat, Paris, Jakarta, New York, and Houston. "beam of light"). Drawing on the universally revered symbol of the sun, Soliya aims to shed light on the Students usually participate in the program as part of relationship between the West and the Arab & an accredited course at their universities relating to Muslim World1 in a way that promotes understanding, topics such as International Relations, Conflict respect and cooperative joint action, by galvanizing young adults to take leadership roles in reducing tension and promoting constructive engagement between their countries and regions. Soliya’s Programs Soliya achieves these goals through its Connect Program and Continued Engagement Activities. Soliya’s Connect Program is a unique cross-cultural education program that directly connects university students in the Middle East and North Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States via groundbreaking online collaboration and communication technology. Using this web-based videoconferencing application, participating students collaboratively explore the various issues that currently divide the West and the Soliya utilizes a custom-built web-based Arab & Muslim World by engaging in intensive videoconferencing application. This application dialogue, and creating videos and other media allows for much richer and more intimate exchange projects addressing relevant themes. After between students than the traditional group-to-group completing the Connect Program, students are videoconferencing approach at a fraction of the cost. eligible to participate in Continued Engagement Activities, such as facilitation training and weblogs, with other alumni from the Connect Program. Resolution, or Media Studies. Soliya’s program complements their coursework by giving students the Connect Program opportunity to discuss matters relating to tensions between the Arab & Muslim World and the West with The Connect Program directly links students from their counterparts. Students meet in groups on a universities throughout the Middle East and North weekly basis for 2-hour sessions and, under the guidance of trained facilitators, discuss topics such 1 as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the war on Iraq, The terminology used to describe this divide is inevitably an oversimplification. Each term has its limitations when being used to culture and stereotypes, and the role of the media. describe such diverse groups. When using the term “West,” Soliya is Soliya’s goals are for students to become more generally referring to people living in North American and European countries, and when using the term “Arab & Muslim World” Soliya is aware of the complexities of the situation in the generally referring to individuals living in Arab countries and other countries Middle East and its relations to the US and Europe, with predominantly Muslim populations. Students participating in Soliya’s to start observing media more critically, and to Connect Program discuss these terms at length, exploring what they mean and how they are used, and developing an understanding of the mosaic of become responsible citizens of the World. cultures, religions and perspectives that lie beneath them.
  2. 2. In addition to participating in discussion, students even as they present their own. Window into My complete two projects as part of the Connect World revolves around an exchange of short videos Program: taken by the students. Each video should offer students a glimpse of a specific “time and place” that • Video News Reports - Students are trained to their partner feels is representative of his or her use simple video editing software to create their culture. Finally, Explore My Network is a project that own short “news reports” with raw news footage gives students the chance to interview their partners’ provided by Al Jazeera and APTN on specific friends on an issue that interests them. As a result, events pertaining to West – Arab & Muslim World both students have the opportunity to learn about and relations. This experience enables students to ultimately understand the perspectives of another portray their interpretation of the relevant event, community. All assignments emphasize exchange and encourages them to develop a personal and discussion throughout the process, and all connection with the issues. The students’ news projects finish with either a paper or a class reports serve as a catalyst for discussions about presentation reflecting on the experience. how the same event can be depicted in different ways, thereby significantly altering the message conveyed. By analyzing the subtle distinctions in Curriculum these various depictions, students develop a more sophisticated lens for assessing the Concurrent with their activities online, students will information they are exposed to in the discuss their experiences in class with their professor mainstream media. This hands-on video and classmates. Soliya has developed a curriculum production activity demystifies television for an interdisciplinary course in international journalism and provides students with critical relations, media studies, and conflict resolution in media literacy and media production skills. collaboration with an academic advisory committee composed of a number of professors from universities in the US and the Middle East including faculty at Tufts University and the American University of Beirut amongst others. This course is designed to be taught in parallel with the online dialogue Soliya conducts. Professors wishing to have their students participate in the on-line dialogue program can offer the entire multi-disciplinary curriculum as a stand-alone course or simply integrate the relevant materials into pre-existing courses. Soliya has compiled a required and suggested reading list intended to explore the relationship between the “West” and the “Arab & Muslim World.” After each semester of the program, Soliya works closely with partner professors to With professionally shot news footage provided by update and improve the curriculum. The curriculum Al Jazeera & APTN, participating students have the includes an activity plan for the web-based dialogue opportunity to express their perspectives and gain process, as well as suggested activities, discussions insights into the media’s role in changing and and readings for the in-class component of the creating perceptions of the “other.” course. It also includes materials in media and communication, religious studies, international relations and conflict resolution that professors can Joint Project - Students form into cross-cultural select from or build off of as they choose. The stand- teams to work collaboratively on a Joint Project for alone course has been integrated at a diverse cross which they have a number of options. The joint section of universities including the American project encourages students to work together more University of Beirut, Tufts University, American effectively and develop better insights into other University of Kuwait, Virginia Commonwealth perspectives. Students choose from three Joint University, and the University of Amsterdam. Project options: Perspectives, Explore My Network, and Window into My World. Students who choose the Perspective project will exchange posts and website recommendations on a selected topic with the goal of coming to the deepest possible understanding of their partner’s perspective,
  3. 3. Continued Engagement Activities Results Following their participation in the Connect Program, Student feedback, received via extensive students will have the opportunity to take part in evaluations, has been extremely positive: Continued Engagement Activities, including: • 92% of students said they would recommend the 1) A conflict resolution skills training program that program to their peers. will allow selected students to serve as facilitators in future iterations of the Connect Program; • 93% of students said that while participating in 2) Weblog editing over the course of the semester the program they shared information about what in order to encourage their peers to engage in they were learning with their peers and others in asynchronous communication about the their community. relationship between the West and the Arab & Muslim World. Analysis based on extensive pre- and post-tests also showed the following shifts over the period of the Each semester 35-40% of students sign up and program: participate in these follow up activities. Students that rated their knowledge of the relationship between the “West” and the “Arab & Participating Universities Muslim World” as high or very high: Soliya conducted its first Connect Program in the fall of 2003 with the American University in Cairo, the American University of Beirut, Harvard University, Before Clark University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Since then, Soliya has steadily expanded After its program each semester. To date, Soliya has worked with nearly 2000 students from a diverse set of over 60 universities: in the US, including Tufts University, Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% University, and Virginia Commonwealth University and universities located in 13 different countries in American & Middle the Middle East and North Africa, including, among Series1 European Series2 Eastern others, Jordan University, Qatar University, the American University in Beirut, Al Quds University in the Palestinian Territories, and Al-Akhawayn Students that felt they had a good understanding of University in Morocco. In 2007, Soliya began working their counterparts’ views in the “West” and the with the first university in Turkey and its first European “Arab & Muslim World”: university partners in Belgium, Norway, France, Finland, the UK and the Netherlands. In 2008, Soliya began Before working with its first partners in the broader Muslim World: Gadja Mada University in Indonesia and in 2009 the first students from the University of Tehran in Iran After are participating in the program. The Connect Program is now a part of an accredited course at the vast majority of universities in the program. In the coming years, Soliya plans to significantly expand the reach of 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% the program to provide thousands of students from American & Middle throughout Europe, the US, the Middle East and the Series1 Series2 European Eastern broader Muslim World with the cross-cultural knowledge, communication skills and international connections they need to significantly improve the relationship between the West and the Arab & Muslim World.
  4. 4. Information for Universities What do we ask of participating universities? What are the technical requirements? • Each university will select ten to twenty students The program is designed to provide a rich online to participate in the Connect Program. experience with minimal technical requirements. • Soliya strongly recommends the program be Ideally universities will provide participating students offered as part of a credit-bearing course and will with access to 5 or 6 computers at flexible hours, so assist university staff in finding the best way to that students will be able to coordinate integrate the program on their campus. communication across time zones. These computers • A faculty member, staff member or graduate should have, at a minimum, the following student will spend approximately 2 hours a week specifications: providing hands-on supervision for participating students. Soliya will provide this individual with • Windows XP Windows XP or Vista (XP is extensive and continuous support. strongly recommended.) Or Mac OSX or higher • Each university should identify a technical point • Pentium III or equivalent; G4 or better for Macs person who will be responsible for ensuring 256 MB of RAM access to computers on campus and properly • 500 MB of available hard drive space configuring the systems. • Internet Explorer 6 or higher and Flash Player • It is our hope that university faculty or staff will 9.24.00 or higher also serve as genuine partners in the • Webcam and a headset with both a microphone development of the Connect Program, providing and headphones (available for approximately creative ideas and critical feedback about US$50) program design and implementation. • 200 Kbits/sec Download and 100 Kbits/sec Upload (This is a minimum – performance What do we ask of participating students? improves significantly with more bandwidth.) • Prior to the commencement of the Connect We highly recommend NOT using wireless for Program each student will participate in a brief participation in the program. The inherent on-line orientation. variability of a wireless connection can disrupt • Throughout the duration of the program students participation in the online discussion. Please will spend an average of 3 hours per week email with questions. participating in the Connect Program. • Students will complete a brief pre- and post- What will Soliya provide to participating evaluation about their experience. Universities? • The software and media elements necessary for What criterion should be used for the selection of participation in the program. participating students? • A “Curriculum Menu” for the program that local Ideally, participating students will be: faculty can customize to their specific intended • Fluent in English learning outcomes. • Highly motivated and mature • Extensive introductory and training materials for • Able to work well without extensive supervision students, the sponsoring professor and • Interested in international affairs, media and technical support staff. cross-cultural communication. • Consistent technical and programmatic support. * They do not need to have any previous experience • The opportunity to help shape a new, exciting in video production. and important program. • The Connect Program will receive extensive What academic disciplines does the Connect media coverage. Participating universities will Program pertain to? be highlighted in all public relations materials. While the critical thinking and communication skills • An exciting learning opportunity for students, provided through participation in the Connect one that will give them key critical thinking, Program are applicable to most disciplines, the most communication, media literacy and technical directly relevant fields are: skills for the 21st century. • International Relations, particularly American, Middle East and/or Islamic Studies • Media and Communications • Conflict Resolution
  5. 5. Soliya Management Lucas Welch Waleed Nassar President Cairo Office Manager & Outreach Officer Lucas Welch has extensive experience working in media and Waleed graduated with a Bachelor intercultural communications in Journalism and Mass utilizing new technologies. He Communications from the American worked for several years at ABC University in Cairo. He has News on documentaries for Peter extensive experience in interactive Jennings. He has taught new media production at media and has worked with local NGOs in using Birzeit University in the Palestinian Territories. Lucas interactive media as a tool for development. He was also served as the Director of Communications for also featured as a new media artist from Egypt on the America Abroad Media where he coordinated a website of the Middle East Youth Initiative (MEYI) of the videoconferencing initiative between high schools in Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings. Pakistan and the US. He has also worked as a researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet & Waidehi Gokhale Society at Harvard University and as the Associate Program Manager Producer for Common Ground Productions on a documentary series about the Israeli-Palestinian Waidehi Gokhale has worked in the conflict. fields of psychology and development with a focus on Liza Chambers children and youth. She has worked Executive Director as an International Projects Manager with War Child Canada, a Liza Chambers has worked for facilitator and researcher with the Centre for Dialogue several years as a facilitator at and Reconciliation and as a counselor on staff for two Seeds of Peace, providing training high schools in the Greater Boston Area. She received and facilitating dialogue for youth her undergraduate degree in Literature and Philosophy from conflict areas, including the from the University of York, UK, a Master’s in Middle East, Cyprus and the Counseling Psychology from Boston College and a former Yugoslavia. She was a Program Manager at Master’s in International Law and Diplomacy from The Conflict Management Group, where she directed a Fletcher School at Tufts University. program that brought Israeli and Palestinian negotiators together to participate in negotiation skills Salma Elbeblawi training and dialogue. Prior to that she was Director Program Manager of Youth Programs for NCCJ- San Diego where she managed programs that promoted dialogue about Salma Elbeblawi has several years issues of race, class and gender. She has also of experience in the development developed dialogue programs in South Africa and at field with a special focus on youth Brown University. She holds a Masters in Public development and informal Policy from the Kennedy School at Harvard education. She was a program University, where she did extensive coursework on manager at University of Wales conflict resolution and mediation. Aberystwyth, working to promote education among disadvantaged communities. She also worked as a Reem Marto youth development consultant with the Ford Outreach Manager Foundation, the Arab Education Forum and the NGO Coalition for the Rights of the Child. She has a special Reem Marto received her Master's interest in exploring the use of art and other creative degree at Princeton University's tools for social change. department of Near Eastern ••••• Studies. Reem has studied Arabic in Damascus, Turkish in Istanbul, Soliya President, Lucas Welch, and Executive Director, and earned a one-year fellowship at Liza Chambers, were named two of "the World's Best the Center for Arabic Study Abroad at the American Emerging Social Entrepreneurs" by the Echoing Green University in Cairo. She completed her bachelor’s Foundation for their work with Soliya. They are also degree in Middle East Studies and International Studies both affiliates of the Berkman Center for Internet & at Emory University. Society at Harvard University.