The Open World Leadership Program
by Myra Saturen,
Six Serbian educators visited Northampton Community College's (NCC), Kutztown University and East Stroudsburg University from April 8 through 16, 2017, as delegates through the Open World Leadership program.
The Open World Leadership Center, which funds and sponsors the Open World Leadership program, is an independent government agency of the U.S. Congress dedicated to giving emerging leaders from participatory countries firsthand exposure to free enterprise and to the American system of democracy on federal, state and regional levels. United States embassies abroad provide logistical support and nominate delegates.
The focus of the Serbian delegates' visit was "Innovation: Higher Education System in the U.S." As Serbia undertakes educational reform, educators are seeking alternative ways to integrate internships into courses, to align their institutions more closely with the job market and to create a higher education system that would enable more practical and hands-on instruction, with the ultimate aim of making Serbia a more democratic society with better economic opportunities.
The Serbian delegates included Ivana Jovanovic, an advisor in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development; Jelena Cvejin Poznic, head of information and public relations at the University of Novi Sad; Svetlana Bogdanovic, senior advisor in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development; Vladimir Markovic, research support officer, University of Belgrade; Vukasin Petrovic, secretary at the library of University of Kragujevac and consultant about internships; and Vukica Stankovic, cultural affairs specialist at the Embassy of the United States in Belgrade.
The visit was arranged by Manny Gonzalez, associate dean and director of international programs, and Patrice Boulous, assistant director, admissions/international students, in cooperation with the Open World Center. Lori Boucher, Program Coordinator, Center for International Education, handled the trip's many logistics. During an event-packed week, the delegates attended numerous presentations by NCC faculty and administrators in the areas of academic success, experiential learning, teaching with technology, and more. They attended a technical jobs fair, made cultural trips in the Lehigh Valley and to Philadelphia, and met students. Since an important part of the Open Leadership Center's purpose is to help delegates develop an understanding of the educational role of Congress and state and local legislatures, the visitors met with Pennsylvania State Representative Robert Freeman and aides to U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent.
The Serbian delegates observed many features of NCC that inspired them. They were impressed with the success of the College's internship program. They noted that it is well-organized and yields excellent employment opportunities for students.
The Learning Center caught their attention. In Serbia, students hire private tutors or form study groups.
The Automotive program interested the delegates, especially the many cars available for student learning. The delegates found of great interest the technology program, the media studio and online teaching.
Serbia has no community colleges, although some Serbian institutions serve part of community colleges' roles. The delegates learned about the ability of community colleges to create programs aligned with labor market needs, their emphasis on diversity and global engagement (one of NCC's strategic objectives), and their commitment to offering everyone the opportunity for higher education.
"We are impressed with the enthusiasm and passion and devotion people have for working and studying here," Markovic and others said. The delegates admired NCC's agile, adaptive and dynamic connection to the community.
Members of the NCC community learned about the Serbian higher education system and culture. Colleges tend to be fewer in Serbia but larger. Collectiveness is ingrained in the culture. The visitors stayed with host families, mostly NCC faculty. The Open World Community Leadership Center initiative relies entirely on volunteer host families. The delegates said they were treated as part of the family. "We discovered American kindness," said Petrovic. "Our hosts went above and beyond. They took care of our needs without our having to ask for it."
Everyone at NCC tried to make the delegates' stay pleasant and comfortable, they said, expressing their sincere gratitude to the College and the American Embassy in Belgrade.