Bluefield State College Soliya Connect Program


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Q & A for Students, Faculty, and Others

Soliya Connect Program: Q & A for Students, Faculty, and Others

Q: What is Soliya?

A: The Soliya Connect Program is a United Nations-affiliated international cross-cultural virtual student exchange program that allows students from North America, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, and Central and South America to participate in discussions on political, sociological, and cultural issues with their colleagues in other parts of the world without the necessity of expending significant financial resources or engaging in timely, and sometimes hazardous, travel.

Q: How does it work?

A: Students are put into groups of from eight to ten students who login to their discussion group sessions once a week for two straight hours (for a total of eight weeks). Students are placed into groups which meet at their optimally designated time. Guided discussions, by facilitators (i.e. including graduates, i.e. alumni, of the program and young professionals in relevant fields such as international relations, conflict resolution, etc. who have received extra training), touch on contemporary cultural, social, and political issues.

Q: What language of discourse is required?

A: All Soliya group discussion sessions are conducted in the English language.

Q: How long does the program last?

A: The Soliya Connect Program lasts for eight weeks (generally from midterm until the end of the semester). Students must sign up for INST 492 by the first week of classes, as it is a regular course. Alternatively, professors have the option of providing students with a percentage of the grade in the courses they teach without the necessity of signing up for the one-credit course, though professors must have such students contact me of their intention to participate, so that I may keep track of their weekly attendance in order to report such to your professor to incorporate into their grades at the end of the semester.

Q: How many credit hours can I get by participating in the Soliya Connect Program?

A: Students participating in the Soliya Connect Program, beginning in the Fall 2019 semester, can sign up for INST 492 "Soliya Connect Program" in order to obtain one additional course credit. Alternatively, a professor may incorporate Soliya Connect participation as part of their regular course grade without students signing up for INST 492, and generally professors have allotted 20% of the course grade for Soliya participation (i.e. once-a-week two hour online group sessions for the eight-week duration of the program -- generally from midterm to the end of the semester).

If you take the international study abroad course, INST 491 "Study Abroad" (a course for students who want to travel abroad with one of BSC's Study Abroad programs), then you have the option of participating in the Soliya Connect Program 8-week course from home via a laptop or desktop computer for one additional credit hour by also signing up for INST 492 "Soliya Connect Program."

Q: Where do students meet?

A: While most Soliya students login from home via their laptop or desktop computers (equipped with a camera and a microphone), BSC does provide two designated Soliya computer labs on the BSC campus. The two designated Soliya computer labs on campus are located at:

  • Basic Science B116 (available Mondays 11-3; Tuesdays 8-9:30 and 11-1; Wednesdays 8-3; Thursdays 8-9:30 and 11-1; Fridays 11-3. Soliya students wishing to utilize B116 should go to the Arts & Sciences main office (BG05) to sign in/have the room unlocked, and return to the main office to sign-out when finished using the room;
  • Conley Hall 303 (CH 303) [8:00 a..m.-4:00 p.m.; if door is locked, staff in the Counseling Office, Conley Hall Room 305, can assist in unlocking the door; their offices are on the third floor of Conley Hall].

Q: How do the group discussion sessions operate?

A: Once a student completes registration with the Soliya Connect Program and selects a group discussion time, information will be sent to them on how to login to their weekly group discussions. For those utilizing the on-campus designated Soliya computer labs, these computers are already equipped with special Soliya software which brings up all group members simultaneously on the screen so that every member can visually see and hear each other as discussions proceed. Discussions are initiated and presided over by a facilitator, who is an experienced Soliya graduate who has undergone additional training.

Q: What do the group discussion sessions focus on?

A: Discussions span social, cultural, economic, environmental, and political categories and can focus on topics such as: freedom of speech, religion in governance and/or in society, discrimination (e.g. gender, race, religion), treatment of minorities, women's rights, social movements in one's community, unemployment or underemployment, pollution and environmental issues, growing extremism, human rights, etc. Students need not have any specialized training, although college students are the cohort in discussion groups.

Q: How many colleges and universities are involved and from how many countries?

A: The number of academic institutions varies each semester, but in the fall 2016 semester, nearly 40 colleges and universities from countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and North America participated in the Soliya Connect Program. In the Spring 2017 semester, more than 1300 students representing 72 nationalities from 52 academic institutions in 13 countries from around the world, including students from 13 states in the United States, participated in the Soliya Connect Program. The Soliya office in New York along with their associates around the world undertake all of the necessary work of signing up colleges and universities and administering the logistics that allow these worldwide discussions to take place.

Q: How do I sign up to participate?

A: Students interested in receiving one course credit for their Soliya participation must sign up for INST 492 "Soliya Connect Program" when registering for semester courses. Otherwise, if a professor wishes to include Soliya participation as part of their course and assign a percentage (usually 20%) of their students' grades for such participation, then the professor must notify me which students will be participating in that semester's discussions and have the students send me an email (ccavell@bluefieldstate.edu) indicating their desire to participate in the Soliya Connect Program. These names will be communicated to Soliya in New York. A Soliya email will be sent to the student with instructions on how to register, login, etc.

Q: Do I get credit for this activity?

A: Attendance records are kept by Soliya and relayed weekly to me acting as Soliya coordinator. At the end of the semester, I will assign grades, for students registerd in INST 492, based upon the student's attendance in their weekly discussions as well as a final reflection paper (usually one page) at the end of the semester. When the Soliya Connect Program is offered by a professor as part of a three-credit-hour course, I will keep professors apprised of their students' participation in weekly discussion sessions, so that professors may tally appropriate grades for their students. Note that students who miss three discussion sessions will be dropped from the program by Soliya.

If you take "INST 491 Study Abroad," then you can earn from 3-5 credit hours, as per the BSC Academic Catalog stipulations:

    INST 491 Study Abroad (3-2-3).
    Study abroad in BSC faculty-led study abroad programs implemented in collaboration with BSC international partner institutions or enroll in BSC’s partner organizations for study abroad such as CIEE or KEI.

Q: As a professor, how much work do I have to do if my students participate in the Soliya Connect Program?

A: If a student signs up for INST 492 for one course credit, then you are not involved in their grade, as it is a stand-alone course. If you incorporate Soliya into your regular three-hour course (providing usually 20% for Soliya student participation), then, as professor, you must do three things:
  • Send me names and email addresses of your students who wish to participate in the Soliya Connect Program;
  • Encourage students to attend their weekly discussion sessions;
  • Assign a grade for your students' Soliya participation (based upon their attendance in weekly discussion sessions) at the end of the semester.

Q: Is the Soliya Connect Program truly useful and valuable?

A: FROM STUDENTS' PERSPECTIVES:

    The Soliya Connect program for me was a wonderful experience. At first, I did not think it would be as interesting as it was yet it became the highlight of my Mondays! It helped open my eyes because I sit and think about how young adults from all different walks of life can gather around and have a positive conversation, different religions, beliefs, and ethnic backgrounds. It is possible to have disagreements yet still respect each other. Yet here we are in a world full of people who unable to do this. Governments have power but lack the simplest idea that it is okay to be different. Differences do not mean we have to be enemies; this program has really opened my eyes to so many beautiful souls. Siraj, my brother whom is not my biological brother, cried real tears in our last discussion because it was the last one and he is going to miss seeing us. Programs such as Soliya are essential in my eyes because this is the change needed in humanity. The program should be pushed upon younger generations because the hate that is developed between people is learned. We need to instill in our youth the love for all people no matter the race, religion, or where someone is from. Thank you for allowing me to participate in this experience and grow in a way not many have the opportunity to!

    --James Q. Shelton, May 2019 Psychology concentration Social Sciences graduate


    The Soliya Connect Program at BSC has given me an opportunity to learn firsthand about various cultures. It has provided me a unique opportunity to share life as I know it with people from all over the world. The Soliya Connect Program provides a forum to ask questions for the sake of understanding cultures unlike my own. Personally, I believe the interaction between myself and other Soliya participants has given me and others an opportunity to represent our countries in affirmative ways, infusing positivity into the world of international relations.

    --Dexter W. Simon, Current Sociology concentration Social Sciences Major


    My experience with Soliya was completely positive. I have never left the United States; however, with the help of Soliya, I was able to learn about other cultures and social customs directly from the individuals who live within these communities. I made several friends within my Soliya group who I still speak to almost one year later. I would be more than willing to repeat the program and encourage people to participate if they can.

    --Brittany N. Antoine, May 2018 Psychology concentration Social Sciences graduate


    As a Bluefield State Student who has spent her entire life amongst the hills of Mercer County, West Virginia, the Soliya Connect Program was tremendously enlightening for me. The topics of discussion were perfect conversation initiators amongst my group and the discussions were always respectful yet comprehensive. I appreciated just how much I learned about diversity and just how much students from various cultures and I were actually alike! As someone who may never obtain many opportunities to travel abroad, Soliya is an amazing opportunity to interact with those of various cultures, an opportunity I may never have had if it weren't for the Soliya Connect Program.

    --Brandi L. Fain, May 2018 Psychology concentration Social Sciences graduate


    The Soliya Connect Program not only enabled me to have a profound dialogue with students from all over the world, but it also allowed me to go through an advanced facilitation training endorsed by the United Nations Habitat. Thanks to my Soliya experience, I chose a career path in dialogue facilitation and peace education mentoring and training for youth. I am very thankful for this experience and encourage everyone to participate in this "journey" around the world without spending any money.

    --Jelena Jevtić, May 2018 Political Science concentration Social Sciences graduate and Valedictorian, Summa Cum Laude, International Student from Serbia


A: FROM THE PROFESSOR'S PERSPECTIVE:

    I have found that this experience is truly rewarding, especially for many of Bluefield State's students who seldom have either the financial means or the opportunity to venture beyond their hollows in the Appalachian Mountains. I started using the Soliya Program when I taught in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, and it was truly valued by my students on that island nation, and I have found a similar response from BSC graduates of the program. The best testimony is word of mouth, so I encourage you to ask a graduate of the program their opinion of it. Should you have any additional questions and/or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me.

    Contact:
    Colin S. Cavell, Ph.D.
    Professor of Political Science
    Basic Science Building 120
    304.327.4034
    ccavell@bluefieldstate.edu
    http://www.cscpo.com/





    SC Continues to Participate in Expanding International Cross-Cultural Exchange Program

    BSC Continues to Participate in Expanding International Cross-Cultural Exchange Program
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    May 30, 2017

    Twenty-one members of the Bluefield State College Seminar in Social Sciences class (SOSC 490), the capstone course for Social Sciences majors, participated this past spring 2017 semester in the Soliya Connect Program, a cross-cultural international exchange program which this year brought together more than 1300 students representing 72 nationalities from 52 academic institutions in 13 countries from around the world, including students from 13 states in the United States. This is the third year BSC has participated in the Soliya Connect Program.

    Founded in 2003, the Soliya Connect Program is an international exchange program which initially connected students in the United States with their counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to provide a platform for youth from these disparate parts of the world in the hopes of initiating a dialogue on critical cultural and political issues confronting these areas. From its initial beginnings, Soliya has continued to expand and now includes students from North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia allowing students to communicate, via voice and image interface, with their student colleagues wherever they are in the world via specialized communication software developed by Soliya called the Exchange Platform.

    Students from each participating institution are put into groups of approximately eight students with approximately half of each group composed of students from the Middle East and North Africa. Students participate in two-hour weekly discussion sessions addressing various cultural and political issues of the day. Readings on the various issues are provided, and the cross-cultural dialogue is structured to facilitate an honest exchange of views of students. The software utilized enables each group member to visually see and communicate with all other group members simultaneously. Facilitators, who are Soliya alumni, provide direction to group discussions, but it is the students who are key to the dynamics of the Connect Program.

    Combining the Latin word for sun, "sol", with the ancient Arabic word for light, "iya", the name reflects the program's aim "to bridge divides and shed light on cultural differences that too often seem inevitable and intractable."

    As one BSC student recounts her initial experience in the Soliya Connect Program:

      For one of my classes this semester, we were required to participate in this Soliya program. I had heard of this program in previous semesters but never had to participate in it so I wasn't quite sure how it would go. Prior to the first meeting face to face via webcam, we were asked to do an assignment to introduce ourselves, talk about positive and negative feedback and differences between a debate and dialogue. It was interesting to see where people were from and how they viewed dialogue and all that.

      The first week of seeing everyone face to face was interesting and a little uneasy at first, especially popping into the meeting room when there was not any one in there yet. However, we all went around and introduced ourselves, where we went to school/ what we were going for and where we were from. My group had people from here (United States), Jordan, Pakistan and Columbia. Our facilitators were from Canada and one lived in California but originally from Egypt. I think it was pretty cool to see such a diverse group to conversate with.

      Throughout the weeks of this program, we talked about different issues such as gender stereotypes, Isis, Trump ban against Middle Easterns, problems in our communities versus problems in other communities that may be similar or differ, etc. It was interesting to see how some countries were more alike than others and how the other countries were more strict or lenient depending upon the issue we discussed.

    Associate Professor of Political Science, Dr. Colin S. Cavell, who teaches the Social Sciences seminar at BSC believes the Soliya Connect Program both widens students' perspectives of their world by introducing them to their student counterparts in other regions of the globe while simultaneously deepening their understanding of how others perceive and address contemporary global issues. "Not only does the program sharpen their critical thinking skills," notes Cavell, "but, as well, the Soliya Connect Program provides our BSC students with an international cross-cultural exchange opportunity which is oftentimes too costly for our students to participate in. With Soliya, a student does not have to be wealthy in order to interact with and learn aspects of various world cultures. This is a program that is ideally suited for students in southern West Virginia. And, most importantly, the students very much appreciate it."


    Utilizing what it calls Civil Media, Soliya seeks to empower the emerging community of young adults from around the world to amplify voices from civil society so as to catalyze constructive and respectful discourse across divisions about important sociopolitical issues. Soliya is a partner of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, a project of the UN Secretary-General that aims "to reduce tensions across cultural divides that threaten to inflame existing political conflicts or trigger new ones."

    Through its programs of international communication, Soliya hopes to replace the usual method of confrontation and coercion in international relations to a process of cooperation and compassion. By providing student participants with a forum to articulate and share their perspectives on world events, and by recruiting past participants as group facilitators, and by sponsoring conferences and venues for sustained communication and collaboration, Soliya offers the benefits normally associated with international study and travel to a broad array of college students without having to physically leave their campus and/or spend thousands of dollars. Student participants obtain the benefit of meeting their peer-group colleagues in other parts of the world while sharing views on cultural and political ongoing developments. Not only does Soliya internationalize the curriculum by students sharing the ideas they have encountered in their group conversations, but, as well, new and exciting vistas are opened up for students who are now connected to a much wider world than many of them ever imagined.

    In line with West Virginia's HEPC Director of International Programs, Dr. Clark Egnor, as well as BSC's Coordinator of International Initiatives, Professor Sudhakar Jamkhandi, Soliya believes that it should become the norm in the 21st century for students to have a profound cross-cultural experience as part of their education, whether it is in person or online. It has thus partnered with a number of organizations, educational institutions, and other key partners to make this collaborative vision a reality.

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    News From Bluefield State College

    For additional information, contact Jim Nelson, Director of Institutional & Media Relations, (304) 327-4103, jnelson@bluefieldstate.edu

    BSC Senior Capstone Course Cultivates Students' Participation in Global "Street Corner" Conversations

    August 2018

    Bluefield, WV.--This spring, a group of students at Bluefield State College will gather once a week at a "street corner" to exchange ideas with other students about culture, society, politics, environment, and other topics of the day. Other students engaged in the "street corner" conversation do so from their home campuses in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa.

    These virtual "street corner" conversations are a centerpiece for the dynamic Soliya Connect Program, an international program that provides a platform for students from disparate parts of the world to consider cultural and political issues through a thoughtful and open videoconference exchange of ideas and perspectives. Soliya Connect is a pillar of BSC's "Seminar in Social Sciences" course, a capstone course for the College's senior students in the Social Sciences of Psychology, Sociology, History, and Political Science. During 2017, Soliya Connect brought together more than 1300 students representing 72 nationalities from 52 institutions in 13 countries, including students from 13 states in the U.S.

    "In addition to their in-class assignments and discussions, our students in the class meet once each week by way of specialized communication software to exchange ideas and perspectives with their student colleagues from around the world," explained Dr. Colin Cavell, Associate Professor of Political Science at BSC. Students work in groups of eight and engage in conversation, led by a student facilitator (and a former Soliya Connect student) and, through the process, develop a deeper understanding of what the social sciences are, Cavell added.

    "Social Sciences require students to engage in a culture of free inquiry and skepticism where participants can ask questions that challenge existing truths, engaging in a democratic exchange with other students and faculty," he said. "There is a give-and-take dynamic where students learn from each other and the professor learns from students."

    Through the course and involvement in Soliya Connect, Dr. Cavell seeks to lay some scientific foundation into students' epistemological (theory of knowledge) perspectives. "Students will gain insight into what is involved in the search for evidence, what constitutes evidence, what constitutes agreement on truth, and what the facts are," he stated.

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