Real life experience for one class

November 23, 2008 9:11:45 PM PST
For a group of University of Pennsylvania students, it was their version of final exams .The students are from the Ideas into Action class, an international affairs course that threw out the dry textbooks and theories.

"The first thing I said to them when they came in is if you are not willing to work outside any intellectual box, this is not the right place for you, you're going to work harder then you ever worked and it could fall apart," University of Pennsylvania professor Marjorie Margolies said.

The class took on a specific problem: how to solve the malaria epidemic in Malawi. The country's former health minister, Marjorie Ngunje, came to classes and challenged them to offer new thinking and solutions.

"You had to start hitting the pavement talking to the experts and writing up a proposal," student Aileene Halligan said.

The students turned their findings into a book of recommendations, everything from how to redeploy foreign assistance to how to use pop culture.

"You have to encode the message culturally so if you have good jingle, they sing it and that brings it up everyday," student Shawn Wong said.

At the end of the course, four of the students got an extraordinary opportunity; they joined their professor in hand delivering their book to officials in Malawi.

They were met with celebrations.

Being in country gave them a whole new perspective on malaria.

The students also got a unique insight into the social factors that make it even harder to cure malaria: poverty, racial and ethnic strife, and entrenched bad habits.

But they could also see the positive effects of change. Large numbers of women entering parliament for the first time is creating a government more likely to take action.

It's not clear yet if the Malawian government will indeed implement the student's ideas, but these young people are thrilled with making real world impact.

And some, like Aileene Halligan, who now works for professor Marjorie Margolies' international aid agency, have turned a one-of-a-kind class into a calling.


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