Posted by & filed under Staff Insights.

Brenton Since its inception, the Race Relations Project, then the World in Conversation Project, and now World in Conversation: A Center for Public Diplomacy has relied upon the vigor and vision of young students to fuel its work. From developing engaging “ice breaker” questions, that launch dialogues, to building more efficient systems of staffing scheduled programs, to refining the use of video technology to enhance training practices, to launching social media campaigns and building websites, students at World in Conversation have been a primary source of innovative energy.

     A significant part of my work as Program Manager at WinC focuses on the recruitment, hiring, and training of these students. Growing up in State College Pennsylvania, I’ve always thought of Penn State students as a bunch of drunken idiots who cared more about living for themselves than about bringing about change in a world in desperate need of it. After having had the opportunity to serve beside faculty, staff, and students in World in Conversation, my adolescent perceptions of Penn State have been thrown in my face!

    When our student facilitators found out that our program could no longer operate and still offer financial compensation for their work, our student facilitators remained committed to working with us. Nine times out of ten when our student facilitators have been given opportunities to step up and take on leadership positions coordinating, managing, and coaching their peers, they have stepped to the task in a professional, respectful, and committed manner. In witnessing their commitment to WinC I’ve been forced to re-construct my perceptions  of Penn State students as people who are committed to a process of personal growth for selfless reasons.  They are driven and talented, and people who I can feel good about being the future of our world.

     It’s the students’ naivete and lack of experience, paired with a willingness to try new things and a desire to grow which fuels my desire to remain committed to our student-centric roots. I think naivete and a lack of experience serve as assets for our students. These qualities allow them to take on challenges that would, for a lot of adults at least, often present a laundry list of “no,-I-can’ts” and “I-don’t-knows.” Our students are able and willing to take risks in ways that a lot of more seasoned professionals would not.  Time and time again, these risks have paid off in big ways for the students, as well as WinC.

     Because of our past being dramatically shaped by student innovation and energy, I remain committed to keeping our students as the focal point of what we do and we why do what we do. In the midst of a growing list of to-do’s that come along with programming development, World in Conversation remains committed to empowering students and to fueling the growth and development of our center.

Posted by & filed under From the Director, News and Updates.

Global Dialogue Pakistan Laurie MulveyI spend a lot of time examining conflict–everything from how I treat unappealing parts of myself, to how I work through misunderstandings with my loved ones, to how we deal with the cultural legacies of war. I used to see conflict simply as a clash between opposing forces, where one force strives to dominate the other in order to end the conflict. But what I’ve learned is that opposing forces really don’t disappear, even when someone or some group officially “wins.” These forces continue to vie for dominance–sometimes below the surface, sometimes explosively.  Think about an argument that you just had with your brother that you swore was finished years ago. Think about the roots of a terrorist act. These moments point to conflicts that never really ended; they just went underground for awhile.

But over time, I’ve come to see conflict in a new way. I’ve begun to notice how apparently opposing forces are actually interdependent and responsive to one another in subtle ways.  I’ve been able to see the relationship between these opposing forces and the possibility for collaboration between them. And I’ve seen conflicts approached in this way become a catalyst for constructive change, for building rather than tearing down. And I’ve seen this effect whether I’m looking inward or outward.

It has taken many experiences to come to this way of seeing conflict. But every day I have the privilege of seeing World in Conversation facilitators bring opposing ideas and beliefs and cultures into relationships with one another.  So I’ve been able to observe again and again the way viewpoints shift on subjects where fixed beliefs seem to be the norm, and the way forces in conflict can find new ways to relate. Each one of these encounters is a tiny step toward the too often unimaginable act of bridging divides that seem unbridgeable.

And once we build a bridge, interaction between different sides is inevitable. And when interaction happens, it’s much harder to demonize and dehumanize one another.

But as many of us know who cross these bridges into what some folks see as “enemy territory,” it can be a controversial step; and not everyone applauds. In fact, making peace can often be a way of making new, unexpected enemies. I guess that’s a topic for another blog.

Laurie Mulvey

 

Posted by & filed under From the Director, News and Updates.

WinC tee_TinyAct-WinC

Given all of the changes that have occurred since becoming a Center, I have been working to re-assign projects and solidify the roles of our senior staff in order to meet the growing demands for our work. This is an exciting time, especially with the pre-production work on “You Can’t Say That (YCST)” (the public television series based on SOC 119 that will be filmed in the Fall), our intensive and ongoing research and development efforts with regards to global programming, and the cutting edge communications technology that we seem to implement as quickly as it is developed. With all of those initiatives on our plate, here is an overview of the new roles of our senior staff:

*Brenton Mitchell is the WinC Program Manager and is shifting his focus to the production of YCST.  He manages relations and reports progress with all parties inside and outside of Penn State.  He is continuing his leadership in the face-to-face training program, but is delegating some of his administrative responsibilities for recruiting and coordinating to members of the rising coaching staff.

 

*Tim Taylor is (for the interim) the Technical Operations Manager.  He manages virtual and organizational communications. This role reaches every area of the Center, but is specifically looking at fundraising opportunities and operational systems from a technical standpoint.  He is mapping out a vision for sustainable IT support, consulting on the creation of web applications, managing the WinC registration website from a user and administration standpoint, and furthering the development of the global project as they relate to video conferencing and training technology.

 

*Sheffy Sodhi is the Global Dialogues Coordinator.  She is the point person for all international contacts.  With her strong background as a facilitator and as a trainer she communicates, cross-culturally, the value of a facilitated dialogue with members outside and inside of the organization.  She offers direction to the virtual dialogue training staff and supports the development of the virtual training curriculum.

 

*Karissa Rogers is the Logistics Coordinator.  She balances the complex factors that go into coordinating a student driven operation and instills scheduling practices that charge, but organize the group.  Currently she is spearheading an effort to streamline the coordination of programs for specific groups within the Penn State community.

 

*Karim Bataineh is the role of Lead Facilitation Trainer for global programs. Karim has been training and facilitating WinC dialogues with students in the Middle East for the past four years. He also manages the Soc 300 Western Middle Eastern Exchange course.  His expertise and refined ability to “know what the conversation needs” will now be used to serve our broader training efforts.

 

I am inspired by the flexibility of our senior staff in accommodating and rising to the challenges of so many dynamic changes.

Note: WinC is looking for seasoned and effective grant writers.  Please send resume and writing sample to DJ@worldinconversation.org.

 

Posted by & filed under Staff Insights, Uncategorized.

Trent Hall     Hello again, you beautiful beings of light ^_^.  It’s been awhile since the last time we talked. I don’t know about you, but this semester seems to be flying by a little faster than usual. It only seems to slow down when I stop and think about the internal growth I have witnessed in my fellow coaches and myself.  I am truly amazed at how much my second semester of teaching SOC 300 has affected my fundamental understanding of not only my individual facilitation style, but also the facilitation skills that form the foundation of WinC.

     Every Tuesday and Wednesday I spend upwards of 10 hours breaking down and reconstructing different lessons that correlate directly with our facilitation skills pyramid and our badging system. My understanding of Rapport, Open-Ended Questions, Reflective Listening, Empathy, and Connection Building in reference to dialogue, and even everyday life, have evolved beyond any point I previously thought possible. Let me use Reflective Listening as an example.  The skill itself is to simply mirror or repeat back what you hear a person saying in a conversation.  There are 5 different types of reflective listening that encompass the way you reflect what you reflect; Verbatim, Translation – Simple and Far Out, Unstated Feelings , and Connect-the-Dots . While breaking down the mechanics of this skill and synthesizing it into teachable material, I begin to introspect on a different level that tunes me into not only the more intricate benefits of the skill involved in dialogue, but also the profound effects these skills can have on the relationships. Reflective listening truly affirms a person, allowing them to understand exactly what people are hearing from them as they state their own experiences and opinions. In this way, it is similar to holding a mirror for someone so they can see what they look like.  There is such great power in genuinely and actively listening to a person and simply allowing them to hear exactly what you are understanding from them.  Sometimes we listen to people, simply waiting for our turn to talk or add to what they said, focusing solely inward, but what happens when we truly give a person our undivided attention and follow it up with some form of acknowledgement? Something that seems like common sense has had profound implications on my life, as my understanding gradually, but continually, expands as I take on my own experience and other’s experiences with this skill.

I love that I have seen progress in my understanding of these skills, but what is even more rewarding is seeing students who give themselves to the process realize just how much impact these skills can have. When you genuinely listen to someone and are able to truly hold space for them in a way that honors their experience, it’s as if you’re validating their existence.  You’re effectively saying all of their fears, dreams, and aspirations are equal to yours, that they are just as important to the cosmos as you are.   I feel like I have been given a golden opportunity to help jumpstart my students on a journey that I’m still on.  Even after five years, I am still constantly discovering new things about myself and those around me. There isn’t much in life more satisfying and gratifying than passing on things I have learned and allowing others to learn by themselves.

 

Posted by & filed under Staff Insights.

chad

The last blog I wrote was titled “Designing Powerful Conversations.” This week, let’s talk less and visualize more. Below is a sample of one of the six “badges” that World in Conversation awards to facilitators who demonstrate exemplary skills in the art of facilitation.

Badge Study Sheets

In addition to Connection Building, we have badges outlining the following skills: Rapport, Socratic Inquiry, Reflective Listening, and Group Management.  The culmination of all of these badges amounts to the Masterful Facilitation badge which serves more as a certificate for veteran facilitators who have an immense amount of experience under their belt.  These badges articulate what our team does every single day when eight strangers walk into a room to talk about stuff they aren’t supposed to talk about. The connections that are built and the realizations that are had in World in Conversation are fueled by talented people who can artfully use these skills to guide dialogue to meaningful places.

Just like a skilled carpenter benefits from good tools, skilled facilitators benefit from having conversational tools at their disposal. This next graphic represents a major sociological underpinning of the conversations we have, and it is one of these tools that guides critical thought. This is what we call the ICS Model (which has been adapted from a fancy sociologist’s research). “I” stands for Individual. “C” stands for Cultural. And “S” stands for Structural. These categories are merely lenses with which to view the world. Obviously, there is much more meat to these ideas as this is just a bare-bones reference sheet that facilitators use to think critically about the conversation happening in the room.

ICS Clipboard Reference Tool

This powerful model helped me once when I was facilitating a pilot virtual dialogue with a group in Taiwan.  Once we had connected and our four Taiwanese friends showed up on the screen, one of the students sitting in the room with me at Penn State gasped, pointed at the screen, and jumped back. One of the Taiwanese participants was wearing a surgical mask, and the Penn State student thought it was just plain weird. Using some of the skills articulated in the Socratic Inquiry badge, I tried to explore what cultural influences were at play in this situation. The group ended up learning that in Taiwan, people who are sick try to wear masks as a courtesy to protect the health of others. This insight on the cultural level washed away the scared student’s individual assumption. Later in the dialogue, we discussed structural elements like population, laws, and healthcare resources that shaped that practice of Taiwanese culture. All these insights then give an American participant a chance to reflect on their own thoughts, their own culture, and their own position in the larger structure of the United States.

There is much depth to this model, and it is foundational to the work that we do and why we do it. I hope this window into what is happening at World in Conversation will be enough to spark your curiosity. We’d love you for you to follow up on any curiosity this blog invoked on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted by & filed under Staff Insights.

JennyRecently while in dialogue, there have been many moments that have given me pause. I want to take time today to reflect on a few and share the insight I’ve gained from them.

Pictures on a phone are held shakily up to the screen: one student’s brother, a parent, a roommate, a comrade in the military, one girl’s dog, one guys hockey team. There are Christmas decorations in the background of one. Another includes a New Years feast in a restaurant in China. The poster hanging behind one person is a poet in Iran who looks like the combination of Einstein and Mark Twain and we soon learn that the poet’s name literally means “third brother.”

My own name (Jenevieve) comes from my great aunt, who I don’t remember. I associate with her sister however – a really pleasant and creative person that has gnome figurines all over her house. What is the story behind your name? Maybe it has a literal meaning like “highly respected.” Maybe you were named after a relative or a historical figure or someone famous. Maybe your name was almost something else. Or maybe you have chosen an english name in addition to your birth name. Perhaps it came to your mother in a dream.

Pictures and names are really just the beginning, which is ironic, because when I began at WinC I would not have imagined that I would converse with people all over the world about such things. Each global dialogue is a surprise: sometimes I know the contact that we will speak to really well, others it is the first time I am meeting them. Often I don’t even know how many people will be there when we connect – sometimes one person, and occasionally 5 or more.

I often wonder what people think I converse with China, Pakistan, and Iran about. I hear clues about this when I tell people what I do. It both amuses and perplexes me when someone responds by saying something like: “Oh, good, we need people talking with the enemy.” Often this sentiment comes from Americans. Being that World in Conversation’s mission is to expand these perspectives and invite greater understanding, I attempted to flip this sentiment by asking American participants what they would be interested in talking to people in China about. When I saw they were struggling I pushed further and asked, “What would be important to find out about someone if you thought they might be your friend?”

Soon after, I find myself telling a friend of my own that I have just watched people on different sides of the world (one enlisted in a military that calls the other “the enemy”) tell each other what communities they are a part of and how they feel to be a part of them.

In a different dialogue, we used a game to expand perspectives and invite greater understanding between Pakistani civilians and American students. Pakistanis pretended they were on a deserted island and as a team came up with 3 things they wished they would have brought while the American participants did the same. Some of the things they came up with were the same and others showed a difference in their mindsets. In this moment, my own mind was blown when the participants realized that people in Pakistan do not even hesitate to describe their culture while those in America struggle to even identify theirs. To boot: the opposite happens when each is asked to talk about themselves individually: Americans jump to the point, while Pakistanis take pause to reflect. It is not stretch to realize this is what is meant when cultures are called “individualistic” or “communal.”

In these dialogues we talk about values, and education, and politics, and poverty. We discuss family, and hobbies, and religion, and misconceptions, and we even arrive at the stories and significance behind our names and the pictures that we are sharing with each other.

What would you talk about?

Posted by & filed under Feature Friday, Staff Insights.

pensiveTo The World in Conversation Family and Friends:

I want to first say thank you: each staff member, facilitator, intern, interpreter, partner, participant, follower, and reader who has been a part of my life over the past year has helped shaped not only my experience at WinC, but who I have become as a result of the experience. I started at WinC right after I graduated from college with no real world experience and I ended up actually gaining the world. Being the Global Programs Administrator for the Center exposed me to incredible people and interesting perspectives. Not just at Penn State, but people around the world who share their perspectives with me every day.

My first weeks at WinC were filled with learning the basics of the technology and the inner workings of the community. Once I had that down, I began meeting our global dialogue partners and seeking out new ones. I have to say;  the personal friendships that I have built with our partners were and continue to be invaluable. All around the world I have gotten to know about people, their families, their lives, and their struggles. I can assure you they are very similar to mine. After all, isn’t that the point – that we are all the same? Reflecting back on my time here, I have been preaching to students that one conversation with people on the other side of the world can help you form opinions on others that dissolve media bias. I didn’t realize until now that I had been engaging in my own dialogues and forming my own opinions of people, learning that we are all similar. We are one people.

World in Conversation has an aphorism that “a tiny act can have profound effects.” For me, that act has been listening. We talk about what it means to be an active listener: listening to what people are saying beyond the words and being able to comprehend it.  Responding to it fully is a task that most people take for granted. Here, we work on it daily. Just this afternoon I was in a meeting with my boss and she gave me a lovely compliment. She said that there was a way about me which people always feel like I am really listening to them. I am not sure if that was always the case, but I am glad that it is now. I learn so much from each person that I encounter. To me, it makes very little difference if you have a PhD or if you are still in high school. Maybe you didn’t even finish high school, or maybe you are my two year old godson– you have things to say and I want to hear them. Will I agree everything that everyone has to say? No chance! However, I have nothing but faith in the fact that when I hear them, even if I don’t agree, I will think about it. Those thoughts can make all the difference.

During my time here my job has also included working with Soc 297 students. All I can say is, “wow”. The beautiful minds of people who are exploring a serious topic like the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict has been eye opening. Watching people talk and listen to each other speak about such a difficult topic, hearing graphic and upsetting stories, and actively listening to them has been humbling. Seeing students come together and form lasting friendships because of this class (even if they are facebook friendships) from across the world helps me to understand and experience the effects of dialogue first hand. It makes me smile.

Speaking of smiles, when I walk up and down the hall of our center I see not only the faces of the people who want to change the world, but the faces of the people who ARE changing the world. As a staff member of World in Conversation who was never a facilitator, I first had a difficult time grasping the principles of the work. As I observed dialogues and talked to facilitators and got to know the faces of these halls, I can say that I am confidant that there will be change in the world at the hands of past, present, and future facilitators and through the people whom they have touched. It makes me happy to know that I – along with all of the beautiful people involved at WinC – will have the opportunity to take what we learn here and bring it out into the world. My partners have told me time and time again how valuable these dialogues are to them personally and professionally, and I cannot help but think, “yeah, for me too.”

The work that happens here is so grand and vast that as the center continues to flourish I know that it will only continue to exceed my expectations. With that said, my time as the Global Programs Administrator is coming to a close. As I start a new leg of my career journey, I will always hold a very high and special place in my heart for World in Conversation and all of the people who have made this experience what it has been. A special thanks to Sam, Laurie, and Danna Jayne who gave me this opportunity in the first place. You have changed my life. Everyone here has.

Thank you everyone for your support and your well wishes. I appreciate every moment that we have spend together in person, on Skype, on the phone, and every other mode of communication, building bridges for a better world through dialogue, and through our own personal conversations. We will stay in touch, and I hope to continue taking strides to change the world alongside each of you.

 

“Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing away of oneself and an eventual extinction”

-Jean Dubuffet

 

Love,

Alyssa

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

This week at World in Conversation, we have a very special event happening abroad. Our Directors, Sam and Laurie, are in Brussels, presenting WinC’s work to NATO Diplomats and the Independent Scientific Evaluation Group (ISEG). To give us some insight into the science behind our work, here’s a guest blog from Dr. Terri Vescio, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Penn State:

 

TerryVescioTheorists and researchers have speculated about the positive consequences of inter-group contact for nearly eighty years. In the 1940s and 1950s, social psychological theorists suggested that contact between members of different groups could foster mutual understanding and positive regard; and corresponding studies of people living in public housing pointed to conditions that were particularly likely to foster mutual understanding, respect and acceptance. Integrating this theory and research, in 1954 Gordon Allport introduced the first formal statement of the “contact hypothesis,” suggesting that contact between people who belong to different ethnic groups could result in a reduction of prejudice under optimal conditions. In particular, Allport held that prejudice reduction would follow inter-group contact when four features define the contact situation. The four optimal features of contact situations included: equal status between groups in the situation, common goals, inter-group cooperation (rather than competition), and the support of authorities (e.g., law, customs, administrators).

 

Allport’s formal statement of the contact hypothesis has inspired extensive research.

Scholars have examined inter-group contact across a variety of groups, situations, and societies. Examinations of the consequences of inter-group contact have been conducted on populations that vary in age, physical ability status, mental ability status, and level of national/international conflict. Tests of the contact hypothesis have also used varied methods and procedures, including: archival research, field studies, surveys, and basic laboratory procedures. As a result, a great deal is known about the effects of inter-group contact on physiological reactions, cognition, behavior, and affect in conditions defined by war, genocide, and peace.

 

Even more, in a meta-analytic examination of 515 studies involving a quarter of a million participants across 38 nations, Pettigrew and Tropp (2006) documented clear evidence that contact between members of different groups is associated with decreases in prejudice. The positive effects of contact between individual members of different groups also generalize to the group as a whole; contact with an out-group member results in decreases in prejudice toward the entire group to which the person belongs.

 

So the take home message is clear – inter-group contact reduces prejudice. And the kind of contact that World In Conversation participants have through dialogues is optimal for strengthening cross-cultural skills and understanding.

Posted by & filed under Feature Friday, News and Updates, Staff Insights.

erik 2

The last couple of weeks in Soc119 have been going great. With the way that Sam has restructured the class and the lectures, it seems like the students have really been enjoying the class. It has been great to look out into the crowed and see 100 Thomas filled to capacity.

From the feedback that I have received from the TA and GA teams, the discussion groups have been going great and the students have been engaging in some thought provoking conversations.

soc 119

With things running smoothly in the Soc119 realm, my attention recently has been focused on our recruitment process for future TAs and future World in Conversation facilitators. Along with the rest of the recruitment team we have been restructuring the process in order to open up our doors to more individuals at the university. The recruitment team is composed of Brenton, Khay, Rafaif, Mckenzi and myself. All of these creative minds are coming together once a week to move World in Conversation in a new direction that will work more effectively, with the continuing development of the Center. As we expand and we begin to move further along into the global realm, our efforts to bring in more brilliant minds to our center are intensifying and transforming. I am looking forward to what the future will bring for WinC and our future TAs, Gas, and facilitators.

Posted by & filed under From the Director, Staff Insights.

Laurie MulveyWorld in Conversation has been growing for more than a decade. And for it to continue to flourish, it requires more formalized operating systems to be established and followed. What this flourishing also requires are systems responsive to cultural diversity. What does that really mean? To me, it means accepting the challenge of building systems that can accommodate the subtle and profound differences in how groups of people see, approach, experience and live in the same world. Commitment to this kind of endeavor not only takes extra time out of our already busy days, but it also requires a willingness to pause our forward motion and listen closely to one another for something we haven’t heard before. That’s not easy to do; it often “gets in the way” of the operating efficiency we seek.

Nonetheless, WinC must be composed of systems that invite disagreement and out-of-the-box perspectives. These must be brought to the center of our work and sometimes they must interrupt what we are doing in order to ensure that non-majority views be properly understood and built into the larger structures. (“Majority” can refer to categories like race and gender, but it also can relate to dominant views in an organization.)

But here’s the thing: My experience with non-majority groups of every kind is that most people in those groups have difficulty expressing themselves to the dominant group. And if they are not speaking to people or systems that are equipped to accommodate difficult-to-articulate insights, important perspectives will go unspoken–and the system will continue to serve the vision of the dominant group only.

We can’t afford to have that happen at WinC as we become more efficient in our operations. Conflict is not transformed into collaboration when differences are either not recognized or cannot be brought to the surface because they have no place there. The very integrity of WinC relies on different perspectives being profoundly honored and consciously integrated into our organizational development, at every level. I am committed to more than conversations about our differences. I am committed to creating systems that serve these differences and the people in whom these differences are reflected.