Department of French's Dr. Karen James engages with Global Mentor

January 14, 2022

Karen Simroth James shares her thoughts on the Global Mentor Experience

Associate Professor, Language Program Director; Department of French 

Course: French for Global Development

How did you choose your global mentor? How did you structure the class for the global mentor to interact?
James:
 Even before the announcement about the Global Mentors Program, I’d been talking with my colleague, Janet Horne, about the new course on French for Global Development and possible guest speakers for the class, professionals with ties to our department who use French in their development and humanitarian aid work...

She introduced me to Abiol Lual Deng, an American and South Sudanese international professional with over thirteen years of experience in humanitarian affairs and operations, government relations, and project administration on three continents. Abiol is a 2005 UVA alum, currently based in Dakar, who earned a Master’s in Conflict Studies from the Sorbonne and has worked in development and humanitarian roles for many years in francophone regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, which was to be the geographical focus for the new class in spring 2021.

Abiol seemed like a perfect fit for the Global Mentor role, and she was indeed delighted to join us. As a UVA French alumna, Abiol was eager to give back to the department and the university and to forge a mentor relationship with our students, bringing her experiences and professional network to enrich their education and exploration of careers related to development and humanitarian initiatives in francophone regions of Africa and elsewhere.

What were some of the ways the global mentor interacted with the students? 

James: Through several Zoom conversations, Abiol and I mapped out a plan for a month-long unit on humanitarian issues and practices in the Sahel through the lens of her professional experiences. She helped identify relevant written documents and videos in French around which to build speaking and writing assignments grounded in authentic professional contexts. Abiol was able to join us from Dakar and lead class discussions for the entire unit in March. For several topics she invited contacts from relevant organizations to join us to discuss their work. She also connected students in small groups with development and humanitarian affairs experts who agreed to be interviewed as part of the students’ final projects. She offered advice to the students in that process and joined the class later in the semester to give feedback on their presentations.

As an alum, Abiol was very motivated to connect with and guide our students, which they appreciated. She was able to help them see the importance of developing skills for working in a cross-cultural and multilingual environment and for developing the capacity to explain, persuade, network, and negotiate in French within the context of sustainable development and humanitarian activities. 

Her participation brought an authenticity and immediacy that was extremely valuable for the course goals but had an even more profound impact during the pandemic. Our sessions in Zoom with Abiol and the other French-speaking professionals provided a meaningful way to connect with current challenges and solutions in west and central Africa, even while we were isolated at home or in dorm rooms.

What was the feedback you received from the students? Would you encourage other faculty to think about it?

James: In course evaluations and in their final reflective essays, students identified their opportunity to engage with and learn from our Global Mentor and the other professionals as the most important aspect of the course. They also liked using French in group projects modeled on real-world tasks for interns and entry-level professionals in development and humanitarian aid organizations. Many students expressed deep appreciation for the individual advice Abiol gave them about career paths related to their particular interests. They appreciated the connections she made for them with professionals and organizations working in areas of development and humanitarian affairs directly relevant to their fields of study in addition to French, including global health, security and justice, urban development, data science, and education.

I would absolutely encourage other faculty to think about involving a Global Mentor in their class, and to reach out to colleagues within and beyond their department for ideas. The program offers important opportunities for our students to interact and connect with experts from around the world and contributes in unique ways to the goal of educating global citizens. It probably goes without saying that it is likewise a tremendously rewarding learning experience for the faculty member.

Publish Date

Mon, 12/13/2021 - 12:00