Enhancing University Courses and Field Schools through Cross-cultural Exchange: Joint US-Bangladeshi Trips to the Ganges-Brahmaputra and Mississippi Deltas

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Michael S Steckler1, Steven Lee Goodbred Jr2, Susan Lowes3, Jonathan M Gilligan2, Brooke Ackerly4, Kazi Matin Ahmed5, Syed Humayun Akhter5, Daniel Sousa1, Carol Wilson2, Dilip Kumar Datta6, Kushal Roy6 and Dhiman Ranjan Mondal7, (1)Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States, (2)Vanderbilt-Earth & Envir Scies, Nashville, TN, United States, (3)Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, United States, (4)Vanderbilt University, Political Science, Nashville, TN, United States, (5)University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh, (6)Environmental Science Discipline, Khulna University, Khulna 9208, Bangladesh, Khulna, Bangladesh, (7)CUNY Graduate School and University Center, Earth and Environmental Sciences, New York, NY, United States
As part of an NSF PIRE grant, we have led four field trips for undergraduate, MS and PhD students to large deltaic systems. Three trips took US students to the Ganges-Brahmaputra (GB) delta in Bangladesh and one brought Bangladeshi faculty and students to the Mississippi (Miss.) delta in the US. An essential component in the learning process and overall experience of each trip was that ~2/5 of the participants were students and professors from Bangladesh. In all cases, the involvement of a substantial international cohort greatly broadened perspectives on the topics being covered. For example, in GBD the local geologic and cultural knowledge of the Bangladeshis deepened the learning and engagement of the US students, an outcome that was almost universally noted in student reviews. The trips received similar feedback from Bangladeshi participants, as they had an enthusiastic and engaged audience of peers from the US. Even for the Miss. delta trip, the Bangladeshis added a unique perspective from a nation that faces similar environmental issues. These overwhelmingly positive contributions have been experienced in several different contexts. Three trips were associated with US courses and run over Spring Break. One matched sustainable development undergrads at Columbia U. with geology undergrads from Dhaka U., and two others matched a mixed group of graduate and undergrad students from Vanderbilt U. with cohorts from Bangladesh. The fourth trip was a stand-alone Field School for PhD students from 14 US universities and mostly MS students from 4 Bangladeshi universities. The focus of each trip ranged from broader surveys of tectonic, fluvial and coastal processes to investigations of geology and people affected by tropical storms. Of particular interest was the success of mixing undergrad and graduate students in the Vanderbilt course, which centered on the intersection of social sciences, physical sciences, and engineering. In this case, undergrads engaged in a liberal arts education brought a generally broader perspective than the more specialized graduate students. Overcoming this condition for the grad students is one of the principal reasons that the course was designed, and incorporating undergrads involved in the humanities and social disciplines invigorated these transdisciplinary aspects of the course.