After global summit, Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions launches microgrant campaign

October 31, 2014 — Education leaders from 20 countries arrived at the first global seminar for schools serving traditionally marginalized populations earlier this month unsure how they could work together.

Some of the attendees arrived at the seminar — co-hosted by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) — from countries that have robust MSI traditions, like the United States and South Africa. Others came from Israel, Italy, Indonesia, and China, nations where marginalized young people with access to even a high school education remains a significant challenge.

“On the first day, lots and lots of people we’re saying we’re all different and there’s no way we can have this conversation,” said Marybeth Gasman, Director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI).

“By the second or third day, people realized we actually have a lot in common, and we can have this conversation, and we can probably learn a lot from each other.”

There are roughly 717 MSIs around the world. Despite the differences in geography and history, many are facing similar questions about student access, affirmative action, financial stability, and overall mission. The five-day conference, part of the Salzburg Global Seminar series, showed these institutions their commonalities – and the tantalizing possibilities for collaborating to find solutions for marginalized students.

To keep momentum, CMSI is now accepting proposals from seminar participants for $2,500 microgrants for projects that can further minority education around the world. Four of these grants  sponsored in part by ETS  will be awarded in the spring.

Gasman expects some proposals could grow from ideas discussed during the seminar, including:

  • Creating a virtual global learning community for teachers to share ideas for access and equity in higher education.
  • Building smartphone games that will specifically expose students of color to learning concepts. In some places, these phones are more accessible than high school. Building games could be a cost-effective way to encourage more formal education.
  • Creating a virtual community where students from traditionally marginalized populations can share their success stories so that others can learn from them.

Gasman returned to Philadelphia with a new perspective on racial dialogue in the United States.

“We are a lot more comfortable talking about race and ethnicity than a lot of other countries are,” she said. “It’s interesting because most people here would not think that. But within higher education, we actually talk about it significantly more than other countries. We’re more willing to discuss how we’re not serving students of color well.”

Still, Gasman said, students in the U.S. would recognize many of the difficulties their peers around the world face. 

“Every country represented is dealing with a situation where there are students who are at the margins, who are being disenfranchised, who don’t have opportunities,” Gasman said. “Across all these countries, there are institutions that are privileged and institutions that are not, and there’s a deep frustration with that.”

Jamal Eric Watson was in Salzburg for the seminar for Diverse magazine. You can read his coverage here.