Shenandoah University, through a grant awarded to Director of Global Virtual Learning Younus Mirza, Ph.D., recently announced the formation of the Barzinji Institute for Global Virtual Learning, an offshoot of the Barzinji Project that implements collaborative international projects in the pillars of “Service,” “Academic Practice,” and “Student Projects and Voices.”
Launched in 2017, the Barzinji Project – named for the Muslim scholar, educator, community builder and humanitarian Dr. Jamal Barzinji – was prompted to make a pandemic-related pivot in 2020 that led to the creation of the Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program. COIL, at its launch, connected faculty and students from international partner institutions in the United States, Bosnia and Malaysia, so that they could continue work on collaborative projects related to interdisciplinary learning and teaching through virtual exchange.
The Barzinji Project’s shift toward online international collaboration ended up being a rare welcome byproduct of the pandemic, as it charted a new path and paved the way for Dr. Mirza to create virtual learning opportunities for Shenandoah on a global scale. Global Virtual Learning is now the primary mission of the new Barzinji Institute and one of the main areas funded by the recent grant. COIL is the focus of the Barzinji Institute’s “Academic Practice” pillar, for which Shenandoah’s Director of Applied Behavior Analysis Vicky Spencer, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, IBAO, will serve as the coordinator.
The Barzinji Institute for Global Virtual Learning already has built partnerships with universities all over the world through the relationships we are making inside the classroom. There is so much potential, especially with the creative faculty and students involved in these projects.”
Amy Sarch, Ph.D., Shenandoah University’s associate provost for academic affairs
Dr. Spencer brings a wealth of international experience to this role. She is a former Fulbright Scholar, a past president of the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES), which is a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, and taught at Dar Al Hekma University in Saudi Arabia from 2014-2016. Spencer has traveled extensively in her academic career and has continued working collaboratively with international partners since she came to SU in 2019. She participated in the first COIL training in the spring of 2021, and implemented a project with Dr. Hamzah Mohd Salleh, a professor and dean of International Institute for Halal Research & Training (INHART) at International Islamic University Malaysia.
“One of the key factors that brought me to Shenandoah University was its strong commitment to international collaborations and understanding the value of preparing students to be world citizens,” Spencer said.
Under Spencer’s leadership, COIL workshops take place each fall and spring. In these workshops, Shenandoah faculty members participate in training and are paired with international partners to develop a shared project. Faculty members then have a year to embed the project into their SU courses while working collaboratively with students and faculty partners from Bridgewater College, Yarmouk University in Jordan, International Islamic University Malaysia, Arab American University in Palestine and Universidad Católica de Manizales in Colombia.
“COIL will, hopefully, allow all of our students an international experience even if they do not have the opportunity to go on a Global Citizenship Project or Global Experiential Learning trip,” Mirza said.