The week starting on February 2 was especially important for the Lakeland College-USAID Educational Partnership. Florence G. Sepula, Participant Training Specialist at USAID/Malawi, visited campus as part of a longer visit of hers to the U.S. that included training workshops in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Sepula arrived in Wisconsin from Washington just in time for the big snow storm that hit the state on February 1, but she came well-prepared for winter weather with new gloves and a thick scarf. While she was here, she observed classes and met with key faculty members (such as Jeff Elzinga, Mehraban Khodavandi, and Joshua Kutney) and key administrators (such as President Dan Eck, Academic Dean Meg Albrinck, CFO Carole Robertson, and Controller Sharon Roob).
Perhaps most importantly, Ms. Sepula met individually with each student, as well as with the whole group, to learn about everyone's progress in the program and about the adjustment to campus, Wisconsin, and the U.S. Ndamyo Mwanyongo said, “Florence Sepula’s visit made me feel a greater impact of the M.Ed. program which I am pursuing…This feeling has made me want to work harder…to finish well.” Bertha Singini was heartened by Ms. Sepula’s “good direction on our plans,” and Michael Simawo was appreciative that Ms. Sepula clarified the “…areas we need to work on, which I intend to share with stakeholders in education when I go back.”
Part of Ms. Sepula’s responsibility is to provide USAID/Malawi with a report on how things are going here. I had the pleasure of driving Ms. Sepula to and from campus each day, so we had many opportunities to talk and get to know one another. From our conversations I learned that by the end of her visit she was impressed with the progress being made. “From my observation,” she said, “I’ve noted that Lakeland College has demonstrated high standards in the training of these teachers. The faculty and administration at Lakeland College seem very dedicated to student success.”
All the students had met Ms. Sepula previously, at the time of their application interviews, in April 2014. She had been involved in their selection, and she will serve in this capacity again as the next cohort of graduate students is selected in the coming weeks. Advertisements have already been placed in Malawi’s newspapers, at the Teacher Training Colleges, and with other community venues throughout the country. The application process may be even more competitive this year, she said, as it is expected that there will be far more than the 300 applications that were received the first time around.
I joined Ms. Sepula and several of the students for dinner in Bossard Hall on Wednesday evening and then we went together to the class ED 706, “Differentiating Instruction.” It is taught by Plymouth School District Superintendent, Dr. Carrie Dassow. Discussion that night focused on a group of articles that the students had read. Dr. Dassow asked the class to share insights, surprises, or anything that struck them as they read about the theory and practical application of differentiated learning. A great discussion ensued as everyone shared his or her thoughts. One notion in particular that struck me while listening was the idea of “starting small.” This seems especially relevant as I continue to think about the large task ahead for the graduate students. How will they implement the many good ideas that they have developed here when they go home to Malawi? Ms. Sepula shed some light on the future when she said, “The students have made tremendous progress in their studies, such that I’m confident that they will make a difference in the teaching of reading in Malawi.”
The students will continue in the coming months to refine their individual thesis projects and their combined strategies for implementing systemic improvements to early grade reading in Malawi. I sensed that Ms. Sepula’s visit brought “home” into clear focus for each of them. She answered their questions, gave feedback on their plans, and encouraged them “to hang on” and continue to work hard. She assured them that their efforts are going to make a difference. Phillip Nachonie summed up the sentiments of the graduate students well: “Florence’s coming was a blessing as she gave us an update of what is going on back home in relation to reading. Now we have an idea of who our partners are, what they are doing, and what it is we can do to put Malawi on the map as far as literacy is concerned.”
Lisa and Florence at the end of the day.
This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.