As environmental concerns spread throughout the world, the need for an informed citizenry becomes ever more important. BGSU’s School of Communication Studies has stepped up to help train the next generation of journalists in Algeria and Tunisia.
The “Partners for a Sustainable Future: Aiding Future Practitioners of Algerian and Tunisian Environmental Journalism and Communication” project will unite BGSU faculty and students from a number of disciplines with their peers in North Africa. The project is funded by a three-year, $388,800 grant from the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, under the authority of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961. BGSU has committed an additional $177,733 in funds and other resources to the endeavor.
“The target audience is youth leaders, future media practitioners, environmental educators and university teachers in journalism, communication and environmental studies,” said project director Dr. Catherine Cassara-Jemai, journalism.
“The participants will build knowledge and skills working together with peers with similar concerns, all within the context of a full cultural exchange,” said co-director Dr. Lara Martin Lengel, temporary chair of interpersonal communication (IPC).
Though Tunisia and Algeria have different political and social situations, they face some of the same environmental problems, Cassara-Jemai said. “While they have many concerns, their biggest challenges are water and desertification.” Areas of environmental concern shared among the two North African nations and the United States include development of bio-fuels.
“The challenge in education and in journalism today is to engage much more proactively with the great crises of our time,” said Dr. Oliver Boyd-Barrett, director of the School of Communication Studies. “Climate change, resource depletion and the conflicts that are already occurring related to those developments have not been adequately addressed by journalists. This grant puts us in just the right part of the world, which is a significant player in the crisis of vanishing resources.”
Dr. Stephen Croucher
The interdisciplinary project will involve faculty from various BGSU departments who have expertise in journalism, environmental science, communication and intercultural studies. Dr. Nancy Brendlinger, journalism, will teach the summer workshop with Cassara-Jemai. Drs. Smeeta Mishra, journalism, and Stephen Croucher, IPC, are also involved in the grant program, as is Dr. Jeffrey Grilliot, director of global initiatives and co-director of the Global Village residential learning community.
“We have enormous potential here,” given the pool of faculty with related research interests, Boyd-Barrett said. “This is an important area of applied research that engages us with international issues.”
Exchange of people, knowledge, skills
“At the heart of the project is the exchange of students and faculty,” Cassara-Jemai said.
BGSU will work with the Institut de Presse and des Sciences de l’Information (IPSI, or Institute of Press and Information Sciences) at the Université de Manouba in Tunis, the Centre International des Technologies de l’Environment de Tunis (International Center of Environmental Technologies), the Département des Média et Communications of the Université d’Algér in Algiers, and l’Association pour la Recherche sur le Climat et l‘Environment (Association for Climate and Environmental Research) in Oran, Algeria.
The project will draw upon the respective strengths of the participants, especially the expertise of IPSI faculty, who have already developed a cutting-edge master’s degree program in environmental communication.
A number of visits in each direction have been planned. First, a small group from Bowling Green will travel to Tunis and Algiers in March to connect with diplomats, government officials and colleagues from universities in both countries. Short workshops during the visit will bring upper-level and graduate students and faculty together with environmental activists and professional journalists to explore the challenges facing environmental communication and journalism in the region. In addition, the trip will provide an opportunity to identify participants who will be invited to come to BGSU for an intensive, three-week workshop.
The summer 2008 workshop, “Journalism and the Environment: Global Issues,” will unite BGSU students with eight senior or graduate students each from Algeria and Tunisia. Two professors from each country will accompany the students. A summer workshop held in 2009 will target teachers, environmental educators and journalists from all three countries.
Groups from the United States will travel to Algeria and Tunisia for two additional spring visits. Videoconferencing and collaborative Web sites will enable further communication between trips.
In addition to the cross-cultural experience, BGSU students will benefit from the engagement with environmental issues, she said. Part of the project will involve identifying environment-related activities in the Great Lakes region and collaborating with the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.
“This grant gives our students another opportunity to see the advantages of specialization in journalism,” while broadening the institutions’ scope for providing training in environmental issues, Boyd-Barrett said.
The School of Communication Studies has considerable experience both in North Africa and in conducting joint projects with other universities. In September 2006, Cassara-Jemai and Lengel completed a two-year partnership with IPSI through the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative that enhanced journalism education in Tunisia. The rich relationship resulted in visits by students and faculty back and forth and even brought a Fulbright Scholar from Tunisia to BGSU.
Receiving the new grant, “to include another campus, this time in Algeria, reflects the confidence the U.S. State Department has in our overseas democratic journalism project. Drs. Lengel and Cassara-Jemai have established BGSU as a center for global media research and expertise," said Dr. Bruce Edwards, associate dean of Continuing and Extended Education for distance and international education. Edwards was part of the BGSU contingent on the first Tunisian visit.