Virtual course offers international opportunities

SUNY New Paltz Professor Luz Porras in Guatamala with Director of Operations, María Mejia, 2020.

As faculty and students settle into the rhythm of remote teaching and learning, the Center for International Programs at SUNY New Paltz continues to find new ways to keep students engaged.

This spring, SUNY New Paltz Professor Luz Porras will teach a virtual course in Guatemala as part of a study abroad program that began in 2015. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions on travel, students in the program journeyed to Guatemala to participate in a range of cultural experiences that will now be reimagined in a virtual environment.

“The course offered this spring offers an exciting opportunity for New Paltz students to connect with the culture and people of another country while travel is still restricted,” said Executive Director of the Center for International Programs Beth Vargas. “Students will have the opportunity of not only learning about the history and culture of Guatemala and improving their Spanish language skills, but, more importantly, of engaging with members of the Kaq’chikel (Mayan) community in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.”

“By integrating meaningful community engagement with virtual academic curriculum, our students will have the opportunity to practice cultural humility, and to​ learn about the lives of others, as well as the larger contexts and root causes of issues that impact the well-being of all,” said Porras.

This international opportunity was made possible through generous contributions from SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board Director Tamah Wiegand and Warren Wiegand. Thanks to the Tamah and Warren Wiegand Travel Fund, 14 students were awarded scholarships to participate in the Guatemala program in the spring 2021 semester.

“I am grateful for the creativity of Luz Porras and the generosity of Tamah and Warren Wiegand in making this experience possible,” said Vargas. “They represent the resourcefulness of true educators in meeting the needs of students and expanding their horizons.”

By the end of the spring program, Porras hopes students will be able to describe and discuss gender, racial and social inequalities in Guatemala, and successfully teach English and build teacher-tutor relationships with members of the Kaq’chikel community.

“Our students have been impacted by the pandemic’s travel restrictions and this course offers them a unique opportunity to explore the world from a distance,” said Porras. “The outpouring of interest we’ve had from students about the program is a testimony to their ongoing desire to take part in international in-service programs despite COVID-19.”

Learn more about the Center for International Programs online.