As she sits alone in Valpo’s art studio, Kelsey Larson ’15 focuses intently on the project at hand, blocking out any other distractions or obligations. Working diligently, she begins to craft a piece that would later serve two purposes — provide enjoyment for Bauer Museum patrons and feed the hungry.

In the spring, Valpo ceramics students created bowls that would later be auctioned to support the “Soup Bowls for the Hungry” fundraiser — an event led entirely by students who organized, marketed, and executed the event that raised nearly $1,000 to support the Northwest Indiana Food Bank. Kelsey played a large role in the event’s success.

“Some of the bowls that the students made were abstract, while others could actually be used as a soup bowl,” she says. “Mine was more abstract, and the bottom part of the bowl was woven.”

Kelsey’s bowl was later selected by professors to be featured in the Brauer Museum’s student art exhibition. She says she was honored that her bowl was chosen for display, but ultimately, she was proud of what the bowl symbolized.

“This project was a perfect extension of how we can use art to have an impact on our community,” she says. “We were given free reign and creativity to produce something unique, and at the same time, it supported a good cause. I was excited to be part of it.”

Valpo is a place where academics and community service naturally intersect. Whether in the classroom or through experiential-learning, students are often challenged to apply classroom knowledge to their roles as engaged citizens of the world. Kelsey says she was not surprised that Valpo would host a project like this within the confines of the classroom.

What did surprise her, however, was her ability to take a course in ceramics while she worked toward a double major in chemistry and physics and remained active in Christ College — The Honors College.

“What I love most about Valpo is its commitment to the liberal arts,” she says. “This is a place where I am able to express my interests in a variety of ways.”

While art and science might seem like contrasting disciplines, Kelsey is fascinated with their similarities and intersections.

“As a person heavily interested in science, I naturally like to solve problems,” she says. “And in ceramics, the artist has to think through what the end product will look like in a three-dimensional sense. Even that is a problem that needs to be solved.”

Many professors at Valpo encourage this interdisciplinary thinking and eagerly welcome students from other disciplines into their classrooms. Michele Corazzo, MFA, adjunct assistant professor of art and instructor of Kelsey’s ceramics class, especially encouraged her to pursue her passion within a department outside her major.

“Kelsey successfully crossed over into the arts to achieve some really sensitive, beautifully crafted, and well articulated sculptures and vessels in her ceramics class,” she says.

This fall, Kelsey will begin a Ph.D. program in atmospheric science at the University of Washington. She hopes to continue her passion for art through local classes and community art opportunities in Seattle.

As a high school student in south central China, Jiangxia (Renee) Liu, Ph.D., anticipated the opportunity to continue her education in the United States.

That dream came true, and as she wraps up her first year as an associate professor of accounting, she is eager to help students with similar ambitions further their studies here at Valpo.

“I always knew I wanted to study in the United States,” Professor Liu says. “And there are so many others in China and other countries who want to do the same thing.

“Provost Biermann has been very supportive of reaching out to universities in China to help broaden those students’ educations and broaden the University’s profile.”

She’s developed relationships with three schools in her home country and looks forward to adding more. Valpo continues to feel more like home since she joined the faculty in fall 2014.

“I love the College of Business work environment,” she says, “and the proximity of Valpo to Chicago is ideal for my lifestyle. Access to a major city makes life easier and richer, yet being far enough away from Chicago makes it a lot more peaceful.”

Professor Liu, an only child of a high school math teacher and factory worker in Luzhou, earned a bachelor’s degree at Chongqing University. Drawn by opportunities in the U.S. and with the support of her parents, she sought and obtained a full scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas.
There, she earned a master’s and Ph.D. before beginning a teaching career that took her to Western Carolina University and Gannon (Pa.) University, where she oversaw the accounting program before coming to Valpo.

Her background helps bolster the focus College of Business Dean James D. Brodzinski, Ph.D. has on preparing students for the global marketplace after graduation.

“We strive to prepare students to work with international colleagues in a global business society after graduation,” says Dean Brodzinski. “The addition of Renee to our faculty has broadened the scope of the expertise we can offer our students, and she is an exceptional professor.”

Professor Liu, a Certified Management Accountant, always knew she wanted to teach.

“My dad was a good high school teacher, and my granddad was a principal at an elementary school,” she says. “I believe teaching is a very respectful and impactful profession in any society, and from the time I began my undergraduate program, I already noticed my desire and passion to be a teacher.”

Her research includes CEO compensation and corporate governance, both of which became notable subjects in the wake of the 1990s’ dot-com bust and Enron scandal. The results of those and other scandals, Professor Liu says, helped raise the profile of accounting as a profession and emphasize the need for increased attention to potential ethical pitfalls.

“This made the job and role of an accounting professor important; to instill ethics in students,” she says. “As an educator, I put more effort into teaching ethics while I design my classes.

“Many people see accounting as boring. That makes me feel excited and challenges me to polish my teaching methods and approach to make my students see, feel, and learn accounting.”

Valpo’s Confucius Institute and its collaborations with international universities – along with the sense of family she feels in the College of Business – excites Professor Liu about possibilities for prospective students who share the same dedication that took her halfway around the globe to continue her studies.

“With my connection with Chinese universities, I will be able to continue to develop collaborations between them and Valpo,” she says. “Academic freedom here and the support provided by the administration make me feel I will make a strong impact here.”

Margaret Lippert ’15, who earns her bachelor’s from Valparaiso University during its undergraduate Commencement ceremony on May 17, will spend the 2015–2016 academic year in Taiwan thanks to a prestigious Fulbright English teaching assistant grant. In the past 10 years, nearly 30 Valpo graduates have been offered Fulbright research and teaching assistant grants through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

“We are very pleased to see Margaret’s talent, hard work and dedication recognized by the Fulbright Program,” said Mark L. Biermann, Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “This honor is a confirmation of the extraordinary education students receive at Valparaiso University, and I am confident she will represent us well in her future endeavors.”

Pursuing a career in international education, Lippert, of Elmhurst, Ill., majors in international economics and cultural affairs with a concentration in East Asia and a minor in Spanish. She studied abroad at Valpo’s study center in Hangzhou, China, and completed an internship at YMCA in Valparaiso, Chile. She works in Valpo’s international programs office; is a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Spanish honor society, mortar board and Order of Omega; and studies Tang Soo Do Karate with a first-degree black belt.

“Studying abroad was one of the most important things I’ve done at Valpo,” Lippert said. “I was immersed in the culture, and now while teaching I’ll be able to interact with students on a day-to-day basis and get to know them more in depth. I’m excited for the opportunity to teach, be part of the community and get a glimpse of Taiwanese culture, which is a fascinating mix with a unique history.”

During her time at Valpo, Grace Leuck ’15 has capitalized on every opportunity to hone her leadership skills while contributing to the greater good. As Valpo prepares students for fulfilling lives of leadership and service, Grace embodies the University’s mission to the fullest.

Grace is a double major in political science and global service with an emphasis in humanitarian aid and services. She was immediately drawn to Valpo’s campus and its inclusive academic environment fostered by students, faculty, staff.

Early in her undergraduate career, Grace was committed to absorbing as much as she possibly could from the University, a place that teaches students how to simultaneously lead and serve.

“My time here has provided me with a framework for seeking purposeful employment, prioritizing my vocational search through all four years,” she says.

And in that time, Grace has done just that — discern her calling and purpose. Along with being an active member of Alpha Phi Omega, Valpo’s service fraternity, Grace serves as secretary and treasurer for the Porter County League of Women Voters. And her commitment to service doesn’t stop there.

Last spring, she spent a semester in Washington, D.C., as part of the Lutheran College Washington Semester, where she worked for the National Peace Corps Association.

Following her semester, Grace spent the summer interning with the United Way of LaPorte County as one of the Institute for Leadership and Service’s inaugural CAPS Fellows. Grace says that, while she has had many life changing service-learning experiences through Valpo programs, this particular opportunity was dramatically different.

“During the summer, I was able to organize and facilitate community conversations focused on health, income, and education conditions,” she says. “I received hands-on service-learning while broadening my academic understanding of service theories, core issues, and components of service from the program’s reflections and mentor meetings.”

Throughout the program, Elizabeth Lynn, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Leadership and Service, was particularly struck by Grace’s passion and desire for growth.

“Grace really stands out to me as someone who understands the importance of leadership and service in every context, international, regional, or local,” she says. “As a student, she has engaged at all those levels — working with Peace Corps as an intern, with the United Way of LaPorte County as a CAPS Fellow, and with Our Greater Good right here in Valpo this semester.  And in every case, she brings warmth, passion, intelligence, and good humor to the cause.”

This fall, Grace took advantage of one more opportunity to coalesce service-learning theory and practice through a course called “Global Humanitarian Examined” offered by the Rev. John A. Nunes, Ph.D., Emil and Elfriede Jochum University Chair. During the course, Professor Nunes brought together classroom and community by challenging his students to create a humanitarian simulation designed for Lutheran middle school youth from the area. The simulation, which they called “Project Diakonia,” was co-sponsored by Lutheran World Relief.

“It allowed youth to learn about topics such as water security, food sustainability, disaster response, and infrastructure development through interactive learning modules designed entirely by the students in Professor Nunes’ course,” Grace says.

When recalling the experience, Professor Nunes said he was thankful for students like Grace, who made the entire course a success.

“Having Grace in my Global Humanitarian course brought to mind the limits of the classroom experience,” says Professor Nunes. “Care for the vulnerable can be shaped into service, but no lesson plan can create compassion. My best teaching relies on leaders like Grace, investing her best self in the learning experience, letting her light shine in the classroom, across our campus, and in the world.”

Upon graduation, Grace hopes to continue pursuing her passion for service in a position with the Peace Corps, where she has applied to work as a community development advisor in Eastern Europe. She has also considered continuing her education with a graduate degree in public administration or community development. She says that Valpo has provided her with ample resources to succeed after graduation.

As director of project delivery in Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects, Jumah Al-Mazrooie ’02 solves some of the most complex engineering puzzles in the Middle East.

He’s one of the leaders for Dubai’s airport expansion project, the largest of its kind currently in the world, which will prepare Dubai to be the leading airport traffic recipient on a global scale.

And he combined this passion for engineering with an entrepreneurial spirit, launching an international elevator engineering company — an ambitious endeavor that stems from his undergraduate research experience at Valparaiso University.

“My undergraduate research team at Valpo created an elevator prototype and model,” Jumah says, “and now I own a global elevator company.”

Originally from the United Arab Emirates, Jumah came to Valpo to study computer engineering. He credits much of his success to the insights he gained while at Valpo as well as the academic rigor of the engineering program.

“We were forced to think quickly and logically in order to succeed,” he says.

In addition to learning key concepts through engineering courses, Jumah learned invaluable lessons about leadership and service while studying in the United States and particularly at Valpo.

“Living and studying abroad strongly shaped the leadership skills and independent personality that I now possess and have carried forward since my time at Valpo,” says Jumah. “I also learned that it is important to contribute to the work and life of others.”

Jumah uses these skills not only to make a difference as a leader in the engineering field, but also to influence the trajectory of his alma mater. Currently, he serves on the College of Engineering National Council, an advisory council made up of alumni and friends to provide guidance for the College. In addition, Jumah says that giving back financially is equally important.

“We have a debt toward our school and instructors, and the least we can do is give our time and financial resources to improve the school so that others can benefit from similar experiences,” says Jumah.

Because of his desire to stay connected to the University, many faculty members in the College of Engineering maintain a close relationship with Jumah, including Eric W. Johnson ’87, Ph.D., dean of the College.

“Jumah was passionate about learning and worked very hard,” Dean Johnson says. “I am excited about his engagement with the College of Engineering. Not only will he bring a global perspective to our National Council, but he wants to share his experiences with our current domestic and international students.

“He is a role model for our students on how to be a successful engineer and entrepreneur.”

Jumah’s work on the Dubai airport expansion has gained worldwide recognition, including a National Geographic documentary about the project, in which he is featured. And because of extraordinary contributions of alumni like Jumah, Valpo continues to find answers for the world’s most complex problems through its innovative and global engineering education.

Professor Amy Cory has a passion for improving the health conditions of others. And with Valpo’s bachelor of science in public health, her students in the College of Nursing and Health Professions will learn new ways to promote health around the world.

Valparaiso University recently began accepting applications for the public health bachelor’s program, which strengthens one of the nation’s best nursing and health professions colleges by integrating evidence-based solutions to improve health conditions for communities at home and abroad with Valpo’s public health care curriculum of cutting-edge research, theory, and techniques.

A professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, Amy C. Cory, Ph.D., RN, says Valpo is now in the position to help increase the public health workforce — those promoting and protecting the health of populations — domestically and internationally.

“Valpo is in the prime position to move public health forward, including global health, given the international focus of the University’s mission, vision, and strategic plan,” she says. Students will have ample study abroad opportunities as well as exceptional public health internships domestically and in other countries.

Dean Janet M. Brown, Ph.D., RN, says the public health program is ideal for students who desire to work in health promotion and disease prevention, the fastest growing sector of health care.

“The College of Nursing and Health Professions prepares graduates for the dynamic complexities of the health care industry, where they promote and protect the health of individuals and communities,” she says.

One example of public health in action, Professor Cory says, is her work in a small Nicaraguan village. Since 2007, she and students at Valpo have been working with village residents to identify and mitigate their health concerns. Together, they discovered that many of the village’s women and children suffered respiratory disease caused by cooking over open fire in closed kitchen spaces. Since 2011, Valpo has built nearly 100 improved stoves in the community; 50 more will be installed this spring.

But aspirations to work abroad aren’t required to pursue the degree, Professor Cory says. Public health professionals are needed here at home. In fact, she has plans to partner with communities as close as 20 miles from Valpo to improve health outcomes of local residents.

Professor Cory says future public health professionals in the United States are needed in environmental health, disaster preparedness, occupational health, and practitioners working to contain flu outbreaks and decrease infant mortality rates in at-risk populations.

“Health care in the U.S. is shifting to prevention,” Professor Cory says. “Valpo’s public health program will help students understand why populations contract diseases rather than just how to treat them.”

In addition, Valpo has several existing programs — such as health care leadership, engineering, and environmental sciences — that complement the new program, Professor Cory says.

Public health students will develop a foundation in core public health concepts, including health behavior, health services administration, environmental health, and epidemiology. Students accepted into the new program will enroll in fall 2015.

Students can also pursue a bachelor of science in public health/master of public health through Valpo’s accelerated, five-year option. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to enhance global community health and education competence to promote healthy living and prevent disease in human populations through ecological approaches across multiple determinants of health.

In the master’s program, students will take advanced courses in public health theory, research, and practice, and they will graduate prepared to apply principles of global community health and education to diverse populations in the United States and around the world.

When Kelsey Fader ’16 first stepped foot on Valpo’s campus, she had no idea just how her passions would collide. But that is exactly what happened soon after she began her academic journey, and along the way, she made some unexpected discoveries.

A recipient of the Donna and Lonnie Dodge Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund, Kelsey studies rigorously as a part of the nursing program in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

“Receiving a scholarship and knowing others are supporting me pushes me to work harder,” says Kelsey.

In addition to her studies in nursing, Kelsey is active in Engineers Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization that supports community-driven development programs worldwide. Students collaborate with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences and responsible leaders.

Kelsey’s extension beyond her studies in nursing to understand the foundation of engineering is a unique combination.

“Engineers Without Borders has allowed Kelsey to participate in both global health and research well before taking the courses in the nursing curriculum,” says Amy Cory, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing and advisor of Engineers Without Borders. “Once she reaches these courses, she will have an understanding of the content above and beyond the level of most of her peers.”

The student organization is currently working with a village in rural Nicaragua to rehabilitate their water distribution system. Their group hopes to eventually build a new water storage tank that receives overflown water from their existing tank. In November, Kelsey had the opportunity to travel with the group for assessment.

“It’s been an amazing experience to be part of the beginning stages of this project,” says Kelsey. “What drew me to Engineers Without Borders is its strong dedication to help those in need, which is the main reason I wanted to become a nurse in the first place.”

Along with helping those in need, Kelsey’s experience in Engineers Without Borders has provided her invaluable exposure to other cultures, which has enriched her education. She says that her interactions with people from diverse backgrounds, both abroad and on campus, has been transformative.

“Her work with Engineers Without Borders has prepared her to work with patients from a variety of cultural backgrounds,” says Professor Cory.

Kelsey plans to carry her newfound cultural awareness with her in her studies and into her future career as a nurse after graduation.

“These experiences have been critical for me as a nursing student, because it’s important to take a patient’s background into consideration when providing care for them,” says Kelsey. “Through nursing, other classes, and Engineers Without Borders, I’ve had the opportunity to develop my understanding of different cultures and deepen my sensitivity for others here at Valpo.”

Sterling Summerville ’13 is a busy man. Take his time at Valparaiso University: He studied international service and gender studies, played running back on the football team, volunteered with a local organization that supports teens, participated in at least four student organizations, and worked in the Multicultural Programs office.

But he’s not busy for busy’s sake. He says he was creating those “defining moments and stellar memories” that make life so fulfilling.

He took that same approach after he graduated from Valpo, was awarded a Fulbright grant, and moved to Poland to teach English. The long list of activities in which he participated in Poland — including giving speeches about higher education in America and coaching a professional Polish–American football league team — was partly inspired by his time at Valpo.

“While at Valpo, I was encouraged to embrace all of my different interests and not pigeon-hole myself,” Sterling says. “Valpo allowed me to just be and let myself flow in the moments of each day. And I truly appreciated the campus and community for being a nurturing environment like that.”

And what he loves most about his alma mater is the relationships he formed with his favorite professors. He calls Valpo’s faculty “hands down some of the greatest motivators and role models I have ever met. They instilled in me a sense of hunger, curiosity, and confidence that has taken me to places I would have never imagined without them. I was inspired on a daily basis by my teachers and administrators.”

One of his mentors and his Fulbright Fellowship advisor, Chuck Schaefer, Ph.D., professor of history, says the same about him. He describes Sterling as a man who exemplifies “openness, sensitivity, and leadership. In our initial conversations, I was persuaded by Sterling’s genuine desire to serve humanity, especially the disadvantaged and disenfranchised.”

A high school mission trip to South Africa broadened Sterling’s understanding of the global reach of discrimination, underemployment, and lack of development.

“The international service major was tailor made for Sterling,” Professor Schaefer says, “and he was tailor made to take advantage of all that international service could offer. He basically asked the crucial question: What can Valpo do for me?  He took advantage of all those opportunities: a semester abroad to Namibia, a summer internship in Georgia (the country), a Gilman Scholarship, and a Fulbright Fellowship.”

The Fulbright Fellowship took Sterling to Poland where he completed an English Teaching Assistantship and, perhaps more importantly, immersed himself in a culture that was foreign to him. Indeed, Sterling chose Poland because it was a country he had never visited, and the cultural differences would both challenge and inspire him.

“Cultural differences are bound to exist any and everywhere and it is often those ‘identity’ differences that hold the potential and power to bring people together,” he says. “For me, it is important to lean into both comfort and discomfort to seek out these opportunities and use them as moments for exchange and growth.”

And just as his busy schedule allows for creating those “defining moments and stellar memories” he so loves, so does sharing and exchanging information with people of different cultures.

“This was my greatest joy. Promoting informative cultural exchange peacefully is what travel, in general, and programs like the Fulbright are all about in my opinion,” he says.

Sterling, a native of Indianapolis, now lives in Los Angeles and works as a College Access Program Advisor for the Fulfillment Fund, an educational advocacy organization.

Fifteen minutes. That’s 900 heartbeats and 180 breaths. It’s also the amount of time it takes students to board a bus at Valparaiso University and arrive at the gates of the Westville Correctional Facility for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program. Stepping off the bus to attend class inside prison walls, students prepare themselves for the first Inside-Out Prison Exchange course offered at Valpo.

When Carmyn Hamblen ’15, a criminology and communications double major, entered the prison with fellow Valpo students, she had more on her mind than the course syllabus.

“The initial meeting was nerve racking for everyone,” she says. “I was worried about how the inside students would perceive me, and I was unsure about what to expect.”

A course for junior and senior criminology and sociology students, “Inside-Out Prison Exchange: Rethinking Crime, Justice, and Behavior from the Inside Out” is held in the minimum security section of the prison. Once a week, 15 Valpo students — known as outside students — attend a discussion-based class with 15 incarcerated men — known as inside students — from the minimum security division to learn together and study as peers.

“The premise of the class is to explore a variety of topics within the criminal justice system throughout the semester: what prisons are for, why people commit crimes, what the criminal justice system is trying to accomplish, and what role policing should play in that,” says Professor Amanda Zelechoski, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology. “It’s intended to be a fusion of psychology and sociology as we examine this intense and passionate dialogue together and learn the myths of prisons.”

Professor Dawn Bartusch, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of sociology and criminology, helped launch the program with Professor Zelechoski in spring 2014. She expected the first meeting to be intimidating for everyone.

“Everyone is afraid, and the inside students were in many ways more fearful than the outside students,” says Professor Bartusch. “Outside students have this image of monsters behind those walls, and they go in and find themselves meeting human beings. And the inside students have this image of snobby privileged college students, so our first class includes many ice breakers to help people feel more relaxed around one another and to break down those biases.”

As for Carmyn, who is attending Valpo on a Lilly Scholarship, she found the tension among inside and outside students dissipated quickly.

“Realizing we were all nervous was the first step to understanding we are all more alike than we anticipated,” says Carmyn. “We were all together, and the walls disappeared; we created our own community where we all felt safe to share our experiences.”

Before arriving at the prison, Valpo students met to discuss rules including security, dress code, and the number one question they cannot ask students inside the prison: ‘What did you do to get here?’

“If answered, we might define that person by that one thing, just as society does,” says Professor Bartusch. “I tell our outside students that if they think for one moment about the worst thing they’ve ever done, would they like to be defined by that forever?”

Among the many discussions between inside and outside students, Carmyn recalls the conversation that affirmed her decision to one day become a police officer.

“We were talking about the good and bad sides of law enforcement, and the conversation was primarily focused on the negative aspects,” says Carmyn. “Then one of the inside students pointed out that we are one step closer to solving problems because of those in the class who want to be police officers.”

The inside student continued, saying, “These are exactly the kind of people we need. They are the ones who will make a difference.” It was at that moment that Carmyn realized the sense of respect and humanity she had worked toward and re-discovered her path to law enforcement.

“I am extremely passionate about this course and the effect it has had on my life,” says Carmyn. “This class created a community where we could talk about real change, and I walked away realizing no one is better and no one is worse; we are wonderfully different.”

To make experiences like Carmyn’s possible, Professors Zelechoski and Bartusch received help through several grants, including the Valparaiso University Alumni Association Faculty Development Award, two of The Committee to Enhance Learning and Teaching (CELT) grants, and the Dean’s Fund for the Social Sciences, to cover the required training, travel expenses, and supplies for the course.

“The point is equity across the board. So there are a lot of logistics that go into it; we can’t use Blackboard, electronic sources, and other tools that are unavailable to all students. They only use materials provided in the course,” says Professor Zelechoski.

“We had an outside student who wanted the full experience, so she opted to write her papers by hand, because that’s how inside students completed assignments,” says Professor Zelechoski. “It was very inspiring to see people really immerse themselves in the course.”

The inside students not only contributed to group discussions, they also broke down barriers and created a space where outside students felt welcome.

After noticing a mural of university logos and Valpo’s absence, the inside students surprised the outside students with a large painting of the Valpo logo on the wall. The entire class took a group photo around the image, which Professor Zelechoski pointed to as a sense of comradery between the inside and outside students.

Professor Zelechoski says this is an important aspect of having the class inside the prison.

“There are foundational topics about the criminal justice system that we want students to discuss,” she says, “but at the end of the day we know this experience is meant to take each of them on a very different journey that we hope will have a lasting impact.”

Watch this video to learn more about the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Valparaiso University.

For centuries, humans have used stories to connect with each other, and often, these stories have the power to spark emotions, create understanding, educate people, and change perspectives.

So in summer 2014, when Professor Liz Wuerffel and two digital media graduate students, Saddam Al-Zubaidi and Sarhang Sherwany, traveled to Kurdish Region, Iraq, to film a documentary about a Syrian refugee camp, they were surrounded by opportunities to capture the powerful accounts.

“Each time you work on a film is different,” Professor Wuerffel says. “Figuring out what that story is will always teach us how to decide what to include and how this film connects to a bigger picture. And day after day, we didn’t find the stories — they found us.”

Professor Wuerffel teaches video production courses in the Department of Communication’s digital media graduate program. The documentary was a valuable opportunity to apply lessons learned in the classroom, and Professor Wuerffel’s students gained valuable practical experience.

“We all learned a great deal. The weather presented a real challenge for us to stay hydrated and to protect our equipment, which overheated,” Professor Wuerffel says. “And more than the technical expertise we developed through the project, we learned a lot about the intercultural communication that was necessary to accomplish the project — both in the context of where we were filming and within our own group.”

The exchange of cultures, Professor Wuerffel says, is one of the aspects that make the Valpo campus so dynamic. And as the University continues to expand its international outreach, students and faculty will have increased opportunities to engage with and learn about cultures that are different from their own. Professor Wuerffel, Saddam, and Sarhang each brought a unique perspective to the documentary, and the project has been truly collaborative. Not only have they gained a deeper understanding of the Syrian refugee crisis, but they’ve also learned more about each other, their own cultural perspectives, and how to work together as a team.

“In our group we have a Kurdish Muslim, an Arab Muslim, and an American Lutheran,” Professor Wuerffel says. “Through our work, we were able to have very intense, meaningful conversations about everything from gender identity to cultural norms and international politics. It was an incredible opportunity for all three of us and a model for the ways the University can continue to build an international, diverse community.”

Both Saddam and Sarhang are from Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdish Region, Iraq. The Kurdish people span across Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, and Iraqi Kurdistan is unique in that it is autonomous. Sarhang says he was impressed by the Kurdish people and government’s willingness to help those who fled Syria, even reprioritizing their own goals to help this population. He was able to interview the governor, who acknowledged that even though these refugees are not from Iraq, they are all Kurdish, and it is important for them to help each other.

“This is about more than being Iraqi or Syrian or Kurdish,” Sarhang says. “This is about humanity.”

The most recently published information from the UN Refugee Agency states there are more than 13,000 refugees living in Kawergosk, which is one of many camps across Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. When the team wrapped filming, they had 150 hours of footage for a 30-minute documentary, featuring interviews in English, Arabic, and Kurdish. Because none of them speaks all three languages, they relied on each other to ask the right questions without in-the-moment translating. And they invoked the same kind of trust during post-production, which began late August.

“What I find exciting and what I love is that as we translate the interviews, the story is revealed to us line by line,” Professor Wuerffel says. “It’s been more than I ever expected it to be.”

The experience reminded each of them to be grateful for the basics — housing, sanitation, and security. Saddam says it was revelatory to see the conditions at the camp, which was just 30 minutes from his house in Erbil. For many people around the world, the crisis is just another news story — facts and figures that seem far away. But through this documentary, Professor Wuerffel and her students hope to showcase the human side.

“We’re more connected digitally than ever before. The Syrian war is one of the most visible wars, through cell phone videos and Internet sharing,” Professor Wuerffel says. “What might be missing is the human connection that storytelling provides. It’s easy to create distance. But when you encounter a person who explains the story of her or his life, it’s hard to get away from that. There’s power in storytelling.”

The team expects to complete a rough cut of the documentary in December. Professor Wuerffel says there are three primary goals for their project: to raise awareness of the Syrian refugee crises in the Kurdish region, to educate people about the complexities of the issues and the region, and to paint a portrait of this particular camp.

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