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Sunday, 28 February 2016 04:20

The Endowed Chair

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Ann Coady relaxes at the university guest house, NOT in an Endowed Chair.

Jim Coady – Twin Cities Chapter

Chicago Affiliate Renate Schneider has invited many Affiliates to join her in Haiti since 2010. For several years, my wife Ann and I had been spending three cold Wisconsin winter weeks in sunny, warm Haiti, teaching at the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse (UNOGA) in the small city of Jeremie, surrounded by very, very, very rural Haiti.

Ann taught conversational English, and I taught a course in basic project management. Ann’s teaching English to Haitians was a no-brainer. Haitians are always anxious to practice their English with others, and knowing English could help them get a position with one of the many NGOs (non-government organizations) that have established residency on the island. There may be more NGOs in Haiti than there are trees. Ann went on to develop a structured curriculum that any future teacher could pick up and follow. 


On the other hand, a course in project management was a bit of a stretch, but I knew something about  it (I’m an architect), and felt I could teach it. It turned out to make a lot of sense for Haiti. A contributing factor to the failure to get things done is that projects are often not thought through all the way, so they run out of time, money, and resources. In Haiti, homes, buildings, and public works are just left standing there, not completed because people planned poorly and ran out of money and resources. There are no budgets, no schedules, no goals, nor individual responsibilities established or monitored. A sort of “if something goes wrong, I didn’t do it” management approach prevails. There are also cultural influences—puzzling to us living outside of their culture—that need to be considered if the concepts being discussed are alien to the student.

So-o-o, I wrote a course manual—I tried to adapt what I had learned, used, and taught to others over the years to where I thought the Haitian students were at and what they needed—and started teaching. The first time out I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. 

Haitian students love to collaborate…I just had to find ways to structure exercises, presentations, and tests so that collaboration did not descend into cheating. I also learned that teaching with a translator (I don’t speak Haitian Creole) more than doubles the time required to cover a concept—more like three and a half times, once you factor in discussions about unfamiliar concepts. Try explaining using a checkbook to your average Haitian student; most will have no idea what you are talking about. Checkbooks are simply not commonly used in Haiti. I had about 14 students from the business curriculum in that first class.

The second year was a little easier. I changed the material and the way that I taught it. I had to. I now had 30 students in the class, and the University was starting to think it would be a good idea for all students  in both the business and the agronomy curriculums to take the course. I was very happy that what I was teaching was being seen as worthwhile, both by the students and the faculty, but was not sure about how much longer I personally could keep it up. 

Manny (Emmanuel Jean-Mary) works with students in the Project Management class.

One day it came to me. Talking with the university vice rector, Renate Schneider (who now lives in Haiti and is the sparkplug for all things UNOGA), I commented, apropos of nothing, “Renate, I have always wanted to endow a chair at a university.” She looked at me like I had two heads, but I continued. “How about, next year I come down and we have Manny (Emmanuel Jean-Mary, a Haitian professor that Ann and I had lived with at the university guest house) co-teach the course with me… then he can teach the course by himself the following year... and Ann and I will pay his salary and transportation to and from the University… and we will do it for as long as the course is taught, and as long as we are able!” And they could dedicate a chair at the guest house to us. The house could use more decent chairs.

Spoiler Alert: This is not nearly as magnanimous and altruistic as it might sound. Haitian professors aren’t paid a lot, and frankly, when you look at what it was costing Ann and me to fly to Haiti, it was better to be putting money in the right Haitian pockets than in the rapidly filling checked baggage pockets of the airlines. 

Renate agreed to give it a try. So did Manny. Over the following year, Manny and I worked up a French translation of the course material to make it more accessible and available to the students. (French is often the language of instruction in Haiti.) The following cold Wisconsin winter found Manny and me co-teaching the course to close to 70 UNOGA students. It was a great experience, at least for me. I let Manny do all the heavy lifting, and he was just great. The students loved him, and I loved the fact that now I was no longer teaching with a translator but with a collaborator who would take it to the next level. It was time for me to get out of the way.

Recently Renate wrote that this semester Manny taught the course by himself and it was a big success. Ann and I will have to come up with a new reason to winter in sunny, warm, Haiti. 




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