OGDEN, Utah – Thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, Weber State University Child and Family Studies professor Paul Schvaneveldt will work and teach in Ecuador this fall.
Schvaneveldt will spend more than five months in Cuenca, Ecuador, the nation’s third largest city, working to implement an outreach program to increase child literacy and conducting research on issues affecting the nation’s adolescent population.
Working in conjunction with the University of Azuay’s Early Childhood Development and Family Therapy programs in Ecuador, Schvaneveldt hopes to establish a program modeled on WSU’s Family Literacy Project, which provides tips and resources to parents of children in the Head Start program to help prepare preschool children for a successful transition to the classroom.
Schvaneveldts’s goal is to meet with faculty and students at the university, develop curriculum and coursework for the outreach program, and have students start engaging with Ecuadoran families from less-privileged backgrounds, especially those living in poverty. By the time he returns to the U.S. in late December, Schvaneveldt hopes the program will be established and sustainable.
The literacy issue in Ecuador is one that Schvaneveldt first became familiar with while serving as executive director for the Idaho/Ecuador Partners of America program in 2001-2002. Having made several trips to the Latin American country, Schvaneveldt has observed the need for greater childhood literacy, a message reinforced by local officials. Researchers estimate 30 to 40 percent of the nation’s less-privileged population is illiterate.
“Ecuador has so many issues that are related to poverty and lack of opportunity,” Schvaneveldt said. “It’s hard to pick one issue to address; I chose this one to focus on because of my expertise. I felt it was a topic where I could contribute.”
Schvaneveldt notes that only 22 percent of the population attends high school, with many students opting to work in agriculture, construction or tourism-related professions instead. Ecuadoran teens from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to start families at an early age, prompting them to leave school in favor of earning an income.
In addition to literacy outreach efforts, Schvaneveldt plans to conduct research on the factors contributing to a rise in drug addiction and school drop out rates among adolescents.
Schvaneveldt said he hopes to return to Ogden with new perspectives and insights into Latino culture that he can share in his Latino Child and Family Development course at WSU.
“Many of our students are connected to the Latino community and a lot of our graduates will work with diverse populations in their careers,” Schvaneveldt said.
Schvaneveldt first submitted his Fulbright application last August then waited for approval from both Washington, D.C., and Ecuador. He received official confirmation in mid-March.
The extended visit to Ecuador presents some logistical challenges for Schvaneveldt, who lives in North Ogden. His wife and five children—ranging in age from two to 15—will accompany him on the Latin America adventure, so the family is making arrangements for housing and connecting with local schools in the region.
Schvaneveldt views the mission of the Fulbright as an opportunity to be an educational and cultural ambassador.
“So often as professionals our work is viewed as a competition,” he said. “This Fulbright scholarship is a chance to develop collaboration between countries—to reach across borders and work together on projects and issues.”
Schvaneveldt believes that while he’ll bring new ideas to Ecuador, the United States can learn from Ecuador’s education system and culture as well.
“Latino culture places a strong emphasis on family,” Schvaneveldt said. “The majority culture of America can learn from that. While individualism can be beneficial, placing a higher priority on family is important too.”
The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends 1,100 American scholars and professionals each year to more than 125 countries to lecture or conduct research in a variety of academic and professional fields. The late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas proposed the international educational exchange program to the U.S. Congress in 1945 as a vehicle for promoting “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world.” President Harry S. Truman signed the program into law in 1946. Since its inception, the Fulbright program has provided more than 294,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential—with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
Visit cies.org for more information about the Fulbright program.
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