- An Interview with Mary McFarland, International Director, Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM)
May 15, 2013, Spokane, Washington
Mary, when I first met you, you were a dean, and you had a nice, comfortable office. So how did you end up from that comfortable chair to being constantly on the move and traveling to interesting locations such as Syria, Kenya, and Malawi?
Actually, before I came to Gonzaga I was a chairperson of a small state school’s nursing program that was very rural. We started by compressed video, to reach to a rural community that could not come to campus. I had already experienced the benefit of what can happen for people when they can access education, and that access came through the use of technology. When I first came to Gonzaga University, the university was having some enrollment difficulties, some financial difficulties, and the president asked if I would lead an initiative with online and distance learning. That was around 1999–2000, so the Internet wasn’t as nearly as interactive as it quickly became—that’s why we started with compressed video, and that moved to the higher interaction online. From the beginning, when we first started the organizational leadership program online we took it to Lewiston, Idaho. That is because I knew Lewis-Clark State College, and [End Page 142] we could get a room there, and the other reason was they are in Lewiston, Idaho, which is about nine miles from the beginning of the Nez Perce reservation. So by bringing the program there we could also extend the reach to the Nez Perce, and over the three years we had the program there, we actually had twelve Nez Perce people graduate, some of whom were working through the Washington, DC, Bureau of Indian Affairs on fishing rights, and the leadership education was key to them. To reach to people who would otherwise not have access to education was key to saying yes when Michael Smith at Australian Catholic [University] asked if my husband and I could go help set up their online diploma program on the Thai-Burma border. So there was already an understanding of what the reach of education can do for people. So that then, of course, is what led to the broader initiative of what is now Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins. While I travel to places a lot, I’m also crystal clear…. You how the arguments go, sometimes people think that when we are advocates for education online that we are saying it should replace everything about face-to-face. Those of us engaged in online education know that is not the case. The benefit of traveling onsite, learning the cultural context, meeting with the students has been essential, but then the daily potential for interaction with people who find themselves forced to the margins of our world has been a really wonderful experience. So that’s just a little bit about the journey.
You mentioned JC:HEM, can you tell me more about it?
Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) is an initiative that really started about six years ago when a small group of people where together talking about the incredible gift that we have when we have access to education and all the places in the world where people are wanting that access; and we have the technology to do it but had to figure out how that can happen. That led to a funded proposal, a pilot that was 2010 to 2014. Our pilot locations are Kakuma camp in Northern Kenya; Dzaleka camp, which is just outside the capital of Malawi; and then we wanted an urban setting so we can reach refugees that are in cities not in camps, so that’s when we opened the Syria location. That center was bombed a few months ago as part of the atrocity of the war that continues to rage on there, so we moved the program to Amman, Jordan. When I was there in the summer [of 2013] we went up to Irbid, which is on the northern border...