Going the Extra Mile

By Dan Schneider

Global City brings the world to Houghton.

It was World Water Day, and Global City had instigated the water carrying as an exercise in cross-cultural understanding. The student organization aimed to raise awareness of the realities of life in the developing world. In particular . . .

1. Think about what it would be like to carry five gallons of water from the Rozsa Center to the Portage Lake Lift Bridge—a two-mile round trip—every day.

2. Now think about how you would use that water. (Hint: Probably not to flush the toilet.)

"We’re just trying to think about how other people live and what their challenges are," said Erika Vye, Global City’s public relations officer and a PhD student in geology.

Getting people to think is what Global City does. The group’s primary instrument for fostering a global perspective is its ongoing seminar series, held every other Tuesday in Room 138 of Fisher Hall. Speakers have been students, faculty, community members, and guest lecturers, and they have addressed topics as varied as misconceptions about the people and culture of Colombia, the role of women in India’s community development, and a water filtration project for a village in Ghana.

The issues reflect the diversity of Tech’s student body, which is what inspired Fredline Ilorme to start Global City in fall 2007, when she was pursuing her doctorate in civil engineering.

"I’m from Haiti, so coming to Tech was the first chance that I had to meet people from so many different countries," she said. "I had learned so much from my various encounters that I thought it would be a great idea to have a formal group where everyone, Americans and internationals, could share their cultural similarities and differences and also learn more about one another."

Global City focuses on the environment, human rights, sustainability, and diversity. It puts special emphasis on the developing world in an effort to add an overlay of cultural awareness to Tech students’ foundational skills in science and engineering.

"You can be as technological as you want, but until you understand the culture in which you’re working, you’re not going to get very far," Vye said. "And that’s true whether you’re in India or Indiana."

Wayne Pennington agreed. The chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences was part of the international response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He presented his experiences, which reflected the importance of interaction between science and sociology.

"Our intent was—and we were successful—to have scientists and engineers and Haitian officials and sociologists and urban planners and so on all in the same room," Pennington said. As a result, information on Haiti’s complex seismology was put in the hands of people directly involved in relief and reconstruction. "Before this, scientists and engineers just never did that," Pennington said. "They would produce their science and their engineering reports and assume that people who need them will pick them up. There is a new generation of scientists now that realizes the importance of communicating to the public and to policy makers."

Lessons like this are transferable, said Global City president Mariah Maggio, who is pursuing an MS in Environmental Policy.

"You’ll remember information like that anywhere you go," she said. "If you travel to a conference in Stockholm, or if you’re in the field somewhere in Africa."

And maybe, the next time you wash your car, you’ll even remember what it felt like to walk a mile carrying a bucket and forty pounds of water.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.