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    Stevens Initiative grants funding to AUS for innovative virtual exchange program

    The Stevens Initiative announced that the American University of Sharjah (AUS) is one its newest grantees to receive funding for virtual exchanges between young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. AUS’ Transformative Sustainability Project (TSP) and Virtual Language Exchange (VLE) Project are two of four new Stevens Initiative-funded exchanges, awarded funding to institutions based in the UAE that will give young people experiential learning opportunities to explore topics impacting their local and global communities.

    The Stevens Initiative is an international leader in virtual exchange, which brings young people from diverse places together to collaborate and connect through everyday technology. Created in 2015 as a lasting tribute to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Initiative invests in virtual exchange programs between the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa; shares research, resources, and promising practices to improve impact; and advocates for broader adoption.

    AUS’ TSP gives undergraduate college students in the United Arab Emirates and the United States the tools to transform their local and global contexts into more sustainable communities in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. TSP helps participants shift their perspectives by asking them to grapple with some of the largest global problems and how people from different regions can work together to solve them. Through international collaboration, participants get hands on experience tackling issues that they otherwise would not engage with in their day to day lives. TSP empowers the leaders of tomorrow with tools to address interconnected global challenges and grow in sustainable ways.

    AUS’ VLE provides participants in the United Arab Emirates and the United States a unique cross-cultural experience by examining diverse worldviews, languages, and cultures while critically thinking about media representations that shape their world knowledge. This program examines linguistics, culture in both historical and geographical contexts, and the use and interpretation of signs and symbols in participating communities. The VLE builds meaningful relationships among a diverse group of participants through collaborations on visual projects and open dialogues that strengthen multi-cultural understandings.

    “We are excited to add these new programs to a long list of unique virtual exchanges that contribute to our vision of providing an opportunity to empower young people to drive positive change for our future. Each grantee works to create the next generation of globally-minded leaders, using virtual exchange as a tool to teach young people about the world around them,” said Christine Shiau, Director of the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute.

    Virtual exchange prepares young people for their future lives and careers by exposing them to global, collaborative environments where they can develop friendships, build skills, and take on new perspectives. Together, these new virtual exchange programs will immerse young people in topics such as linguistics and the study of symbols, storytelling, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and some of the world’s most pressing global concerns.

    With the addition of AUS, the Initiative will expand its total reach by summer 2023 to nearly 75,000 young people in 17 MENA countries and in 49 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, five tribal communities, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Overall, 91 grantees have partnered with the Initiative between 2016 and today.

    “Virtual exchange can be very effective in creating immersive experiences that leave a lasting and meaningful impression and we are very thankful to the Stevens Initiative for enabling us to harness its transformative power. With the TSP grant, we are looking forward to engaging, challenging, and enriching bright young minds across the world on all aspects of Sustainable Development”, said Kristina Katsos, Program Manager of the TSP and Instructor in the Department of International Studies of the American University of Sharjah.

    Speaking about the VLE project, Dr. Susan Smith, Associate Professor in Mass Communication at AUS, said: “The Virtual Language Exchange program builds significant relationships with diverse student participants by creating collaborations through projects and dialogue that strengthen cross-cultural understandings.”

    The Transformative Sustainability Project and the Virtual Language Exchange are funded by the Stevens Initiative, with support from the government of the United Arab Emirates. Learn more about the Stevens Initiative, which receives support from additional funders and is administered by the Aspen Institute, at https://www.stevensinitiative.org/.