The University’s Dr. Rekha Datta, professor of political science, was selected last month to receive the Outstanding Leader in Experiential Education: Higher Education Award from the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE).
Datta was nominated for this award by her University colleagues, Dr. Mercy Azeke, Dean of the Center for Student Success, and Marilyn Ward, Coordinator of Service Learning and Community Programs. A followup award presentation and luncheon at the NSEE Annual Conference will be held October 21, in Dallas, Texas.
“I am honored to have been nominated and happy to receive the award,” Datta said. “I consider it an affirmation to the experiential education, service learning, and volunteer service programs at Monmouth University, and to all the students, faculty, and employees who give meaning to student engagement and service learning through their hard work and dedication every day.”
Datta is the founding director of the Institute for Global Understanding at the University. She has spent the last ten years promoting global understanding through academic programs, field experiences, and service learning.
“Experiential Education, as envisaged in the Monmouth University General Education program, is unique and a fundamental aspect of the college education experience,” Datta said. “It comes through a holistic experience, integrating experiential education, volunteerism, and civic engagement on campus, and in the local and global communities.”
The mission of the institute is to “promote awareness of issues and challenges of our dynamic, interdependent world,” according to the University’s website. In order to achieve this goal, Datta has initiated two programs where University students volunteer to mentor students in local high schools. Project BAM pairs Asbury Park High School and University students through Big Brother Big Sister, while the other program partners University students with members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Project BAM was created after a student came to Datta and wanted to give back to the local community. The student wanted to know how to mentor students in schools that do not prepare their students to attend college or counsel them on whether or not they should attend college.
Datta worked with this student to create partnerships between the University and Big Brother Big Sister of Monmouth County and Asbury Park High School. Fifteen University students currently act as the mentors to 15 students at Asbury Park High School. The University students bring the high school students to campus, where they promote and align projects to increase educational opportunities, human rights awareness and intercultural exchanges in local and global communities.
The University’s partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America also focuses on college.
“Out of Dr. Datta’s hard work and vision has grown this wonderful program that is spinning off in a lot of directions and offering students a variety of opportunities regarding higher education in college,” said Azeke. “Many students who have gone through the program have found themselves as prospective employees quite attractive for jobs.”
Lastly, as Chair of the Department of Political Science and Sociology, Datta has developed an international service learning course, which has served as a template for other departments as well. Through this course, students have engaged in community service in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, and India.
Datta also introduced a one-credit civic engagement course for political science and sociology majors that are geared to interest students in events and activities on and off campus. Last spring, students in this class organized a hunger banquet to raise awareness about hunger in local and global communities, and how students can participate in making a difference through research, advocacy and volunteering.
“Under Dr. Rekha Datta’s passionate and wise leadership, faculty, students, and administrators work together to enhance the global knowledge and understanding of our University community and commit to making a more peaceful, just, and tolerant world,” said Provost Thomas Pearson.
Datta said she commends University students for their community service through many events, including the Big Event, in which they volunteer in local agencies. She said she believes in a seamless unity in local and global community service.