Kenya Immersion Project recognised as a benchmark in University teaching programs

Award winning Senior Lecturers Tim Perkins and Julie Maakrun

5 December 2015

The Kenya Immersion Project, an initiative of Education academics from The University of Notre Dame Australia, has been recognised as one of the nation's most outstanding university programs contributing to the quality of student learning and experience in higher education.

The University's School of Education academics responsible for the Kenya project, Senior Lecturers Tim Perkins and Julie Maakrun, were congratulated by the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham for "setting a benchmark for similar programs".

Mr Perkins, accepted the Award for Programs that Enhance Learning is Increasing Global Mindedness through International Service−Learning: Kenya Immersion Project in Canberra tonight. The award, part of the prestigious 2015 Australian Awards for University Teaching, recognises student experiences and services supporting learning, development and growth in higher education.

The project has seen more than 150 Notre Dame students and staff travel to Kenya since 2010 to connect with people living in an Internally Displaced Peoples camp. The University continues to support a generation of students who will lead their community out of a life of poverty. The University has partnered with Cassandra Treadwell, CEO of So They Can, to deliver the programs.

"The award winners play a vital role in shaping Australia's future through their life-changing impact on the students they teach and inspire through their commitment to excellence and innovation," Senator Birmingham said. "The Project team is recognised as one of Australia's most outstanding university programs contributing to the quality of student learning and student experience in higher education."

Mr Perkins said the project increased the global awareness of students in a very significant way and acted as a catalyst for change for both the Kenyan community and students. "Through exposing our students to situations that they are very unfamiliar with, it allows them to really open their eyes to the different experiences that people have," he said.

"Through working with a community of internally displaced people and fully immersing themselves by living with them, it has developed in the students a real desire and a recognition of their ability to make change and a desire to do so. On return from Kenya, many students became actively involved in their own awareness raising and fund raising efforts to support this very marginalised and special community. There is an obvious increase in their tolerance, empathy and awareness of global political issues. It really allows these students to become more socially engaged and aware of the lives of others who have had a significantly different experience of life."

Alice Race, a former Notre Dame student who attended the 2012 Kenya trip as an undergraduate Arts & Science student said it was "a life changing, transformational experience".

"It motivated me to continue studying, to do my Masters. You gain an understanding and awareness of what a privileged position it is to have the ability and freedom to study."

Mr Perkins said students returned from Kenya with increased confidence, greater leadership abilities and were more engaged with their studies then was previously the case. "Students develop a real awareness of the value and importance of education and in Kenya education is the only way out of poverty. The students realise they have agency and that there is a responsibility to share this experience."

Professor Marguerite Maher, Dean of the School of Education, Sydney, said the award that Tim and Julie received bore testimony to the quality of learning and teaching in the School of Education. "They, as leaders of the Kenya Initiative, are worthy recipients of this award," she said.

"Tim and Julie have tailored the trip each successive year to expand and to have an ever more positive and far-reaching impact; they have managed it so that it has taken on a momentum of its own. The first trip, in 2011, saw only Education students involved, providing stimulating learning experiences for children during their time there. The second trip saw this expand to include professional development for the under-qualified teachers at the school. Then the initiative expanded to include Medical students to assist at the clinic, and in the future the opportunity will be provided to students in other Schools as well. This is probably the most far-reaching outreach initiative undertaken by Notre Dame staff. It has made and will continue to make an indelible imprint on the lives of many children and teachers in Kenya, but most importantly on our students. They return with a depth of understanding of where they stand in Australia, with strength of character to challenge previously-held assumptions, and with a determination to continue to be a force for good in the lives of those who face extraordinary challenges. This initiative has a life-changing impact on all involved.

"The Objects of the University of Notre Dame Australia influence all that we do. The vision noted in the 2013 to 2016 Strategic Plan of the University includes the following: 'Pursue excellence in all that we do, with particular reference to the academic endeavours of teaching . . . play an active role in the local, national and international community, by acknowledging at all times that we are a university in the world and for the world'. This is what the Kenya initiative epitomises."

Theresa Kyne: Tel (02) 8204 4141; Mob: 0407 408 177;