In 2000, it was Costa Rica. In 2005: Ethiopia. This spring: the Philippines. Each of these developing countries has been the focus of the International Economic Development Program (IEDP), a three-credit Ford School course that allows University of Michigan students to learn about economic development issues relevant to developing nations. This year, the IEDP celebrates its first decade of exposing students to the pressing challenges faced by the world's emerging and developing economies.
Ford School alumnus Sean Jones (MPP '00) wasn't able to go on the first IEDP trip to Costa Rica in 2000 because he had already planned his own trip to Belize for spring break. Nonetheless, he proposed it, advocated for it, and, with support and encouragement from Ford School professor Katherine Terrell Svejnar, worked with a group of students to get it off the ground. Over a crackling, unstable phone line, Jones—now USAID director for Yemen—talked about the origins of the program.
In 1999, "thirty-five of the Ford School's seventy students had an interest in international studies; that's where they wanted their careers to go," says Jones. These students formed a committee focused on working with professors to ramp up the school's international policy curriculum. Jones, the first head of that group, explains: "Just like the domestic students could get hands-on experience in Detroit and City Hall, we wanted students with an interest in international development to have the same opportunities."
Jones worked with others to write up a proposal for a new international policy course that would allow students to get that hands-on experience. Students would select a developing country to study and visit, investigate the economic development issues that affected the country, invite speakers with expertise in those areas to visit the classroom, and plan the trip—arranging interviews with policymakers for the week-long spring break visit.
"Kathy Terrell immediately volunteered," says Jones of the first IEDP. "She said this is exactly what the Ford School should have, helped us get organized, and added to the intellectual discussion in the school as a whole about how to strengthen the international studies curriculum."
During the first IEDP, Terrell taught the class and put students in touch with her contacts in Costa Rica. Students met with the U.S. ambassador, the vice minister of work and social security, and the vice minister of tourism, Costa Rica's second largest industry. They also visited non-governmental organizations including a sustainable agriculture training program, a Habitat for Humanity construction site, and a newly opened American manufacturing plant.
Since the first trip to Costa Rica, roughly 250 students—many Ford School students, but also many from other University of Michigan units—have participated in the IEDP. Kathy Terrell taught the course five times, accompanying students on trips to the Czech Republic, Cuba, Ethiopia, and Peru. Other Ford School faculty members have led the course, as well, including Susan Waltz, Tony Chen, and Alan Deardorff in recent years.
In addition to the IEDP, the Ford School is actively exploring new ways to provide international educational experiences for students. This spring, for example, Ford School students are coordinating a conference investigating policy similarities and differences between the United States and Canada. In 2011, the Ford School will supplement the IEDP with a new course on Chinese policy, with a two-week trip to Renmin University in Beijing at the end of the term.
"Frankly, you can only develop a limited sense and perception of the world if you stay where you currently are," says Jones about the sustaining value of the IEDP program. "Americans can take for granted the environment in which they live. But if they take the opportunity to open their eyes and ears to the rest of the world, it will enhance their ability to manage issues."
Jones has spent the last decade following that advice. He's worked in more than three dozen countries to build public/private partnerships that foster economic development. As USAID technical director for Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab World, Jones now oversees a team of 200 who build schools and clinics, run economic growth programs, and mitigate conflicts. "Ford School students have been given special skills and training that allow them to help people who are less fortunate," says Jones. "We should take those opportunities and share them with the rest of the world."
A MEMORIAL FUND has been established to honor Kathy Terrell, who passed away in December 2009. Contributions to the fund support the International Economic Development Program and other international education initiatives. To make a gift, visit www.giving.umich.edu/give/ford and select the Katherine Terrell Svejnar Endowment Fund for International Education.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to enjoy a slideshow of pictures from the 2010 IEDP trip to the Philippines.
Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Spring 2010 State & Hill here.