Tell us here.
On August 9 and 10, Lakeland University and USAID hosted an Early Grade Reading Workshop at Ufulu Gardens in Lilongwe, Malawi. Lakeland faculty members Professors Jeff Elzinga and Joshua Kutney led the proceedings. This gathering was similar to an event held in August 2015 at the same location. I was able to travel to Lilongwe this year and observe some of the discussions. I also connected with all my Malawian friends and was inspired to hear about the current status of their efforts to improve early grade reading instruction in their country.
The first day of the workshop provided a chance for the members of Cohorts 1 and 2 to reconnect with one another, since they live and work across the country. Cohort 1 members reported on their involvement in the roll-out of the new National Reading Plan, MERIT. Each of them has contributed to this effort during the past several months in some way: advising on the national curriculum, supervising training teams, training the trainers, and writing a new first grade textbook that supports the initiative. Their achievements gave the Cohort 2 students a boost of added confidence, seeing how valuable the skills of the Lakeland-trained educators are. As Mavuto Chiwale said, "If Cohort 1 is doing it, why not me?"
Cohort 1 members also spoke of areas they have found to be challenging, for example, finding ways to provide differentiated instruction to special needs students, and keeping in touch with one another. The workshop gathering certainly was one way to remedy the latter. As Ndamyo Mwanyongo said, "This gathering makes me feel confident we are a family. We are able to stay united and do something great."
The members of Cohort 2 had the opportunity that first day to ask their predecessors for advice as they begin their action research this coming fall. They also asked for tips on how to best prepare for their thesis defense meetings in early December, just prior to graduation. This much-anticipated graduation event will mark the official completion of the LU/USAID partnership.
On Day 2, the audience for the workshop expanded to include individuals invited from different organizations (USAID, MoEST, GIZ, and DTED), one children's librarian from Mzuzu University, and principals from Teacher Training Colleges in Lilongwe, Machinga, and Phalombe.
Presentations were made by four members of Cohort 1, Elias Lyson, Margret Mulaga, Michael Simawo, and Elymas Tembwe. Earlier this year, these four had their thesis research accepted for presentation at the International Conference on Learning, held from July 13-16 at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Kutney had encouraged and guided them in their efforts. He was pleased that all four of them had been accepted to this conference that historically only accepts 30-40% of all submissions. He felt this was clear recognition of the quality of their scholarship.
Also presenting at the workshop was Gift Dube, the head children's librarian at Mzuzu University who received his undergraduate degree from Lakeland in 2003. He spoke on the successes and challenges of getting children to make better and more frequent use of the library. Gift also updated participants on the rebuilding of the main library at Mzuzu University, since a fire completely destroyed it in December 2015.
The Lakeland students and graduates enjoyed two full days of conversation and discussion, and everyone was in agreement with Mike Kumkwamba, who said, "This meeting is so inspiring. It shows our efforts have moved from local exposure to national to international." Benjamin David added, "We are an asset to the nation."
On Tuesday afternoon, Aleme Chitanje and Yowasi Nkhambala delivered a moving tribute to program leaders, Professors Jeff Elzinga and Mehraban Khodavandi by presenting them with carved wood plaques to thank them for all they have done over the years to support literacy in Malawi. (Dr. Khodavandi was not able to make this trip to Malawi). As Bertha Singini said, "We are very grateful to Lakeland for organizing this degree program. Thank you, Lakeland University, for empowering us."
This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland University. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland University and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.
Where in Wisconsin could you find a potluck buffet that included nsima—a corn meal dish similar to grits or polenta—and fried bread balls called mandazi, alongside mac n' cheese, lasagna, Jello, and tater tot casserole? At Lakeland College, of course.
On Friday, June 3, the Malawian graduate students gathered on campus one last time with their host families, church families, Lakeland faculty and staff, and other friends to share goodbyes and a parting meal.
Professor Jeff Elzinga and Dr. Mehraban Khodavandi spoke to the crowd of more than 60 guests, lending their insights about what an enriching experience it has been on so many levels these past two years to have the Malawian M.Ed. students at Lakeland College.
Professor Elzinga thanked the host families and church families for their generosity and kindness to the students. He pointed out that while the experience here in Wisconsin has changed the graduate students, their presence in our midst has also changed us.
He spoke about the long history of the college's relationship with Malawi, a partnership that goes back to 1999 when the first cohort of five undergraduates from Malawi came to study at Lakeland. Then, in 2014, the program transformed into the current M.Ed. early grade reading program. "Now, after 17 years," he said, "the program comes to an end, and the feeling is bittersweet."
Dr. Khodavandi then talked about what it was like working with these students in the classroom. He remarked on the high level of scholarship he saw blossom among them during the year and how all 11 of their thesis projects had been accepted by the college's Institutional Review Board on first presentation. "That doesn't always happen with thesis proposals," he said.
Toward the end of the evening, the students shared a Malawian call-and-response song to bid their friends farewell, and Yowasi Nkhambala, the spokesperson for Cohort 2, thanked everyone for all that had been done to make the Malawians feel at home in Wisconsin. Everything about the event made it difficult to say goodbye.
This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.
The M.Ed. graduate students have arrived at the end of the 12-month stay in Wisconsin and are preparing to return home to Malawi on June 7. Last week, I had brief exit interviews with all of them. I began with the question, "if you had to pick one word to sum up your experience at Lakeland this past year, what would that word be?" I heard words such as "awesome," "wonderful," "marvelous," "great," "productive," "enlightening," "eye-opening," and "success." As we continued to talk about their Lakeland experiences, the students shared more specifically what they had learned. They talked about the importance of assessment, differentiated learning, and reading across the curriculum. I heard their passion for teaching and new confidence in being "agents of change." I also heard how grateful the students have been for the kindness of the people they have met here in Wisconsin. I could not report everything that everyone said during these interviews, as much as I would have liked to. Instead, I provide a summary, a "slice" of what I heard, the essence of each person's commentary about his or her time with us and what the students plan to do when they return home.
"I learned that I should not be satisfied with the knowledge I have; I should be a life-long learner, always striving to improve myself, always trying to be a better teacher. I plan to be a more self-reflective teacher in the future, one who focuses on the learner and what that individual learner needs to be successful. Those of us who have been here, exposed to new strategies and knowledge, we need to work together, to help one another. In oneness there is strength."
"I have realized that people are the best resources for making something happen. It is people that make a program work or not, their attitude, their feeling about what they are doing. We should work hard to train teachers as the #1 factor in improving the quality of reading instruction in Malawi. I also hope, as an individual, that I can help to prioritize early grade reading instruction at the government level. I feel more confident now, than I did before, that I can be an agent for change in Malawi."
"I can say today that I am more knowledgeable about how to teach reading, through the strategies of phonemic awareness, de-coding, book concepts, and bringing prior knowledge to the text. At Northview Elementary [in Howards Grove], I learned about reading workshops and the value of discussing texts with learners in a way that is fun and flexible, not rigid. I am dedicated to lobbying at the curriculum development level in Malawi for devoting more time for reading in the early grades, for creating true interaction around reading."
Mary Florence Mzama
"While I have been at Lakeland, I have been struck by the farms nearby and by the hugeness of these farms. I have also learned something new about myself, that I am a slow reader. I have always read slowly because I read to understand, not simply to finish quickly. Being here has improved my reading curiosity. I have been exposed to so many new books. I look forward to extending the opportunities for reading to children in Malawi. Pamphlets, flyers, even an advertisement for soap! All these things can provide reading material to young learners. Once I return home, I know I will implement everything I have learned here."
"One of the best experiences for me at Lakeland was developing my philosophy of education in Dr. Kutney's class. I am also so much more aware now of the importance of assessment. Reading does not go on alone; you must assess for learning and create running records so you can identify challenges for each individual learner. My experience here in Wisconsin has changed me a lot. I know now that when I look at something, I need to think outside the box. I've learned to view things from many perspectives."
"While here at Lakeland, I realized that I really do enjoy working hard. If I can continue in that spirit, I will be successful in the future. I am excited to go back to Malawi and get more involved in the field of educational research. I want to gather data that will help us replace less effective practices with more effective ones. Lakeland has given me an opportunity to feel more confident in myself, and to know that I can make a difference. I am determined to improve students' reading in Malawi. Change will be gradual, but with effort, we will push on."
It was enlightening to me to see young learners at both Northview and Longfellow elementary schools who were able to read in kindergarten. If we can help our children in Malawi read at that early age, the world will open up to them. When children can read, they can write their own stories. When we empower them to write their own stories, they can then share their lives. We must look at the gaps we have in Malawi and begin to design programs that will support learners to read at that very early age. By focusing on reading first, a child's struggle through his or her academic career will be greatly lessened."
"In Malawi, we have a 'one size fits all' approach to our classroom reading instruction, but I have learned that this is not how children learn. We must differentiate when teaching reading. Also, reading is not one thing; it is made up of many component parts: comprehension, fluency, accuracy. Each of these parts must be assessed, in order to help the individual learner be successful. Everything we have learned here in Wisconsin, we can adjust to suit our kids and our particular challenges in Malawi. I know as a teacher that I must have passion for what I am doing. If anything fails in a classroom, it fails because of the teacher."
"We were so busy in the fall this past year, it was like pushing a mountain. But we made it. I learned that teaching reading requires thorough preparation. You must know your learners strengths and challenges through ongoing assessment. We also need to extend and elongate the time devoted to reading. This is one of the major things I hope to accomplish when I go home. I have been teaching a long time, and I know now that there were things that I was doing wrong. I will make adjustments. There will be challenges ahead, of course. Malawi is a poor country and resources are one of the challenges, But, I know I've got the potential now to do something better so learners will learn."
"While I have been at Lakeland, I have learned that I love kids and I love teaching. I feel a passion for them. I am also aware that we need to dedicate 75% of the learning time to reading instruction, practice, and independent reading in Malawi. We need to set targets and make our kids aware of those targets. We also need to create more reading materials for the children in Malawi. I would like to see the students in the upper classes writing stories that the younger kids can read. Finally, our attitude toward teaching needs to be more positive overall."
"For me, this year at Lakeland has been a year of success. Lakeland College is a culture where people are socially interactive. Most people are so loving and caring here. Rapport is good between people, despite differences of race or culture. And the professors! They are dedicated to helping their students succeed. There is also a culture of learning here. I will remember this dedication of our Lakeland instructors and I will cherish it. When I go back to Blantyre, I would like to explore the idea of creating a reading laboratory at the Teacher Training College. This would be a place where reading workshops can happen. There will be six of us in Blantyre who have been trained at Lakeland. Working together, I think we can really make a difference.
Graduation is not called "Commencement," or beginning, for no reason. While some things are coming to an end, so much more is yet to come. This is true for all 750-plus students who walked across the stage and received their diplomas in the Wehr Center Fieldhouse on May 1 for the 154th Commencement ceremony of Lakeland College. And it is especially true for the eleven Malawians of Cohort 2 who will head home in one month's time, ending their year in Wisconsin, but beginning the next chapter of their lives as early grade reading specialists. They are the ones who—by putting into practice the knowledge and skills gained at Lakeland —will help to change the face of early grade reading instruction throughout Malawi.
Left to right: Henderson Ngwira, Frank Mbwana, Elizir Kalilombe, Mavuto Chiwale, Yowasi Nkhambala, Mike Kumwamba, Aleme Chitanje, Mary Florence Mzama, Margret Mandala, Edson Dzimwe, Nancy Nyirenda.
The excitement for the Malawian graduate students on Sunday, May 1, was rooted in their having the opportunity to be recognized as members of the graduating class of 2016. As Aleme Chintanje said, "It was an honor to be included in the graduation ceremony even if we have not yet completed all of the requirements of our master’s degrees."
When the graduate students return to Malawi, they will reunite with their families, friends, and colleagues. Then, they will undertake their field research projects, collecting and analyzing data, completing their theses, and in December, defending their findings.
Aleme noted that her best memory of the Commencement day is "the happiness [expressed by] professors, host parents, and friends. You could see it in their faces," she said, "and it was overwhelming, really. They showed that they love and care about us and the Malawi master’s degree program."
When I asked Aleme what she looks forward to, now that she has gotten past the first hurdle of finishing her coursework, she said, "I look forward to finishing the May Term, going back home to my family, and of course doing my research to finish my thesis. Most importantly, I look forward to being able to disseminate the knowledge I have acquired here."
I know from talking with several of the graduate students after the ceremony that they all share this feeling of elation and anticipation. Elizir Kalilombe summed it up, saying, "I just feel so happy. It is a truly a great feeling."
I think each of the graduate students would agree that something great has taken place for them at Lakeland College this year, and that more great things are yet to come.
Commencement is only the beginning.
The group of graduating students is joined by Dr. Joshua Kutney (far left), Dr. Mehraban Khodavandi (center), Professor Jeff Elzinga (back row), and adjunct reading instructor, Ms. Geralyn Leannah, (far right) an early grade reading specialist at Longfellow Elementary School in Sheboygan
This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government
As the spring semester winds down and another commencement nears, the Malawi M.Ed. graduate students remain extremely busy. What follows is a brief update on some of the activities the Malawians have been experiencing outside of class discussions, research, and writing during their final weeks at Lakeland College.
The graduate students recently had the opportunity to sit in on classes at various local public schools, observing teaching strategies that they will take home with them. They watched reading being taught in a large group setting at Longfellow Elementary School in Sheboygan and also saw differentiated instruction in action at several schools in the Plymouth School District. Yowasi Nkhambala said, "It was so exciting to observe a sixth grade math class. The lead teacher had an assistant teacher who moved around the room, helping students work out the problems. Differentiated learning was able to take place through the use of these flex groups."
Regarding his visit to Plymouth High School, Frank Mbwana commented, "I observed how differentiation for content, process, and product is done. I had an opportunity to interact with the teachers to learn how they organize their flexible groupings and prepare the learning materials." He went on to say, "Malawian schools are increasingly diverse classrooms where differentiated instruction is necessary. With the knowledge gained, I will be able to share with my teachers-in-training how to differentiate instruction so that it aligns with learners' readiness, interest, and learning profiles."
The Malawians took a break from their studies on Thursday, April 14 to participate in Lakeland's tenth annual International Night. This is a very popular campus event each spring, during which Lakeland’s international students join forces to present imagery, fashions, words, songs, and dances from their respective countries. The evening is organized by the Global Students Association. This year, 20 countries were represented: Brazil, Cameroon, China, Congo, Germany, India, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Russia, and the United States. You can see a photo album of the entire event here.
Aleme Chitanje reported on the contribution of the Malawians, saying, "Nancy Nyirenda and I each balanced a 20-liter pail full of water on our heads. This was to show how Malawian women in the villages work hard to multi-task. Girls learn how to balance things on their heads so that they can use their hands for things like holding a child, carrying firewood, and other chores."
All of the graduate students performed a group dance called mnjedza. This is a dance that is traditionally performed by village chiefs to "prepare the ground," as Edson Dzimwe described it, for what comes next, a dance called gule wamkulu (literally a "big dance.") This second dance has a spiritual component to it, and the main dancer appears in disguise, as seen here.
Regarding International Night, Yowasi said, "I felt very happy being part of the International Night program. The performances by all the participants were really good. I enjoyed most watching the Soran Bushi dance from Japan. It was well-executed, and truly a marvel to watch."
Lakeland's International Night introduces the entire campus community to the customs and traditions of people from all over the world. "It was amazing to see students from so many countries performing their traditional activities," Aleme said. "We learned a lot and strengthened our connections with students from other places."
For nearly two years, the story of the Malawian graduate students has been told in words and pictures on this blog. Today's entry is a follow-up to Tuesday's post, "Reading Strategies in the Elementary Classroom." Below are images of the graduate students and their young learners at Longfellow Elementary School. The smiles on their faces tell the story, almost better than words.
Recently, the library on the second floor of Longfellow Elementary School in Sheboygan has been the site of special relationships built around reading. The Malawian graduate students have come twice a week for several weeks to Longfellow to lead after-school reading enhancement for students in grades 1 through 5. They've put into practice an array of teaching approaches learned in ED 792 Reading: Instructional Strategies taught by Geralyn Leannah (early intervention lead reading teacher at Longfellow school) and Lori Roelse (data coach at Jefferson and Pigeon River schools), both adjunct instructors in Lakeland's M.Ed. program.
At one table, the children are playing with the prefix "re." A girl who looks to be about seven tells me, "Re is a prefix that means backwards or again. You use it in front of a word to do it over. Reuse, repay, replay. Return means you come back." A boy about the same age reads me his sentence, "I repaint my picture because I messed up and need to do it again." The laughter and enthusiasm of the children sitting with their teacher, Margaret Mandala, reminds me how rewarding and refreshing it is to unlock the secrets of words.
Margaret said, "My experience at Longfellow has been really satisfying. I had a lot of fun seeing the children successfully completing tasks which I had prepared for them using the different strategies." As Frank Mbwana outlined for me later, those strategies included phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, decoding, comprehension, and learner response. Frank said, "The children had fun reading stories and at the same time, playing around with words…The experience will be a lifetime memory for me, as I was able to interact with learners from a different background."
Nearby, two fifth-graders sit with Mavuto Chiwale. They are constructing sentences with words like "imply" and "realization." First, Mavuto has them define the word they have selected. "What does 'imply' mean?" he asks his young learner. "Imply means that you say something without really saying it," the boy answers and then shares the following sentence: "The way the teacher looks at me implies I am doing a good job."
Elsewhere in the room, children are sounding out words in books about whales, owls, and the A to Z of grandmothers. Mike Kumwamba is having the children look carefully at the illustration on the cover of one book and asking them to predict what they think the story is going to be about, based on what they can see. With Yowasi Nkhambala, the students are deciding who is going to read the part of the mouse in a short play and who will be the wind. With Aleme Chitanje, the students are exploring a text about a superhero, taking turns reading aloud line by line. Everywhere, reading is happening.
Instructor Geralyn Leannah shared her thoughts about the experience. "The Malawi students have demonstrated their passion and enthusiasm for literacy and learners time and again over the past month and a half,” she said. “With humor and diligence they have drawn out the very best in their young charges during the After School Program tutoring sessions. It is amazing how fluidly they have adapted the learning from Lakeland into seamless practice at Longfellow."
Not only are the Lakeland graduate students learning more about how to teach reading, they also have had the chance to develop friendships. Henderson Ngwira noted, "There has been a warm reception every time we arrive at Longfellow school. The interaction with the children has been very good, and all the teachers are warm and supportive."
Regarding the overall experience at Longfellow, Edson Dzimwe commented, "It has been great and I've really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the children on reading comprehension, trying out the various teaching strategies. I look forward to taking this home with me."
Based on what I heard and saw, I'm sure all eleven graduate students would agree.
Recently, Aleme Chitanje shared a photo that had been taken of her at the Wisconsin Antique Power Reunion’s annual show in Saukville, Wisconsin, which was a good reminder that our graduate students from Malawi also have lives outside the classroom.
In case you might be wondering, the picture with green grass and leaves on the trees is not an indication of an early spring in Wisconsin. Rather, the lush scenery and short pants are indicative of the fact that the photo was taken last July, when the second cohort of Malawian graduate students had recently arrived at Lakeland. The photo appeared not long ago, however, on the Farm Collector website, and Aleme was reminded of how much fun she had that day in July, driving her first tractor.
Aleme reports that she was visiting the Antique Power Reunion with her host family, Lakeland alumni Fred and Barb Seefeldt, both class of 1960. Through the generosity and warm hospitality of families like the Seefeldts, the Malawi students enjoy many "outside the classroom" experiences of American life. Friendship families, such as the Seefeldts, provide a place for the students to go to share an occasional family meal, especially at the holidays, as well as participate in other family activities. Over the past two years, the Malawians have gone horseback riding, sledding, tubing, and ice fishing, and have been taken on trips to cities such as Oshkosh, Madison, and Chicago.
Aleme had quite a good time driving an old but restored tractor, one of many that were on display at the fair. "It was wonderful experience," she said. "They exhibited tractors and other equipment that farmers used here in Wisconsin before modern technology. I had a lot of fun."
Fred and Barb first met Aleme at an 1862 Society dinner on campus seven years ago when she was here as a Lakeland undergraduate. At the dinner, the Malawian students were making a presentation about their country to the gathered guests. Barb recalls,
In talking with Aleme, we realized that she didn't have a place to go for the Thanksgiving holiday so we invited her to join us. The rest is history. She spends almost all of our celebrations with us and more. We learned about how an outsider views us and our abundance. We learned about the educational system in Malawi and how our two countries share similar frustrations and concerns when it comes to the teaching of our children. We feel we are a part of her family in Malawi, as she shares with us the happenings there. Aleme has filled our lives with love and great joy and we don't look forward to bidding her farewell once again in June. She will live in our hearts forever.
The story of Aleme Chitanje and the Seefeldt family is just one of many similar stories, where American host families and Malawian students at Lakeland College have come together to spend time outside of the classroom. In so doing, they provide each other with glimpses of what life is really like day to day both here and there.
Despite last week's dropping temperatures outside, the graduate students were keeping warm indoors and continuing to make progress towards their degrees. They are currently enrolled in four graduate courses, and last week they began practicum teaching at Longfellow Elementary School in Sheboygan. They also are exploring several new projects that may aid their efforts to improve early grade reading in Malawi. It was informative to sit in on a recent bi-weekly roundtable meeting to get a picture of what they are thinking about as they get closer to the end of the school year. Professor Elzinga meets with the students every other Friday morning to discuss their experiences and progress in the program.
The students were happy to report that they had received a warm welcome from the children and staff at Longfellow Elementary School during a recent Valentine's Day party. There were refreshments, music, and dancing at the party. Many of the children remembered the Malawi students from Cohort 1 who worked with them last spring and were excited to make new friends with the members of Cohort 2. Each graduate student was assigned to work with two or three young readers over the next six weeks.
During the roundtable meeting, the graduate students also learned about a new program being introduced at Northview Elementary School in Howards Grove. It is called Academic-Parent-Teacher-Teams (aptt) and is designed to help parents become more involved in their child's reading progress and other learning activities. More information will be known about the program in the coming days to see if it might be a useful strategy to try in a Malawian context. If so, the Malawians will be invited to attend actual aptt sessions with parents and teachers at Northview School to learn how these sessions are conducted.
There was also a great deal of discussion at the roundtable meeting about the recent visit to Lakeland and visit with Cohort 2 by fellow-Malawian Keni Banda. Banda is the former men’s head soccer coach at UW-Madison but lives in New York now. His father is the former Malawian ambassador to Germany. The family is from the Nkata Bay area on the shore of Lake Malawi, and Keni has a great passion to help the children of his country improve their literacy skills. Banda’s non-profit foundation Banda Bola Sports has begun a project near Nkata Bay that engages children by using soccer as an incentive to keep kids in school and keep them on track with their reading skills. His project addresses the physical as well as the educational fitness of Malawi's children. The Lakeland graduate students could see a lot of value in what Banda is doing, and they are exploring ways to see if his methods could be applied at the demonstration schools at Teacher Training Colleges in Malawi. The students plan to continue looking into those possibilities and to investigate funding sources for such an endeavor.
In the coming weeks, we will report more on the work the graduate students are doing at Longfellow Elementary School, as they put into practice the new teaching techniques they are learning in their Instructional Strategies course.
On December 7 and 8, 2015, the first nine graduate students in the Lakeland College Masters of Education program defended their thesis projects to members of the college faculty. Then, on December 9, they donned their caps and gowns and marched down the aisle in the presence of families and friends at Ufulu Gardens in the capital city of Lilongwe to receive their diplomas. What follows are some impressions of what transpired.
Professor Jeff Elzinga reports that the thesis defenses went well. There were five defenses on the first day and four on the second. While some of the students live in or near Lilongwe, several had to make long journeys by bus to get to the capital city. Dr. Mehraban Khodavandi, Chair of Lakeland’s Graduate Education Program, participated in the defense meetings from his campus office via Skype technology. For him in Wisconsin, it was the middle of the night, with the first defense beginning at 1:00 in the morning, Wisconsin time. According to Professor Elzinga, Dr. Khodavandi's electronic presence added something especially meaningful to the entire process, connecting the group back to Lakeland College in a direct and palpable way. Everyone was thrilled to see their teacher and advisor again, even if only via computer screen. As Elymas Tembwe said, "I was very happy to see my research lecturer face-to-face on Skype since we had parted in June."
Ndamyo Mwanyongo said that she felt nervous before her defense, which seemed appropriate to her, given that she knew she would be facing a discerning panel. "But," she wrote, "when I was welcomed by Professor Jeff Elzinga, and seeing Dr Khodavandi on Skype, the nervousness was driven away. I felt very confident after explaining my topic and how the research went on. The experience was somehow what I anticipated." Phillip Nachonie also reported feeling nervous beforehand. "But came the day," he said, "it was not as hard as I thought. I was very confident because it was about something I had been doing myself. Responding to questions was not a problem anymore."
About 65 people attended the December 9 graduation ceremony. There were representatives from USAID, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, principals from the Teacher Training Colleges, and many other friends and family members of the graduates, including Dr. Brian Frink, Professor of Chemistry and Chair of Lakeland’s Interdisciplinary Studies Division. According to Professor Elzinga, the event was every bit as lovely as one would wish it to be. "The venue was beautiful," he said. "Brian and I wore our graduation gowns, as did the students. Brian read the names of the graduates and I handed out the diplomas. We even piped in the same music we use on campus, along with the Malawian and US national anthems."
Ndamyo took special notice of the music. "When the music started for us to begin marching in, it felt like we were at Lakeland. I said to myself, 'This graduation was well planned for, and we've been honored.' Having my family there, including my husband and kids, made me feel fully supported." Phillip agreed that the presence of his wife, relatives, and government officials made the experience a truly great celebration, "one of my most memorable days," he said.
The journey that began for this group of nine in June 2014 has ended. They have successfully attained their Masters degrees after 18 months of intense work. But, if one were to ask any of them, the real journey—to enrich and expand early grade reading instruction in Malawi—has only just begun.
The graduates stand on the steps at Ufulu Gardens accompanied by (back row, left to right), Lakeland Professor Brian Frink, Mr. Douglass Arbuckle, Mission Director at USAID/Malawi, and Lakeland Professor Jeff Elzinga. In the front row is Ms. Chrissie Chisamba, Lakeland graduate of 2008, who served as the students' research mentor in Malawi from June to December 2015.
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