Dr. Ed Gragert is the visionary Executive Director of iEARN (International Educators and Resource Network). In Dr. Gragert's words, "iEARN is a community of educators, students and other individuals who share the vision that 1) education can be enhanced when students interact globally on issues that are of interest and passion; and 2) generations of global citizens who understand that the problems the planet is facing are human-made can be resolved when people work together..."
The way they share this vision of the world is through project-based learning. Students exchange educational and cultural ideas over the Internet. All iEARN projects must answer this question: How will this project improve the quality of life on the planet?
Some past and current examples of these projects include: getting rid of landmines in schoolyards, cultural studies of heroes, solar cooking as a means of empowering women and children who previously did all their cooking and water purifying over wood fires, and countless other projects aimed at making the world a safer, greener, happier place.
After fourteen years of involvement with iEARN, years that have focused on the human-to-human interactive experience, Dr. Gragert has innumerable stories to tell about friendship through education. I asked him to give me his three favorites.
"There are many stories of young people learning for the first time that they can connect and interact with persons from countries with significant Muslim populations. The most poignant are stories written by students who describe how this connection enabled them to break down stereotypes, to see other students as peers and to play a positive role in meeting human needs. For example, students in Washington State met students virtually from Afghanistan and learned that schools were in need of supplies to meet the needs of girls who were able to attend school for the first time in their lives. These students explored and researched the issues of development, geography and world history and then brought their entire school/community together to make a difference. They then made a video of their experience with the SOS (Schools Outfitting Schools) Project."
Dr. Ed Gragert started with a B.A. in Japanese political science and received an M.A. in Korean history and a Ph.D. in Japanese history from Columbia University, as well as a certificate from the School of International Affairs. Later, Dr. Gragert served as the Director of a student exchange program involving both high school students and community service volunteers. Given his experience in international exchange, I asked him what or who motivated him to take this route.
"I got off of an airplane in Seoul, Korea when I was 17 and spent a year in that country, living with a wonderful Korean host family and attending a Korean high school. This experience opened my eyes to new horizons and enabled me to view my own country from an external perspective. This year affected my decision to go into international education issues and to enable other American young people to experience the world."
But Dr. Gragert's influence reaches well beyond the shores of the U.S., as evidenced by these words from a Middle Eastern student:
"iEARN was the beginning of a new beginning. It was the turning point of my life. iEARN taught me to be responsible, self-confident, independent and how to believe in myself and respect other cultures and religions. I believe Ed Gragert is the backbone of iEARN. I truly honor and respect him."
Nadine El-Hadad, iEARN student, Egypt
Dr. Gragert got involved with iEARN because it offered him "the possibility for an exponential growth in international interaction among people who might not be able to afford to travel and who might be too young to travel or who might not be able to travel to countries considered unsafe to visit. I saw it as a chance to give the international experience that transformed my life to literally millions of others."
Before all of this could happen, Dr. Gragert and iEARN had to solve the problem of the limited access to technology and connectivity that exists in so many international communities. How could technology be a force to connect humans for knowledge and not further separate those with and without access? What is our collective responsibility?
"iEARN is committed to hearing the voices of young people around the world, regardless of the availability of technology or connectivity. Therefore, we are prepared to work with hardware manufacturers and Internet providers to arrange for in-kind contributions of their products and services to insure that voices be heard from students who have been excluded because of financial or technical constraints."
"Dr. Gragert made it possible for me to participate in international conferences in Japan and Slovakia. His humor and passion for ICT is amazing! He is my motivational point and encourager in iEARN."
Tommie Hamaluba, iEARN teacher, Botswana
"With his inspiration and sincere concerns, he has brought so many people together, in such a profound way. We are like family in the wonderful network of iEARN. We have witnessed and felt this relationship especially after the earthquake in Bam. Messages of support and hope poured in from iEARNers, giving us strength and inspiring us to be able to work hard and to try to rebuild a part of what the people of Bam lost. Thank you, Ed."
Mojgan Momeni - iEARN, Iran Coordinator
I asked Dr. Gragert whether he had any children and how iEARN has affected them.
"My daughter, Alisa, is a sophomore at Oberlin College in Ohio. International travel and interaction has been a part of her life since she was 4 weeks old. We wanted her to experience the world and its diverse populations from as early an age and as often as possible. So, during her life she has traveled to over 20 countries and interacted with students from many more through iEARN. When she was 10 or 11, she communicated with girls in Kyrgyzstan for several years. At one point after this interaction, she said it would be great to meet the girls she had met online. So the three of us traveled to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and stayed with the family of one of the girls for one week as we explored her country's culture and people. It was a fascinating experience; one that followed the change in the Soviet structure by only a matter of a few years."
"She has continued international experiences and spent a year as an exchange student at the age of 15 in Zaragoza, Spain and has recently spent months in Beirut, Lebanon studying Arabic intensively. Clearly the world is an integral part of her life."
Doing the kind of work that has kept him busy for the past 25 years has brought Dr. Gragert into contact with countless heroes. Who is Ed Gragert's hero?
"My hero would, in fact, be my daughter. She has demonstrated the courage and conviction to act on her commitment to global understanding and peace. She has actively opposed conflict and war, recognizing that her actions may have personal risks. She is my hero because she is willing to act on her convictions and values."
I asked him if there was a question he would ask himself.
"I would love to know what I will be doing in 10 years to take advantage of new forms of human connectivity to create a culture of peace. I want to make sure that I am able to transition to new technologies and new ways in which people on this planet are able to work together to build peace and justice."
And what does someone whose personal goal is nothing less than global peace do for fun?
"I enjoy interactions with nature through walks and explorations in the woods/forests, listening to the music that moved me to action as a college-age student, and the sense of accomplishment from finishing large puzzles (larger than 7,000 pieces)."
<iEARN-USA, with Dr. Edwin Gragert serving as laureate representative has been nominated for the 2004 Tech Museum Microsoft Education Award. The winner will be announced in San Jose, California on November 10th. MY HERO wishes him the best of luck.>
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Last edited 8/15/2018 9:30:20 PM