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Spring 2003

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Island learning

Skidmore decals are a common enough sight, especially in the Northeast. But on the Caribbean island of Antigua? It’s true, says Deborah Meyers, an academic advisor with Skidmore’s University Without Walls. “The stickers are everywhere, and the college is being talked about on TV and radio.”
     Skidmore’s presence in the Caribbean is a recent phenomenon, due in large part to the ambassadorial skills of UWW grads Colin Greene ’01 and Austin Josiah ’90. The pair—president of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers and Antigua’s commissioner of labor, respectively—are loyal advocates of UWW and suggested there might be a wider market for it in the Caribbean. At Greene’s invitation, Meyers and UWW director Cornel “Corky” Reinhart went to Antigua in May 2001 and spoke to about 700 interested schoolteachers from Antigua and Barbuda. “It was a shot in the dark,” Reinhart says. “But I think we had a very successful day.”
     
Antiguan schoolchildren whose teachers are UWW students
Indeed they did. There are now more than twenty island students enrolled through UWW—nearly a sixth of the program’s total enrollments—taking online courses with people all over the world. Most are teachers (two-thirds of them women) who had exhausted their educational opportunities in a place where the only way to earn a four-year degree is by going off-island. Many are working toward a B.S. in early childhood education, while others are pursuing education administration and language education.

     “These are committed, experienced teachers who are hungry for new ideas,” Meyers attests. Reinhart has been struck by the students’ level of commitment. Their annual salary, he notes, averages around $10,000 US, which is about what it will cost them for a Skidmore degree. UWW has provided over a dozen scholarships ranging from $750 to $2,000. Funding from the New World Foundation made it possible to acquire a handful of computers so students could take courses online. (A grant of $459,000 from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is enabling UWW to enhance its online offerings in several disciplines.) This past January, UWW staffers and several Skidmore professors went to Antigua to meet with nine students who are expecting to graduate in May. For the teachers’ classrooms, they brought along school supplies donated by the Skidmore community, including books, pencils, crayons, and paper.

     Gauging the program’s success so far, Reinhart says, “It’s exciting to be caught up in a place small enough for us to make a difference. We know that with each student we graduate, it’s like throwing a rock into a pond—you can watch the ripples.” To keep the program going, Reinhart says, they’ll need to consistently enroll about thirty students. But judging by the prevalence of Skidmore stickers, there’s no name-recognition problem among island residents. As Meyers says, on Antigua, “Skidmore is a known entity now.” —MTS

 


© 2003 Skidmore College