Seattle University is taking an important step forward in its strategic priority of engaging the world this year by launching the first "convergence site" in Nicaragua. There's been a buzz in the air about these sites, so we figured it was high time to learn more. Here's a quick Q&A on what these sites are meant to be, in concept, and how they are already evolving, in practice.
What are convergence sites?
A convergence site, as Associate Provost for Global Engagement Victoria Jones explains, is built around significant, long-term relationships with global partners in a focused geographic area. Jones repeatedly stresses the two-way nature of this relationship. "We're not just dropping in and visiting," she says. "We're looking for something that's deep, mutual and meaningful. We want to have an impact on the local community and learn from our partners." The idea behind the convergence sites initiative is for SU faculty and staff to engage with international partners in a way that meets their strategic goals and aligns with the Seattle University's academic program and mission-particularly its Jesuit values-while addressing the logistical needs of international collaboration.
Why was Nicaragua chosen as the first convergence site?
The university already has a strong historical tie to its sister Jesuit school, Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), largely through the faculty and staff immersion trips that Joe Orlando, assistant vice president for Mission and Ministry leads to the country every year. "We have this wonderful base on which to build," says Jones. The presence of several Seattle-based NGOs in Managua and Granada provides an added advantage.
So what exactly will the convergence site in Nicaragua look like?
SU and UCA already have a number of collaborative activities in the works. As one example, a group of students from UCA will come to SU for a course on business strategy and innovation that is being led by Sharon Lobel, professor of management in the Albers School. On the flip side, arrangements are being made for SU students to study at UCA as part of the new Core Curriculum's requirement that students take a globally oriented course for one quarter. Other reciprocally beneficial opportunities are being set up for SU students to hone their Spanish language skills and for UCA students to become more proficient in English. And more initiatives will soon come online-for instance, Orlando has offered to reorient the immersion program for one year and host a group of UCA faculty and staff at SU this year rather than bringing SU faculty and staff to Managua.
What are some other convergence sites being considered by the university?
Jones and others are exploring the possibility of establishing sites in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. SU's next site could very well be in Zambia, where the university has already developed some strong relationships (through Professionals Without Borders and Matteo Ricci College) and where a significant Jesuit presence exists on the ground. Sites in Asia and the Middle East would come next.
Would multiple sites run concurrently?
That is the eventual plan, says Jones, adding that any new sites would be launched on a staggered basis. Each site will be supported with seed money for an initial phase of five years. "That should give each site enough time to learn what's working." After that, her hope is that the sites "would continue on as a self-sustaining part of the institution."
Are the convergence sites meant to replace the university's other international programs and activities?
Absolutely not, says Jones. "This is additive. We're not wiping out other global programs that have value."
How distinctive is SU's convergence centers initiative?
"I haven't heard of any other Jesuit universities doing it this way-particularly in terms of the depth of our engagement, and how multidimensional and collaborative our partnerships are," says Jones. "But this is one way to fulfill the call made to us by Superior General Fr. Adolfo Nicolás in his Mexico City address in 2010."