BY ISN STAFF | May 14, 2015WHEELING, WV – A Wheeling Jesuit University professor is at the center of a program initially designed as a volunteer effort to educate refugees from Africa and the Middle East so they could make a difference and bring hope to their communities.
Dr. Beverly Whelton, WJU associate professor of philosophy, began teaching refugees through the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) in 2011. That first year, Whelton taught students from 17 different countries. This year, JC:HEM became an independent not-for-profit organization, which is overseen by the secretary of higher education for the Society of Jesus and the Director of Jesuit Refugee Services.
With two tracks – a diploma program in liberal studies and community service learning, the goal of the program, Whelton said, is to build community leaders to improve the lives of dislocated, marginalized persons in refugee camps and temporary inner city housing.
“These young people deserve an opportunity to build a productive future. By providing education, you are respecting their humanity and expanding their vision, even igniting their imagination. You can’t take away the tragedy, but you can transcend it. One way to build a future is through education,” she explained. “JC:HEM gives them a formal education with university credits and knowledge that is transferrable to many settings, including life in the camp.”
Whelton was recently chosen as Subject Matter Expert in philosophy, building on her already popular course, “Person and Conduct,” originally designed for undergraduates at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. The course was reviewed and modified to fit the cultural context of the students. The current development re-conceptualizes the course to provide “doors and windows” for cultural adaptation as the organization grows to expand beyond refugees to other marginalized populations.Dr. Mary McFarland, international director of JC:HEM, said, “We are convinced Jesuit education helps the student engage in life from a different framework. It influences their contributions to family and community and brings hope for a different future. Dr. Whelton, and the faculty teaching with her, exemplifies the mission of Jesuit education to serve those who are underserved — those at the margins.”
Wheeling-based JesuitNET Global, builds local computer access and is also transforming the curriculum with 30 new courses created specifically for this global multi-cultural market. JesuitNET Global creates media rich content for clients, including an initiative with the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome and with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) at their headquarters in Vatican City. In addition, JesuitNET Global tests and implements global innovative technology solutions in conjunction with the United Nations and other commercial partners.
“The work that Dr. Whelton is doing impacts lives in ways that help them flourish – to replace sorrow with joy. What we do with technology is the easy part. Bringing together faculty and students to shape a community of learners is the magic,” said Cindy Bonfini-Hotlosz, executive director of JesuitNET Global.
Jesuit Refugee Service provide a broad range of services to approximately 950,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons worldwide regardless of race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.
JRS employees serve as on-site coordinators who are the “boots on the ground.” Besides supporting the work locally, they help the international faculty grasp how the students perceive their work. They facilitate student discussions and the reception of the online modules to make a smooth educational experience in an often-disrupted environment.
Founded in 1954, Wheeling Jesuit University is the youngest Jesuit institution of higher learning in the United States and the only Catholic university in the state of West Virginia. Wheeling Jesuit is a 2014-2015 institutional member of the Ignatian Solidarity Network and is regularly involved in ISN programs and initiatives. In 2014, Wheeling Jesuit and ISN co-sponsored “After Immersion: Keeping the Fire Burning,” a conference for faculty and staff in Catholic secondary and higher education.