GIIP and GISES: Bringing the Benefits of Technology to the Underserved
Alejandra Bonilla in Honduras
Among the most exciting ways that UCSC students are learning to make a difference in the world is through the Global Information Internship Program (GIIP, pronounced "jeep"). GIIP is an academic/cocurricular program that turns undergraduates into "info activists," individuals who are trained in technology and use that training to benefit the underserved, both in the U.S. and abroad. The program recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary.
The program, developed by sociology professor Paul Lubeck and then-graduate student Kyle Eischen based on an overwhelming student response to Professor Lubeck's World Society class, is an innovative, well structured learning experience that combines classroom learning with hands-on experience. Prospective GIIP interns take a sequence of three quarter-long classes that focus on the theoretical and practical aspects of "info activism," or the process of addressing social inequalities through the use of information and communication technologies, and on technical skills such as web design, digital storytelling, databases, and other software.
Students create a project proposal as part of the course work. The best proposals are submitted to organizations to receive funding, and the students complete their internship (see sidebar on "Past and Present GIIP Internships"). Internships typically involve helping a non-governmental organization (NGO) either in the U.S. or abroad by providing training, software, and equipment, thus empowering the organization to become more effective.
After their internships, highly motivated students may apply to become GIIP fellows, who manage the program and train the new generation of GIIP-ers. GIIP currently has about 15 fellows and about 50 interns. GIIP fellows donate at least five hours a week of their time to the program and meet twice a week.
Evelyn Castle examines a textbook with midwife students in Nigeria
Professor Lubeck, the program's director, feels inspired by his students' achievements and creativity: "The students get contact with me and I get recharged from their enthusiasm, and it's all in the context of a very disciplined, very structured program," he said. "GIIP fellows have shown that it's possible to marry the UCSC tradition of active scholarship with new technology in order to advance social justice and the transition to a sustainable world."
GIIP, whose motto is "Connect, Create, Change," has a larger goal of working to bridge the inequality between technologically rich and poor organizations. GIIP members have found that with a little training and some basic equipment, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that serve the poor and underprivileged can gain efficiency, effectiveness, and self-reliance.
In fact, the program itself is a model of what Professor Lubeck calls "fighting digital exclusion." "This is a program in which women and, increasingly, students of color are engaging with technology," he said.
The ideal GIIP student, Professor Lubeck said, does not have to be a "tech whiz," but should be interested in social justice and in technology. "It is the follow-through that the students do with the NGOs that makes the difference," said Professor Lubeck. "It's common for an NGO to get technology thrown at them, but it does them no good because they don't know how to use it."
The program's success has led to a new minor: GISES (pronounced "GUY-sis"), which stands for Global Information and Social Enterprise Studies. Sponsored by the Department of Sociology in collaboration with GIIP and the Center for Global, International, and Regional Studies (CGIRS), GISES's goals are similar to those of the GIIP program. The program teaches project-based analysis and information technologies in the service of community organizations.
GISES is an academically rigorous program for which students must earn a GPA of 3.0 or better in certain lower-division courses before declaring the minor, and they must submit a project plan. As part of the program, students must take the Sociology 196G Project Practicum and complete the GISES capstone project. The GISES program is particularly recommended for students who wish to pursue careers in non-profit management and/or social advocacy. The Sociology Department also offers an intensive major in sociology with a GISES focus.
Jessica Yazmin Herrera, a sophomore majoring in anthropology and sociology with a minor in GISES, praised GIIP enthusiastically. "GIIP is unlike any other program or class in college," she said. "It is the best thing you can do for yourself and the people you aspire to help."
Jessica, who is interested in technology in education, developed a GIIP project that teaches middle school and high school students and their parents how to use technology and computer applications to help them in their schoolwork, with the ultimate goal of promoting parental involvement in their children's education.
According to Jessica, GIIP has taught her some important life lessons: "I learned that I can do many things if I eliminate fear and insecurity. Those are the worst obstacles anybody could have in doing anything," she said. "You have to get over the fear of being wrong, messing up, or not knowing."
Jyesha Wren is a senior transfer student from College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California, who is pursuing the sociology intensive major with a focus in GISES. She completed a GIIP project in Ethiopia in the summer of 2009, working with local community health organizations on issues involving reproductive health, gender inequality, and violence.
"I joined GIIP because I wanted to learn practical 21st-century skills that I could bring to social justice work out in the world," said Jyesha. "I'm a person that believes in the importance of learning by doing, and in GIIP, students design and implement their own projects, and are encouraged to make real, sustainable change in the world right now. I have not seen any other programs that prepare students for this work and provide these opportunities."
Commenting on the benefits of GIIP and GISES for the students, Professor Lubeck said, "We help students organize their interest in technology to make it do-able. Most actions in business and government can be distilled to projects, and GIIP and GISES teach students how to focus on a project and use information technology to disseminate it and implement it. Also, their project management and technical skills make these students very employable."
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The record has borne out Professor Lubeck's claim. GIIP alumni are achieving success in non-profit enterprises, graduate schools, and businesses throughout the world. John Madden (B.A., sociology, '08) is a developer at Yelp, and Adam Thompson (B.S., information systems management, '05) is now a GIIP associate director and is applying to graduate school. GIIP also has alumni working at the World Bank and at the World Resource Institute in Washington, D.C.
But perhaps hope and a sense of purpose are the most important benefits of these programs. As Professor Lubeck says, "Despair and cynicism are a big problem today. GIIP and GISES help students act with altruism, justice, and sustainability, while developing real-world technical skills."
Present and Past GIIP Internships
During its 10-year history, GIIP has placed students in internships in the U.S., Indonesia, India, Central America, and many African countries. Following is just a small sample of current and past student internships:
Bringing Technology Training to Honduras: Working with the Riecken network in Honduras, Alejandra Bonilla (B.A., Sociology, '09) trained members to improve their technical skills, working with a wide range of people, from children and teenagers to librarians and the board of directors. She also held English and web design workshops for a group of students at a local adult school and built a web site for one of Riecken's local libraries. GIIP's training proved essential to her internship not only for the information technology skills she learned, but also for the experience and insights it gave her about community organizing.
Modernizing Nigeria's Medical Records System: Evelyn Castle, a second-year health sciences student, worked with a health clinic in Nigeria last summer to create one of the country's first electronic medical records systems. Evelyn's pilot project, whose sponsors included the Packard and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, can now be replicated throughout the country to potentially help millions of Nigerians receive better medical care.
Training East Indian Women to Use Technology: As a GIIP student, Jamie McPike (B.A., Sociology, '04) developed a project to train women in Kerala, India, to use information and communications technology. Jamie is currently the After-School Program Coordinator for Girls Moving Forward, a Bay Area service dedicated to ending the gender confidence gap in schools.
Better Communications Tools for the People of the Niger Delta: Gato Gourley (B.A., Sociology, '04) worked with the Delta Info Initiative in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where he taught NGO representatives how to use computer applications such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver, as well as HTML code to build web sites. After graduating, Gato attended the London School of Economics to obtain his masters degree in Development Management.
Empowering California Youth Volunteers: GIIP co-produces the Summer of Service Technology Institute, a week-long program at UC Santa Cruz that brings Central San Joaquin Valley youth volunteers to campus. During their stay, the volunteers learn advanced technological literacy concepts taught by staff and interns from GIIP and Fresno's Center for Multicultural Cooperation (CMC). The Summer of Service Technology Institute also serves as an outreach tool, giving potential first-generation university students a chance to experience a university environment and receive information about admissions and financial aid.