Field learning

Web-based master’s from State fuels community development worldwide

An online master’s degree program available through State is providing people worldwide with the tools to change their communities for the better.

Nathan Bramsen is one of the students who participated in the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance. He is pictured here during his time in Niger.

Nathan Bramsen is one of the students who participated in the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance. He is pictured here during his time in Niger.

From Rapid City to the Crow Creek Reservation to Niger to Bangkok, these students are helping to revolutionize community development.

Through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance online master’s degree in community development, sociology students from SDSU and four other universities bring updated knowledge and techniques to communities that have been using outdated methods.

Many students enrolled in the program like Tanchanok “May” Chuprajak already are working in a specific field. Whether involved in economics, political science or nonprofit organizations, they apply classwork to their daytime jobs.

Originally from Bangkok, Thailand, Chuprajak moved to Salt Lake City at 13 and completed her undergraduate work at Westminster College. Today, she applauds the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance program (GPIDEA) and SDSU for giving her the opportunity to move back to Bangkok and the skills she needs on the job.

“I have applied many things (from class) to my work,” said Chuprajak. “For example, research procedures in some parts of the world may not be regulated like in the U.S. I have set my own standards and make sure that I follow an ethical guideline—filling out consent forms and explaining details to the community members I work with.”

GPIDEA students are involved in wide-ranging fields from ranching to reforming public meetings.

“The goal of the program is to improve the lives of people in communities, to provide them access to new training and knowledge, and to engage students in a network that they can use to ask questions and collaborate,” said SDSU professor Mary Emery.

The program is offered jointly by South Dakota State, Iowa State, North Dakota State, Kansas State and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Working in rural, isolated areas with few higher education opportunities can limit a person’s ability to earn an advanced degree. Meanwhile, receiving updated information that details new techniques and ideas in community development also can be difficult.

That’s where GPIDEA comes in.

By enrolling in the online degree available through SDSU, Emery said that regardless of where a person is based, it’s possible to energize communities.

“The program was designed because it is a challenge to figure out how you are going to get what is working in community development out into the field,” Emery said. “People may care about their community and are trying to do things, but they’re using (outdated) techniques that are not as effective. But how would they know if they don’t have that community development training?”

Another important goal of the program is to connect students to multiple networks so they can spread their knowledge.

“Most students join organizations that they may not have heard of before such as the American Planning Association or the Community Development Society,” Emery said. Plus, after working in these communities and using new techniques and approaches, Emery said, “the beauty is that now the community sees how the process works. Any time they want to use what they have learned, they don’t need somebody outside to do it.”

By design, the GPIDEA program has a strong connection with Native American communities, according to Emery. Right now, the program consists of about 70 students, 20 percent to 25 percent of whom are Native or non-Native people who are working with Native communities.

The future of the online community development degree is wide-open. For example, the program is working with the University of Glasgow in Scotland so that State students can take classes through the Scottish institution and vice versa.

That kind of expansion plays into the spirit of the program. GPIDEA brings people together who would never meet, Emery said. And, those new relationships resonate and build State’s community development efforts.

Vanessa Condon

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