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  • Department of Global Development
  • Natural Resources and the Environment
  • Global Development
A global conference will explore cross-cultural community research gained through an innovative service-learning partnership between Cornell and Malaysian partners.

The 2021 International Conference on Community-Based Service-Learning in Borneo brings together students, faculty and community partners on June 14-15 to reflect on the process and experience of service-learning partnerships and community-based service-learning in academia. Conference registration is open until June 5.

Co-hosted by Cornell University and Malaysian partners the University College of Technology Sarawak (UCTS) and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), the conference will highlight cross-cultural, cross-national and interdisciplinary learning gained through the partnership of the three conference organizers and their community partners in Long Lamai, Bawang Assan, and Machan in Malaysia.

Since 2016, Cornell students have engaged with Malaysian partners through the Global Citizenship and Sustainability program. Each year teams of Cornell students conduct community-based research in partnership with village leaders and university counterparts in Borneo with the intention of gaining a broader understanding of the issues of climate change and cultural resiliency.

A key value of the Global Citizenship and Sustainability program is to promote reciprocal learning that benefits students, community partners and participants in Southeast Asia, according to Shorna Allred, the program’s faculty lead and an associate professor in the departments of Natural Resources & the Environment and Global Development.

“Through this partnership I have been privileged to work with many Penan leaders, Malaysian scholars and students, and Cornell students as co-researchers advancing knowledge about indigenous community resilience,” Allred said.

“Whether presenting to Malaysian Legislative Assembly members or other government officials to developing a digital museum of Penan culture, the research has both scholarly and real-world impact.”

The service-learning partnership paused in 2020 due to travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 health crisis. Students at Cornell, UNIMAS and UCTS took this as an opportunity to organize the virtual conference in order to reflect on the partnership and its progress. 

“We also wanted the conference to bring together those working on global service-learning partnerships,” Allred said. Keynote presentations will be given by Eric Hartman, Executive Director of Haverford College’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and co-founder of the Community-based Global Learning Collaborative and Carol Ma, Associate Professor at the Singapore University of Social Sciences and Senior Fellow in Service-Learning and Community Engagement in the Centre for Experiential Learning, who is a pioneer in service-learning in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Moderated by Allred, the conference will feature a wide range of faculty, student and community member speakers from around the world. Cornell experts include Wendy Wolford, the Robert A. and Ruth E. Polson Professor of Global Development and vice provost for international affairs; Scott Peters, professor of global development; Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life; Katherine McComas, professor of communication and vice provost for engagement and land-grant affairs; and Amy Kuo Somchanhmavong, associate director of service learning and partnership at Cornell Public Service Center. The speakers will reflect upon how academia, students, and community members can learn together continuously across diverse knowledge systems.

Beyond a reflection of the long-term partnership, the conference will dive deeper into approaches to community-based learning in academia. It will be of value for those interested in or working on domestic or global service-learning partnerships, including university faculty and students, university administrators, community leaders, policymakers, and organizations and agencies that can support service-learning.

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