Montclair State Teams with U.S. Department of State in Groundbreaking Initiative

Arrangement creates first-ever interactive classroom partnership with State Department’s Virtual Student Foreign Service

Photo: Mike Peters

Members of the class, U.S. in the World: Turkey, Europe, and the Middle East, join their counterparts in Turkey in participating in a video teleconference.

This semester, Montclair State University is offering the first-ever collaborative course based around a partnership with the U.S. Department of State Office of eDiplomacy’s Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS). An initiative launched in 2010 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the VSFS is part of a growing effort by the State Department to harness technology and a commitment to global service among young people to facilitate new forms of diplomatic engagement.

The Montclair State course, U.S. in the World: Turkey, Europe, and the Middle East, is taught by Professor Zsolt Nyiri of the Department of Political Science and Law. It features a groundbreaking collaborative relationship with a class of Turkish students taught by Professor Nida Shoughry of Bilkent University, the first private, non-profit university in Turkey.

Throughout the semester, students at both universities participate in and complete a series of joint lectures, discussions, and assignments conducted simultaneously and completed collaboratively through the use of technologies such as Skype, video teleconferencing, email, and Google Docs. A class Facebook group also has been set up to facilitate and encourage communication between the U.S. and Turkish students outside of the classroom.

“Montclair State University is honored to be part of this exciting collaboration that connects students who are, in many ways, worlds apart, to study together global governance and world politics, and the roles played by the U.S. and Turkey and the challenges these countries face,” says Nyiri, an international polling expert. “We’re paying special attention to the processes – like public opinion polls, innovative information and communication technologies, and social media – through which ordinary citizens can shape politics.”

High-level American and Turkish guest lecturers, such as Ambassador Marc Grossman—who has served as United States Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador to Turkey, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs—have spoken to the U.S. and Turkish students via video teleconferences during the course of the semester. Montclair State and Bilkent University students are also required to collaborate on two joint projects, a Data Visualization Exercise and an Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Exercise.

According to Nyiri, Turkey’s emergence as a regional and global player in foreign affairs helped to make a Turkish university such as Bilkent an ideal partner. “The future of its evolving relationship with the United States will be determined, in part, by the success of programs like this collaborative course that promote direct communication and mutual understanding between the two nations.”

The planning of the semester-long course began last summer when the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy approached Montclair State with a proposal that, as part of a class on foreign policy and innovative technology, one Montclair State University student would be given the opportunity to participate in an e-internship position with the U.S. State Department VSFS program. The student would be able to contribute in the work of the State Department around the world by working remotely on projects.

Montclair State’s enthusiasm helped to make it an ideal candidate for such a program. “The Department of State chose Montclair State from a short list of twelve universities to initiate this ground-breaking project,” Nyiri explained. “We were an ideal fit because of our size, faculty expertise, and the scope and diversity of our students.”