May 8, 2009
Whitworth Students Seek to Change the World through YouTube
Commercials champion international causes, promote nonprofit organizations
War. Famine. Sex trafficking. Drugs. These are some of the problems plaguing the world that students in Whitworth's international relations class have tackled through a series of commercials recently posted on YouTube. This semester marks the third time in the past two years that students in the class have completed this assignment. Last year, one of the organizations profiled, Heifer International, decided to use a student's video for promotional purposes.
The YouTube project is the brainchild of Associate Professor of Political Science Patrick Van Inwegen. Last spring, he decided to help students think positively about pressing international issues by having them take advantage of the increasingly popular user-generated video-sharing website to present their proposals for change.
"The international relations class can be kind of depressing, because we cover topics such as war, terrorism, AIDS, poverty, human trafficking, nuclear weapons and global warming, but I don't want students leaving the class thinking they'd rather not know about the wider world because it is so challenging," Van Inwegen says. "So, now we end the course with their concrete proposals for making the world a better place."
Van Inwegen requires students to create commercials that motivate people to do something about an international plight. Students first identify a change that they think will improve the world and then describe their commercial's intended audience, which could be students, policy makers, foreign governments, or international organizations, among others. Students then write up background information about the issue and a description of their commercial. They receive feedback from fellow students and then post their commercials online and discuss them in class.
In the international relations class last spring, junior Natalie Douglas created a commercial for Heifer International, which provides animals and training for poor people in developing countries. Representatives from the organization saw the video on YouTube and asked Douglas if they could link to her video from their website.
"She was so excited that something she had done for class about an organization that she cares deeply about was recognized by that organization as being so useful that they wanted to show it to others to help raise money," Van Inwegen says.
Junior Rhylee Smith, whose project this semester, "The Ocean of Garbage," was voted best commercial by the class, says she learned a great deal not only about her chosen issue — the pollution of the Pacific Ocean — but also about myriad other problems through watching other students' projects.
"We covered such a wide variety of subjects, from human trafficking to adoption to the Ronald McDonald House, and it surprised me how little is required from a person to make big changes in the world," Smith says. "Sometimes making a difference has nothing to do with spending time or money, but merely requires being aware of an issue."
Following is a selection of students' commercials from the spring 2009 semester:
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,600 students, offers 53 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Patrick Van Inwegen, associate professor of political science, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or email@example.com.