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Iraqi Young Leaders Social Media Initiative Teaches Social Media Networking, Community Engagement and Cultural Awareness

Bridging a cultural gap: Students from Iraq visited Richmond’s Peter Paul Youth Development Cente...
Bridging a cultural gap: Students from Iraq visited Richmond’s Peter Paul Youth Development Center and taught the children about Iraq, including geography, songs, dances and food. Here, Iraqi students played a clapping game with the center’s children.

More than two dozen undergraduate students from Iraq are participating in a summer study program at Virginia Commonwealth University that offers them experience in social media, community engagement, service learning and American culture.

The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program - Social Media Initiative is funded by the United States Embassy in Baghdad and implemented by the Academy for Educational Development to help 50 highly motivated undergraduate students from Iraq study in the U.S.

The VCU School of Mass Communications and Global Education Office worked together to build a four-week academic and cultural experience. The students are enrolled in a social media networking course taught by mass communications professors Marcus Messner and Jeff South.

There are 25 Iraqi students at VCU, many who study information technology in Iraq. Another 17 VCU students are also enrolled in the course.

In addition to lectures and guest speakers in the classroom, students have taken field trips to area media outlets and have visited nonprofit agencies in the Richmond area.

“We put out a call to nonprofits who may be interested in having the students develop a social media plan for them. The response was strong. We got about 50 responses,” South said. “We divided the class into groups and each group selected a nonprofit they’d like to work with.” 

The students will incorporate Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms into the campaigns they create for nine Richmond area nonprofit groups. And the students will offer suggestions to help the nonprofits sustain the campaigns long after the class is over.

“We’re going to make sure it’s easy for you to update and at the end of our project, we will give you a manual that will help you keep it going,” said Christian Wright, a graduate student in multimedia journalism who was part of the team meeting with leaders of Manterfly Youth Development.

The participating nonprofit groups are:

The students will present their completed plans during a Social Media Club of Richmond event on Thursday, July 28, in VCU’s Temple Building.

The social media plans aren’t the only way the students are engaging with the Richmond community. The class has also formed a powerful bond with children at the Peter Paul Youth Development Center in Richmond’s East End.

During weekly visits to the development center’s summer institute, the Iraqi students have taught the children about their country’s geography and culture, served a popular Iraqi dessert, worn traditional Iraqi and Kurdish clothing and entertained the children with Iraqi and Kurdish music and dances.

This is the third summer that VCU has participated in The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program - Social Media Initiative. Another group of Iraqi students is currently studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The students will leave Richmond on July 31 for New York City, where they will be reunited with the students studying in Massachusetts for a week of sightseeing before returning to Iraq.

The students are blogging periodically about their experiences in the United States. Those blog posts are available on Richmond.com.

VCU Mass Communications Associate Professor Jeff South (left) escorted a group of VCU and Iraqi students to meet with leaders of Manterfly Youth Development, a Richmond-based nonprofit agency that helps at-risk children. Students are developing social media communications plans for ten nonprofit groups in the Richmond area and met with their clients to learn more about the agencies and their goals and needs. Photos by Mike Porter, VCU Office of Communications and Public Relations.
VCU Mass Communications Associate Professor Jeff South (left) escorted a group of VCU and Iraqi students to meet with leaders of Manterfly Youth Development, a Richmond-based nonprofit agency that helps at-risk children. Students are developing social media communications plans for ten nonprofit groups in the Richmond area and met with their clients to learn more about the agencies and their goals and needs. Photos by Mike Porter, VCU Office of Communications and Public Relations.
Some of the visitors from Iraq wore traditional Iraqi and Kurdish clothing as part of the lesson.
Some of the visitors from Iraq wore traditional Iraqi and Kurdish clothing as part of the lesson.
Students shared ideas for a social media communications plan for VCU’s Global Education Office.
Students shared ideas for a social media communications plan for VCU’s Global Education Office.