The Boston College School of Social Work’s (BCSSW) launched its new Interdisciplinary Certificate in Humanitarian Assistance (ICHA) this summer, aiming to bring a personal focus to humanitarian issues, according to Thomas Crea, the BCSSW assistant dean of global programs and chair of global practice.
“The social work perspective is unique in the sense that it focuses on the person but in the context of their environment and in the realm of humanitarian aid and international development,” Crea said. “A lot of times programs lose that individual focus and look more at the policy side. But how do we care for the person in front of us while also influencing the factors that are affecting their well-being?”
The certificate is an online program aimed to prepare students who hope to work in humanitarian aid and development sectors, according to a University release. The program is split into eight modules including “Migrants and Refugees in the Global Landscape,” “Introduction to International Child Protection,” and “Climate Change, Displacement, and Human Rights.”
“We developed the modules from what we saw as the most important areas that people in humanitarian aid need to know,” Crea said. “We found the core areas of knowledge that can prepare people for dealing with the different crises that are bound to be coming through.”
Assistant BCSSW professor Alejandro Olayo-Méndez said he applied for the Academic Technology Innovation Grant—offered by the Academic Technology Advisory Board and the Office of the Provost—before BCSSW created the certificate, hoping to expand the range of topics and perspectives within his introductory migration and refugee courses at BC. Olayo-Méndez had already created three new modules on migration with the grant money prior to the certificate.
“This initiative has its genesis in that smaller grant,” Olayo-Méndez said. “That small grant gave us the opportunity to explore and dream big about what this program and school could do.”
BCSSW global program professors who focus on international issues—Crea, Maryanne Loughry, and Lyndsey McMahan—then collaborated with Olayo-Méndez to create the certificate program.
According to Crea, the program offers skills useful to BC undergraduates, graduate students, and humanitarian aid workers currently working overseas.
“This program assists in helping understand global frameworks and underlying humanitarian practice and policy,” he said. “It also teaches both the clinical and the programmatic skills needed to be effective practitioners when [students] are working overseas.”
This summer the program is asynchronous and is primarily for graduate students, but according to Crea, the BCSSW wants to reach more undergraduates in the fall and plans to offer the program as a course.
“I suspect that there’s a demand or at least an interest among the undergraduate population for this type of work,” Crea said. “BC historically is one of the universities that produces the most Peace Corps volunteers in the country. I’m thinking that people interested in doing something like Peace Corps or Jesuit Volunteer Corps are going to be drawn to a humanitarian-focused course. This could be a really good introduction to help them get basic knowledge before they go into that assignment.”
According to Olayo-Méndez, the asynchronous program was a collaboration between the global program team and the Center for Digital Innovation in Learning (CDIL).
“While we are the content experts, our partnership with the CDIL is the reason we were able to launch this,” he said. “This has been a project of collaboration. [The CDIL] have been superb and I can’t speak more highly of them.”
When creating the program, Crea said it was important for the BCSSW to collaborate with and have the input of various humanitarian organizations.
“Our partner organizations are the frontline of dealing with these crises,” Crea said. “So we work with refugee-focused organizations and very large humanitarian aid organizations that are both in the faith-based realm and in the secular realm.”
According to Olayo-Méndez, the professors were also intentional about inclusivity in the course videos for the certificate, interviewing experts and locals from varying countries and cultures.
“In the module that I developed I made sure that I had interviews from different people who work in different regions in the world,” he said. “I have … people who work in Latin America, so the video is in Spanish with English subtitles. You have someone from Africa, someone from Europe, and someone working in Australia. Inclusivity is important. Diverse voices are important.”
Olayo-Méndez said that the University’s guidance and grant resources has allowed the ICHA global program team to “dream big.”
“Throughout this process we have had the institution’s support to dream big,” Olayo-Méndez said. “And I believe that what we are doing here really is big.”