REACH OUT - 1-844-863-9314 - If you are overwhelmed right now, the NYS COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is staffed by specially trained volunteers who can help.
  • Home
  • SUNY Effective Online Practices Award Program

ELN Project Portal and Global NGO Projects

Buffalo, University at


Interest in Experiential Learning (EL) is growing and changing. Across every college and university, students are searching for internships, research, and global experiences to build skills and enhance resumes. No longer content with passive coursework, students want to get close to ideas, cultures, and challenges, making real contributions through projects and engagement. Employers and potential partners share their enthusiasm, and are eager to tap into students’ talents and competencies. Yet despite the promise of EL, current EL models are unable to adapt to changing needs and expectations, and cannot embrace opportunities in their most diverse forms, or help students connect experiences with professional and academic goals. As we contemplate the future of EL within the changing landscape of higher education, it is clear that simply tweaking our current models will not get us where we need to go- namely, toward greater access, customization and impact. Instead, we need to embrace new approaches that leverage technology, expertise and relationships to create models that are inherently more powerful and scalable.

Toward this goal, the UB Experiential Learning Network (ELN) launched its Project Portal in 2019. We designed the Portal to provide UB students of all backgrounds and majors with meaningful engagement opportunities. With SUNY PIF funding, we designed 3 interconnected components: a dynamic space for creating and sharing project opportunities; a flexible engagement framework (PEARL); and digital badges to signify student achievement and showcase project outputs. While the PEARL engagement framework includes traditional EL components of Preparation, Engagement, and Reflection, it introduces “Adding value” and “Leveraging” as critical steps, and connects facilitation with digital badges, allowing for robust research and assessment. Through comparing participants with matched samples, we can assess growth through quantitative and qualitative data and explore differences in success and retention. And because students post badges within LinkedIn profiles, we can follow projects into the world of work and explore differences in professional success and mobility. The model also offers curricular versatility as the co-curricular badges, projects and PEARL framework can be integrated seamlessly into courses and programs of study, supporting exciting collaboration with academic faculty, departments and programs.

While the Project Portal can accommodate all types of opportunities including mentored research, innovation, civic engagement, and creative work, it was intentionally designed to support global collaboration. Since 2009, I have been engaging with NGOs in Mara Tanzania and leading an annual study abroad trip with my colleague from SUNY Empire, Dr. Dan Nyaronga. Although we had been fostering engagement between trips, I needed a vehicle for building on individual student efforts, and engaging students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel to Tanzania. While our Tanzanian partner was featured in our initial launch, the Pandemic and associated move to online instruction in 2020 created a market for virtual engagement opportunities. We have since expanded our portfolio of Global NGOs which now includes over 20 organizations from Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa, In addition to global NGOs, we also feature projects that engage students in the creation of Wikipedia entries and OER content focused on the UN SDGs and our NGO partners, under the mentorship of UB librarian, Cindi Tysik. We also have a digital magazine(GWEM) project that was started by a former UB student and was inspired by her project in SUNY Global Commons, sharing stories about Global Women’s Empowerment, and features the voices and stories of many of our global partners and participating students.

Our global projects begin within an exploration of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with students contextualizing the work of the selected NGO. Projects are customized from student skills or interests, and NGO priorities and requests. Students meet with NGO leaders through facilitated Zoom calls and work to understand the needs and priorities toward clarifying a specific project with a clear deliverable. While many students work through our global projects directly, we collaborate with many faculty to integrate badges and NGO engagement within courses. Current examples include a sustainability seminar with over 400 students in multiple sections, in which students focus SDG-related assignments on our Tanzanian partner, and a graduate Architecture course in which students utilize a brick press and materials similar to those being used by our Tanzanian partner, experimenting with different soil and clay ratios to achieve the most durable block composition and share information with our partners. In addition to customizing projects for students, we can also adapt our model to meet the specific ideas and needs of individual faculty or programs.

Since launching our Portal in 2019, we have engaged over 1,000 students and are currently supporting more than 600 active projects. Initial research suggested that although all projects are associated with growth in NACE competencies and other metrics, our global projects are especially transformative. And while interest continues to grow, we currently have more global NGO partners than we can match with students. While I continue to share the Project Portal and badge model with other campuses in the SUNY system, I am particularly interested in highlighting our global projects and the benefits of engaging with global NGOs around sustainability and community development. These projects resonate with student interests, and also result in important contributions to NGO partners upon which they can build capacity and further growth. As the pandemic continues to disrupt study abroad, internships and other high-impact experiences, we must find new ways to support students and the world through leveraging technology and our own resources and expertise. Thank you for considering the Project Portal and our global NGO projects as best practices to be highlighted and shared.

Additional Metrics:

See attached assessment powerpoint. We collect quantitative and qualitative data throughout the PEARL assignments. We are able to compare participants with matched sameples and examine differences in success and retention. We have found growth in all NACE competencies across all projects and especially transformative impacts related to global projects. Further research and assessment are forthcoming.

57 reviews of this entry
5.0 rating based on 51 ratings
5.0 rating based on 51 ratings

  1. The ELN portal is a highly innovative way to engage students. Students work on high impact projects that can effectively drive change. Their expansion within the global community is commendable and provides experience developing sustainable initiatives. Excellent work!

  2. If I were to put in one word what the University of Buffalo ELN program brings to the global community is HOPE. I have witnessed first hand, the extraordinary leadership and dedication of Dr. Mara Huber and Christina Heath to support an initiative to enhance English skills to students and teachers in a very poor school in rural Colombia. When we presented that idea to them , there was not a single moment of hesitation. They were enthusiastic and ready to help going the extra mile to ensure the success of a program that starts February 2022. They so deserve this recognition and award as this can only help to continue a life changing program for UB students and the global community. Thank you Mara and Christina, Thank you !

  3. By partnering with the ELN, my colleagues and I have been able to create a course project that gives engineering and computer science students experience working with global clients and the opportunity to propose projects that can have a real impact on people’s lives. I look forward to continued collaborations with the ELN!

  4. ELN is an amazing program and allows students to explore their passions and get hands-on experience. The staff goes above and beyond for its students and I am truly grateful for my time with them.

  5. This great collaboration of ELN Projects are such amazingly grand pathways for our campus associations and all interested fellows to create doors of opportunities, networking and socio-professional collaboration. This really is so much helpful to shape extensively our great combined purpose together. I am really grateful to our amazing Madam Ms. Mara Huber for getting us connected to these various grand platforms with these amazing opportunities and initiatives.

  6. Every college should have a program like this! Hands-on learning is so important to a student’s success in college, and the ELN’s innovative program is a great model to follow for colleges looking to expand their experiential learning programs for students.

  7. I am Dr. William A. Twayigize, an international educator and a professor in smart sustainable cities. I have always been interested in EL and the UB Experiential Learning Network (ELN) has been an excellent example of who EL could bring communities from across the globe together to solve socio economic challenges. I have always argued that for our education system to be more inclusive students from all walks of life should be offered opportunities to participate in Experiential Learning (EL). This is because of the High Impact Education Practices benefits that the EL brings to students that they cannot learn from their classroom settings.

    Those benefits include but are not limited to the ability to immediately apply knowledge they have just learned, Access to real-time coaching and feedback from indigenous communities who have been living in these communities and applying this knowledge for centuries, promotion of teamwork and communication skills that are developed through group responsibility and task accomplishment, development of reflective practice habits that are created because of teamwork and a sense of belonging, cultural competence and immersive cultural learning behaviors that are as the results of being closer to community members who might not have as the same privileges as you but they demonstrate dignity, integrity, hospitality, and a sense of accomplishments in whatever they set their minds to do. This is the kind of education that the UB Experiential Learning Network (ELN) led by Dr. Mara Huber has been bringing to UB students and communities in East Africa.

    This excellent program also has created a corridor to facilitate university and college students who are searching for internships, research, and global experiences to build skills and enhance their resumes, through sharing ideas, cultural experiences, and designing solutions to address challenges that exist in these communities where the EL is taking place and making real contributions through bilateral project engagement with the outside world, which might be different from their own home towns. EL students have been able to connect with their host communities and realize their passions in a more tangible way than with traditional schooling breaking barriers that have existed in such a rapidly globalizing world.

    Students from UB Experiential Learning Network (ELN) led by Dr. Mara Huber have also partnered with us through the Africa New Hope Project where they applied their innovative ideas to solve some of the issues that our project has been having and gained hands-on experience with problem-solving, project-building, and collaborative learning which are important skills university and college students need to succeed in this diverse and globalized world.

    In addition, I can also say that the UB Experiential Learning Network (ELN) is a great learning instrument to decolonize today’s college and university curriculum which is still heavily rely on old colonial education systems that were established during the period of time when a some cultures maintained dominion over other “dependent” cultures. The UB Experiential Learning Network (ELN) provides such an important platform for students who have ambitions to build global learning experiences to do so among cultures which are different from their own. This does not only contribute to the students who participate in the ELN program but also the staff and teachers who come into contact with those students.

    Last but not least, is the power relationship. ELN has been providing a platform to use global learning to globalize students thinking about the world and also rethink and how to better apply their power relations with the host communities. It offers a central role in creating new values and attitudes and provides the participants with important tools for addressing deep-rooted socioeconomic discrimination and the legacy of historical injustices due to imperialism and colonial mentality. ELN challenges and overcomes all that through Experiential Learning. This approach deserves more international education awards.

  8. The work of Mara Huber and the entire ELN department at the University at Buffalo continues to amaze me with all the ideas and accomplishments that flow out of it. The deserve this incredible recognition on behalf of all of the impacts they have made both globally on communities as well as on the students they work for. I can speak personally that the ELN has changed by life when I first travelled with them to Tanzania in 2017.

  9. I/We at Biringo Women Development Association(BIWODA),with great honor endorse Buffalo University for the award in the first place for the tremendous global impact the University and the students made. The BU model is incomparable. Fantastic!

  10. The ELN provides a robust and impactful range of global opportunities that allow diverse groups of students to engage with organizations around the world and to contribute in meaningful ways to the advancement of UN SDGs.

    In my work as an international educator, I know that experiential learning opportunities have become increasingly important to today’s students. Many students believe that global engagement programs and projects are a valuable part of their personal and professional development. Congratulations and thank you to everyone involved with this project!

  11. As a grad student assistant at the Experiential Learning Network I have witnessed the power and importance of the development of relationships between UB students and global NGO’s. The work being done by ELN is creating growth opportunities for so many people on various fronts.

  12. What the ELN Project Portal and Global NGO Projects does is to create opportunities of hands on engagement for our students to learn how to work through culture, and the connected NGO’s gain support. Along with COIL, these opportunities provide responsibility and invaluable experience where students work with the community, for the community, in the community in the truest sense of a GLOBAL community. This high impact practice, provides students with life changing awareness, agency to operate in and experience the interconnectivity of the world. AACU reports that employers need employees with these intercultural team building skills. Students have told us that they grow with this approach to learning. Institutions that recognize, celebrate and promote this approach attract students who will lead in the world. We need all our students to be global citizens working through opportunities like the ELN Project Portal and Global NGO Projects! Just think if we have this kind of education for all of our students!

  13. The impact that Experiential Learning (ELN) Network, the University of Buffalo (UB), has had on our programs at Primary Health Care and Health Management Centre (PriHEMAC), Nigeria has been tremendous. As a Co-Mentor with the Director, Professor Mara Huber on this program since 2019, PriHEMAC has hosted more than 10 students who have developed various tools that have improved our program on Promoting Elderly Friendliness through empowered Stakeholders in Nigeria. These tools include various advocacy videos, digital badges system, printable digital magazines.

    The PEARL Model developed by the Director, I must say, made the collaborative online International Experience unambiguous, highly effective, and impactful. The beautiful thing about the approach of ELN is that is a win-win situation for both the students, institution, and organization abroad.

    I am looking forward to many more students across the world connecting with organizations in Africa through the ELN model of engagement which thrives beyond limitations like those presented by the current and future pandemic.

  14. The EL Network provides amazing opportunities and connections for those looking for meaningful ways to contribute to the greater good! I have seen firsthand the value of this Netwerk through my daughter’s internship. Mara is a fearless, innovative and passionate leader of this program! Well done!

  15. This is an excellent program. Truly impactful and life changing. In co-leading the annual study abroad trips with Mara, I gathered a few comments from students: “The biggest thing that this trip has taught me is the value of education. Even a week into classes, I have already noticed that I am a much better student because I have seen the difference. Overall, my view that education can cure all problems has been strengthened significantly on this trip, and I hope to aid that work in the future.”

    “I could say, that was the best decision I ever made. It made me realize that life is not all about numbers or data. It’s about how the people in society will be affected, and what we can do for each other to work for a positive impact on our communities.”

    “My recent visit to the United Republic of Tanzania has provided me with information that one cannot live life based upon assumptions. In this context we cannot build preconceive notions and opinions based on assumptions. We must observe, and experience ourselves firsthand, before forming opinions. By doing so we only hinder many of life’s wonderful experiences. If I had listened to all the preconceived ideas, developed for me by my community, and then chose not to attend this Study Abroad trip to Tanzania, I would not have been able to learn of this beauty that exists in Africa.”

    “This trip changed the entire route I want to take my social work career. I definitely want to focus on policy development in developing countries. I want to work at an international organization such as the World Health Organization or Doctors without Borders.”

    “This trip personally allowed me to break down my own stereotypes and ways of thinking that otherwise could have remained the same, so thank you Dr. Huber and Dr.Nyaronga for challenging us, both intellectually and emotionally.”

  16. As a partner with ELN I have seen the transformative power the portal has on students and community partners. This has more evident during the pandemic when study abroad and international travel has been halted. The ability for our students to make an impact in the world and apply their expertise has contributed to maintaining their mental health, having a positive outlook on the future, and strengthen their resilience. It has also give our global partners the hope that world has not forgotten their struggles and are still reaching out to aid in whatever way they need.

  17. An extraordinary project! The PEARL model is scaleable and broadly applicable across SUNY and beyond. It involves opportunities for experiential learning, cross cultural virtual internships, social good…What a remarkable program!