Standing before faculty in an Islamabad classroom last week, Paul Landow and two colleagues were about to launch a PowerPoint presentation on service learning when — uh-oh — the electricity went out.
“The power went out and it stayed out, the whole time. We did our presentation without the PowerPoint and in the dark,” said Landow, a former Omaha mayoral aide who now teaches political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Pakistan's practice of “load shedding” — shutting down electricity in a certain area because demand is exceeding capacity — was part of the learning experience for Landow and the two other faculty members who were visiting the country as part of a federally sponsored exchange program between UNO and Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.
UNO was one of five U.S. universities chosen last fall for the exchange, which is administered by the Innovations in Civic Partnership, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.
In March, three Pakistani scholars from Quaid-i-Azam University visited Nebraska to observe UNO's efforts in service learning and civic engagement.
Service learning gets students involved in community service projects; civic engagement is the effort to connect a university's teaching and research to the needs of its community.
Landow, a former congressional aide who was chief of staff for then-Mayor Mike Fahey, was one of the three UNO faculty members who returned the favor by visiting Pakistan for 10 days. They left Omaha on June 23 and returned Wednesday.
Each offered a slightly different perspective on service learning and community engagement in the university setting:
» Landow has taught a service learning class. Students in one of his political science classes last spring teamed up with students from Omaha South High School and Marrs Magnet Center to complete a neighborhood inventory of malfunctioning stoplights, cracked sidewalks and broken streetlights. The students then mounted a letter-writing campaign to urge city government to repair the problems.
» John Shroder, an emeritus professor of geography and geology, visited Afghanistan and Pakistan perhaps 30 times from the 1980s to 2005. Thomas Goutierre, UNO international studies dean and director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies, picked Shroder for the Pakistan trip because of his familiarity with Pakistan and his ties with people there.
His last trip to Pakistan was in 2005, when he guided a group of 25 young doctors from the Nebraska Medical Center to a base camp on the K-2 mountain. His aim was to conduct research on Himalayan glaciers. The doctors provided medical services to people in villages along the way.
“I've done service learning,” Shroder said. “Periodically, people have asked me to help solve a problem.”
» Jeff Olsenholler, a researcher in the international studies department, has worked to map the glaciers in Pakistan using satellite imagery and historic documents. He describes his service learning perspective as that of a “consumer” who has experienced the rewards of volunteering in his community.
For the past six years, since his mother's death in hospice care in Wisconsin, he has volunteered at an Omaha-based hospice. He often encounters UNO students volunteering there as part of their college experience.
Shroder said security was far tighter in Pakistan this time than it was during his past visits. In fact, the Islamabad Marriott, his hotel in the past, was the site of a suicide bombing in 2010 that killed 54 people.
“It's a walled fortress now,” he said. The UNO faculty stayed at another hotel, the Serena, with an isolated hilltop location. “All the foreigners stay here. It's the best hotel I've ever stayed at,” he said.
Landow said he and his colleagues were not disturbed or frightened by the power outages and the security.
“The Pakistanis we've met have been very positive,” he said. “They wish more Americans would come.”
Shroder said the trip gave him a chance to reconnect with people he met many years ago. One man, whom Shroder hadn't seen in 30 years, made arrangements to meet him after reading a newspaper account of the visit.
Geologist Qasim Jan turned up at a dinner to see him. The two arranged to visit an archaeological site outside Islamabad.
“The embassy is nervous about us going out, but the Pakistanis think they've got it handled,” he said. “They've got guys with machine guns around us all the time.”
Shroder said the visit was part of a U.S. effort to strengthen ties strained by the U.S. drone program and military activities. The effort was welcomed by Pakistanis, he said.
“They don't want these relationships to go away,” he said. “They say 'You Americans are coming back again and we want you to be here.'”