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Final project challenges students to make peace


Michelle Lee gives a presentation during Professor George Catalano's class.
George Catalano, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Binghamton Scholars Program, wants students to leave his classroom more socially aware, possibly having made the world a more peaceful place.

Each semester, he challenges his students to complete a project that brings peace into the world. Engineering students are required to somehow use their skills. The 25 students in this semester’s Binghamton Scholars class – titled Peace: A Historical Perspective – found the assignment quite open-ended.

During final presentations last week, students discussed projects ranging from helping flood victims to volunteering at a soup kitchen.

“If they can just be a little bit more reflective, I’m happy,” Catalano said. “I really just want them to be more conscious of the world in which they live and see that good health and good educational opportunities aren’t guaranteed. It’s nice to reflect on the gifts we’re given.”

Lewis Levenberg and a friend organized a screening of the film Live and Become followed by a discussion with members of the Black Student Union, Binghamton Association of Mixed Students, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Hillel. The movie follows a Sudanese boy who is airlifted to Israel with Ethiopian Jews during Operation Solomon.

Michelle K. Lee also brought an international perspective to the assignment.

She’s the co-coordinator of a campus chapter of Liberty in North Korea, or LiNK, which focuses on human rights. The group organized a weeklong public awareness campaign featuring posters, tabling and a “drop-dead stunt” similar to ones seen in television advertisements for the anti-smoking group Truth.

LiNK collected $310 for a group that helps North Korean refugees, she said.

Freshman Brittany Erdman said she used what she learned in the course about conflict resolution, reflective listening and speaking in turn to promote peace among her warring suitemates.

“We were having difficulty adjusting,” she said. “There was lots of fighting and bickering.” The assignment, Erdman said, “improved my relationships with my roommates but it also taught me about mediation.”

Catalano has been assigning such projects since 1990.

“They’re usually a whole spectrum, from wanting to make peace with family members to those that are more like forming a chapter of Amnesty International,” he said.

While most students initially hate the idea of the project, Catalano said many later tell him it was one of the most worthwhile assignments they received during college.

“It’s probably the most important thing I do as a teacher,” he said. “It’s much more important than equations and that sort of stuff.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08