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Seed grant spurs global progress at NC State Women’s Center

Nelson Santiago, Assistant Director in Multicultural Student Affairs, prepares students for the second ViLa.
Nelson Santiago, Assistant Director in Multicultural Student Affairs, prepares students for the second ViLa.

NC State’s Women’s Center has largely been focused on North Carolina, but that is quickly changing thanks to internationalization seed funding. Dr. Ashley Simons-Rudolph, the center’s director, applied for a 2013-2014 Internationalization Seed Grant through the Office of International Affairs and was awarded $5,000 on the proposal called “It takes a ViLa”: Developing a virtual research consortium on gender. The proposal aimed to create greater cross-cultural understanding around gender issues and to increase opportunities for international engagement and research for students, faculty and staff.

The goals of the project were met through development of a “ViLa” or Virtual Social Science Laboratory. The ViLa is housed in the NC State Women’s Center with support of the Women’s and Gender Studies academic department within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.  Simons-Rudolph leveraged NC State connections and alumni contacts to build the virtual lab in collaboration with multiple partners in Costa Rica. The University of Costa Rica, one of NC State’s key global strategic partners, was instrumental in getting ViLa up and running, along with other community-based Costa Rican organizations. Seed funding provided by International Affairs was utilized to send Simons-Rudolph on a site visit to Costa Rica in March 2014 to develop those relationships and test the virtual webspace. While there, she facilitated the very first ViLa between Costa Rican participants and three NC State undergraduate students and ten faculty on campus in Raleigh. A month later the first full ViLa was conducted, titled “The Human Rights Perspective and How it Can be Used to Spur Gender Work.” Participation at NC State grew to include 40 undergraduates and multiple faculty and staff.  The ViLa is ongoing and the GERLs research group within the Women’s Center is planning a series of publications on international perspectives of gender equity with Costa Rican colleagues.   

Beyond the virtual lab, Simons-Rudolph leveraged the seed funding to have a larger global impact on the Women’s Center. The opportunity allowed students and Women’s Center staff to learn about Costa Rica and expand their lens to include gender discussions on a global scale. Partnerships with the Sustainability Office at NC State were enhanced to further engage campus connections in Costa Rica through Alternative Service Break programs there as well as in Guatemala. Simons-Rudolph continues to share outcomes and experiences from the Internationalization Seed Grant by presenting at conferences and supporting globally-focused publications for Gender Issues, a quarterly Springer Publication that she co-edits.

“International work sometimes requires adaptability and creativity. Implementation of the [ViLa] project was challenging yet rewarding and we appreciate the opportunity to grow our international efforts in the Women’s Center,” Simons-Rudolph said of the seed grant process.

Proposals for the 2016-2017 Internationalization Seed Grants will be accepted until December 11, 2015.