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Rockland Community College Partners with IREX on Grant from the Stevens Initiative to Connect Students in the US, Middle East, and North Africa Through Virtual Exchange

Grantees will create opportunities for U.S. and international students to build global competencies and career readiness skills through virtual exchange.

DATE: May 18, 2020

Rockland County, New York – Rockland Community College (Suffern, NY) joins a consortium of post-secondary education leaders to reach 3,000 students with career readiness skills through a business competition across the U.S., Jordan, and Iraq.

Rockland Community College is one of 20 academic institutions selected to participate this spring in the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge, a program supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, administered by the Aspen Institute, and implemented by IREX.

The Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge (GSSC) connects students in the United States, Jordan, and Iraq to virtually collaborate on a sustainable solution to a contemporary business challenge. Bi-national teams engage during a six to ten-week period to create a sustainable business solution to a challenge identified by industry partners across business sectors. Throughout the challenge, participants develop workforce skills, network with industry professionals, and participate in a virtual career fair. At the conclusion of GSCC, bi-national teams submit a video pitch and business plan for their prototype to the Virtual Global Business Expo, where the top three finalists are selected by an advisory committee comprised of industry professionals and educators.

RCC Faculty members, Dr. Shamika Mitchell, Professor Eileen MacAvery-Kane and Professor Catherine Roche participated in the program with students. “My RCC Honor students and their teammates at the University of Anbar in Iraq engaged in numerous experiential learning activities. Through virtual teamwork discussions, brainstorming, and problem-solving sessions, both teams demonstrated empathy while dispelling any predetermined stereotypes. In fact, through their interactions on Slack, students realized that they are more alike than different, and that collaboration is critical to finding solutions to global problems,” stated Professor Roche. “It was an interesting experience and I'm very proud of our students for completing this challenge, especially with all the challenges they were presented with this past semester,” continued Professor MacAvery-Kane. “All of the students said that overall it was a very good experience for them and they are glad they were able to do it. I think what they enjoyed most was the casual exchange with students from Iraq and sharing of photos along with hobbies and other cultural exchanges, achieving the goal of the Stevens Initiative.” Dr. Mitchell added, “It was an honor to represent the USA, SUNY and RCC. Global Solutions is a very select program, and this was a special opportunity that connected US colleges and universities with campuses in Iraq and Jordan.”

Through a total of four cohorts, the program reached 3,000 community college students in the US, and college and university students in Jordan and Iraq. Programs began September of 2019 and extend through spring 2021. Participants joined the Stevens Initiative community of nearly 40,000 students in 15 MENA countries and the Palestinian Territories, and in 44 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC.

Created in 2015 by the Stevens family as a living legacy to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Stevens Initiative is a public-private partnership that is building global competencies and 21st century skills for young people in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. Through virtual exchange, the Initiative connects youth through technology to collaborate and learn together, giving them access to a substantive international exchange.

Rockland Community College, State University of New York, offers a safe, supportive learning environment for thousands of students from diverse backgrounds who appreciate small class sizes and personal attention from a distinguished, award-winning faculty that includes Fulbright scholars and SUNY Distinguished Professors. Thanks to the school’s affordable tuition, students who start out at RCC and then transfer to a four-year college can save up to $100,000 on their education. RCC is also proud to provide career training and professional development to adult learners looking to change careers or upgrade their skills. More information can be found at

IREX is a global development and education nonprofit dedicated to building a more just, prosperous, and inclusive world. With an annual portfolio of $80 million and 400 staff worldwide, IREX works with partners in more than 100 countries, in four areas essential to progress: cultivating leaders, empowering youth, strengthening institutions, and increasing access to quality education and information.

The Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge is funded by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. It is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

More Information

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) builds relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports, professional and private exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships and mentoring programs. These exchange programs improve foreign relations and strengthen the national security of the United States, support U.S. international leadership, and provide a broad range of domestic benefits by helping break down barriers that often divide us. Visit for more information.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, D.C.; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

The Bezos Family Foundation supports rigorous, inspired learning environments for young people, from birth through high school, to put their education into action. Through investments in research, public awareness, systems building and programs, the foundation works to elevate the field of education and improve life outcomes for all children.

The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Washington, D.C. is committed to promoting and increasing cross-cultural understanding and educational exchanges. In line with the UAE Government’s values, the Embassy supports educational programming at schools and universities across the U.S. The Embassy works with U.S. institutions to provide unique opportunities for peer-to-peer exchanges and help broaden student’s horizons.

The Kingdom of Morocco has held a longstanding commitment to the promotion of peace, mutual understanding and respect across all fora. In line with this commitment, the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco is a strong supporter of the Stevens Initiative and is proud to be included in its programs, which foster opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges between youth.