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Global issues bring students together to live, learn

When Kristin Brunsell leaves her Introduction to World Politics class, it never takes her long to find someone who's ready to continue the conversation around whatever global issue was discussed in class that day.

All Brunsell has to do is open the door of her room in UW-Eau Claire's Thomas Hall and she's likely to find another student from her political science class or a peer who is eager to talk about all kinds of international topics. 

The pre-nursing major is a student leader in UW-Eau Claire's Global Living Learning Community, a community that brings students who share a passion for understanding international issues together to live and learn.

"We're all global citizens living in an interconnected world, and we have a responsibility to know what's going on," Brunsell says. 

The Global Living Learning Community, or GLLC, is one of nine living learning communities at UW-Eau Claire. The goal of all the LLCs is to create a more engaging learning environment within the residence halls.

Brunsell, a native of Madison, is one of several students living in the GLLC who are taking the spring 2015 Introduction to World Politics class taught by Dr. Stephen Hill, a professor of political science and the faculty adviser for the GLLC.

By bringing the global topics she's learning about in the classroom into her residence hall and bringing topics she hears discussed within her living area to her classmates, she's helping to create a more engaging learning environment for herself and her peers, Brunsell says. 

"It's one thing to read about these issues in the newspaper but being able to discuss them with peers is a whole different experience," Brunsell says. 

UW-Eau Claire's GLLC and other living learning communities provide valuable opportunities for Blugolds to connect their residence life experiences to their academic pursuits, Hill says. 

"Once you're part of a community like that, you feel more engaged in and committed to that community," Hill says. "The interaction and collaboration that occur really enhance the students' understanding of the topics discussed both in and out of class." 

Quincy Chapman, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life, agrees, noting that the communities foster a heightened learning environment by creating a physical space for students who have a shared interest in a topic, by creating programs that encourage students to integrate course content into their residence hall living experience, and by encouraging students to collaborate with their peers through service-learning projects and discussions with faculty and staff.  

For example, the GLLC was involved in organizing Global Water Awareness Week, an event held in fall 2014. Members of the GLLC worked on the weeklong event with the university's Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies, Hill says, adding that the event featured speakers from UW-Eau Claire, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and UW-Stout.

Students also presented their research on a variety of water-related issues as part of Global Water Awareness Week. 

Brunsell was among the students who presented her research, which focused primarily on the availability of sanitary water. The research project, she says, opened her eyes to the extent of the issue. 

"Every minute, a child dies of a water-related disease," Brunsell says. "By doing this project, I've found there's a lot more research out there than I thought."

The GLLC also helped raise money for Water for Life International, an organization that drills wells in remote villages of northeast Guatemala that don't have safe water, and the students helped promote study abroad opportunities through a faculty-led International Immersion Week this spring.

Making students more aware of global issues such as water sanitation is an objective of the GLLC, but it's also a goal of a broader campuswide effort to internationalize UW-Eau Claire, Hill says. 

"There's this synergy where the UW-Eau Claire community is coming together to increase internationalization on campus, and the Global Living Learning Community is at the heart of all of that, trying to get more students involved," Hill says.  

Brunsell says that it's easy for students to feel removed from global issues because they are so focused on their own preparation for the future, but she's encouraging them to get more involved and work to understand the issues. 

"I know that by yourself as a college student, global ideas may seem overwhelming," Brunsell says. "But we as a collective can really make a difference on these international issues that affect us whether we know it or not."