Nov 20, 2019
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A group of 15 Fresno State students presented research projects over the summer in Indonesia. (Courtesy Dheeshana Jayasundara)

Social work students receive recognition at Indonesia conference

A group of Fresno State students received national recognition over the summer at The International Consortium for Social Development in Indonesia. 

The social work education department sent 14 of its graduate students and one undergraduate to travel around Indonesia for almost two weeks in July, as they presented research projects and visited different agencies. 

The 21st biennial international conference is one of the four main conferences in the social work field which invites professionals and scholars from around the world in efforts to exchange views and perspectives. This year’s event was held at the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. 

“All of the students presented their own work,” said Dr. Dheeshana Jayasundara, associate professor for the social work department. “It was the first time they were presenting from Fresno State.”

Students spent about six months preparing for their presentations. A lot of time, energy and organization went into each research project, said social work graduate student Ewan Duarte. 

Duarte said he conducted about 60 interviews for his research project and thesis, which focused on trans youth in California. 

“It was an incredible opportunity to prepare, speak and present after all that planning,” Duarte said. “I don’t think anything like this has happened here.”

Before the students were accepted to the conference, they had to submit an abstract of what they would be presenting and go through a blind interview. After all 15 were accepted, the students were responsible for fundraising to cover their expenses. 

A total of $60,000 was raised through different fundraisers, like college funding, a GoFundMe account and university funding.

“We were selling Jamba Juice cards, selling chocolates and meeting with President Joseph I. Castro asking to donate to our cause,” said James Borunda, a social work graduate student.

Borunda presented the ‘bring your own ballot’ initiative, an event that took place last November on campus. The goal was to get a lot of first-time student voters to vote for the midterm election in an effort to bring awareness to voting.

He describes the trip as an eye-opening experience and his first time in a fundamental Muslim country. 

“There’s a lot of adjustments coming from the United States, so that was a big culture shock for me,” Borunda said. “It was interesting to see a lot of the issues that they face in developing nations that we still struggle with here, like clean drinking water, extreme poverty and child abuse.”

Christine Andrew remembers her experience as both extremely humbling and empowering. The social work graduate student presented perspectives on the challenges of professionals working with street children in India. 

“It was a great opportunity overall. The trip was interesting too, because for me, it was one of the first times that I had been part of a minority group in another country,” Andrew said. “I feel really hopeful for the future and very fortunate to be part of this cohort.”

The conference invited other universities, but no other school had a group with as many as 15. 

“All the other schools had one, two or maybe three students representing,” said Dr. Marcus Crawford, assistant professor for the social work department. “All the other students were doctorate students, no master’s students.”

After all their efforts, the group won the Partners in International Education (PIE) Award. Normally, one student is awarded, but this time all 15 students won it as a group, said Jayasundara. 

The group is planning to receive its plaques at the 2019 Commission on Global Social Work Education meeting held in October in Denver, Colorado. 

Toward the end of September or early October, the students will be holding a community forum where they will present their experience as a way to thank and inform other students about it. Details on the exact date are still pending. 

“Not only did we present, but we were there to hear other people’s research,” said Alejandra Rodríguez Perez, a social work graduate student. “So we gained a lot of knowledge about what other people are doing in the community. I feel like now we can implement that in our own practice or just sharing with our peers.”

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