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Ahmad Kamal introduces Lucie Brigham to the students in Room 207 of DeBartolo Hall as “the woman who got Ted Turner to give the United Nations a billion dollars.”
“Everybody here wants to marry her, not only because she is beautiful but because she’s the one who has all the money,” Kamal says. “Tell me, Ms. Brigham, what do you do with all that money?”
The Czech national who helps manage partnerships between the United Nations, the U.N. Foundation and the private sector smiles before saying, “We try to address all the issues of the world.”
Kamal, who spent 40 years as a diplomat in Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including a post as Pakistan’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations, then leads a discussion on transnational corporations and how they affect the U.N.’s mission. While students pose questions from the Notre Dame campus, Kamal and Brigham answer from the U.N.’s Ambassador’s Club in New York City — some 700 miles away.
It’s all part of Global Issues and the United Nations, a class that uses Notre Dame’s portable Polycom video conferencing system to link students to U.N. members who discuss world matters from hunger and international migration to the governance of the U.N. Security Council.
“I can tell them how people outside our country might interpret U.S. policies, but when they hear somebody from another country give them a perspective on their own country — that can be really insightful,” says Jackie Smith, an associate professor of sociology and fellow of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, who has taught the course since arriving at the University in 2005. She developed the class at Stony Brook University with Kamal, who retired from his ambassador post in 1999 but stayed in New York as a U.N. senior fellow.
“He was working with new technology and realized that he and others at the U.N. had a lot of knowledge and skills to share,” Smith says. “He wanted to use that technology to try to reach out to campuses.”
Advances in video conferencing have only made that more feasible.
“We used to have to dial in, which was very, very expensive,” Smith says. “But now it’s become much cheaper and the equipment is much lighter so we don’t even have to bring students to a special room.”
Smith sends Kamal a list of dates and topics, and he arranges the speakers. This past autumn the nine guests included Brigham, Jim McLay, New Zealand’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations, and William Pace, executive director of the World Federalist Movement, the influential nongovernmental agency (NGO) that developed the Security Council’s NGO Working Group.
Through the live chats, says Nicole Ruiz, a senior business management consulting major and peace studies minor, “I definitely enhanced my understanding of the subject matter.”
Karolyn Wojtowicz, a senior political science major from Saint Mary’s College who is working on an international peace studies minor through Notre Dame, agrees. “The technology definitely allows students to learn more things than we would learn through books and lectures by any one professor.”
For Smith that’s really become the point of the technology.
“The way I see it, my role is to try to help students prepare for the world they’ll be working in,” she says. “The world needs students who have had exposure to different viewpoints and had a chance to really think about different perspectives in a classroom context. It’s been very valuable for that.”