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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins CEO visits Marquette
McFarland has been to all of the countries where she offers education with the exception of one. She frequently uses Skype calls to connect with students. Photo by Yue Yin/[email protected]

From jetting to refugee camps all around the globe to presenting on the TED stage in 2013, Mary McFarland is actively involved in making a difference in the availability of education for those who have limited access to it.

McFarland, the founder and CEO of the online education program Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, spoke at this past weekend’s Heartland-Delta conference, a meeting for Jesuit educators in the Midwest. This year’s conference was held on Marquette’s campus.

Marquette has been specifically involved with JC:HEM, and as it continues to grow, more faculty members are being drawn to help instruct and design courses as well as read application essays.

During her days as a dean at Gonzaga University, McFarland created online degree programs for distance learning. It was there that the problem of uneducated refugees across the globe came to McFarland and her husband’s attention. Having worked in education, both were captured by the issue and wanted to find a way to help.

After conferring with The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the idea for JC:HEM took off.

“It was the deans of professional studies who said, ‘how can we bring about online learning out to the world where people can’t get an education otherwise?’” McFarland said. “The idea just kept going, we got a grant, we asked Jesuit Refugee Service if they would be our partner and we work with them on-site.”

Jon Pray, associate vice provost for education and technology, has known McFarland for almost 20 years. He recalled the early days of creating a Jesuit distance education group with McFarland, known as “JesuitNet,” in the 1990s.

In response to McFarland’s presentation on Saturday at the Heartland Conference, Pray said it was inspirational and moving.

“People are drawn to Mary’s genuine sense of service,” Pray wrote in an email. “She does not do a sales pitch so much as she explains the enormity of need in the world and the small piece(s) of help we all can offer.”

McFarland has personally visited every refugee site that JC:HEM educates, except for Afghanistan. She said a visit is theoretically on the list, but once the country is in a better state.

She also participates in the application process via Skype.

“There’s all kinds of ways to do it without being there, just as long as they’re connected,” McFarland said. “That’s very much our Jesuit network at play there.”

Heidi Schweizer is Marquette’s liaison for JC:HEM and has known McFarland for five years.

“She is a most humble, gracious and grateful individual who has the capacity to convince people of the honor of joining her in her effort to provide education to refugees around the world,” Schweizer wrote in an email.

Schweizer recently worked with an instructional design team to create an international course – one that will connect students from all over the world in a single, online classroom. According to Schweizer, the course could include students from as many as 10 different countries, cultures, languages and ethnicities. The course will be offered for the first time later this year.

When asked how Marquette students could help in their communities, McFarland remarked that involvement is the key.

“College students, I think, underestimate how important it is to groups when you just show up, including even volunteering in a school,” McFarland said. “(Also) for people to not get guilt-laden, (thinking) ‘oh there’s so much out there and I’m not doing it’. Three or four hours here and there can make a difference.”

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  • J

    johnson nalokio ekalaleMar 13, 2016 at 9:27 am

    And I am interested to continue diploma liberal courses offered at the same centre as I give all facilators respect and encouragement in order to facilate all facilities reguired In the centre.

  • J

    johnson nalokio ekalaleMar 13, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I personally appreciate the effort cultivated by JC:HEM facilitors by imparting knowledge and skills in order to enables to be knowledgeable and skillful students in future at arrupe learning centre in kakuma,kenya and entire margins in the world.

    By PTE class representantive(class of 2016).
    at arrupe learning centre kakuma,kenya.