Professor of Psychology Andrew Elliot is trying to break down barriers by helping build libraries.

As a part of his class, “Competence and Motivation in Developing Countries,” Elliot and four students traveled to Borgne, Haiti in collaboration with the Haiti Outreach Pwoje Espwa (HOPE)—a non-governmental organization focused around developing communities in Borgne—over spring break to assist the local leadership generate ideas for building libraries in the poverty-stricken country.

While there, Elliot and his students participated in meetings with Haitian community members, took excursions to building sites, and embarked on a seven-hour hike to scout the location for a new library to be built.

As Elliot and his students hiked under the beating sun, local children, barefoot and dressed in ragged clothes, walked passed them. Witnessing extreme poverty first-hand, Elliot said, allowed his students to connect course content about achievement motivation to the children they saw, as they had to be highly motivated in order to walk an hour or two to class everyday.  

“I wanted to teach my students both the conceptual, theoretical parts of achievement motivation and show them how it works in a developing context,” said Elliot.

One of the most important parts of the class, according to Elliot, is to provide students with both positive and negative models for how and how not to do developmental work.

“There is a lot of talk in development literature and the development world about the ill that’s done when people come in feeling like they have all the answers and force their projects upon a needy group,” said Elliot.

To prevent that outcome, Elliot said the first step is to get to know local leadership. Once a relationship has been formed, both parties can build ideas together.

“My students aren’t coming in with the mindset that they’re helping the poor people of Haiti, they’re coming in with the mindset of being open to learning about a different way of living,” said Elliot.

For Elliot to successfully combine teaching and developmental work, his “two loves,” he centered much of his course around trust.

“I think it’s important for people to trust each other and get to know each other well because we do a lot of open discussion of what we’re processing and what we’re seeing,” he said.

Sophomore Danqi Lin came out of her shell by participating in discussions and making public presentations. The small class size of the seminar, she said, helped each student recognize their own strengths and encouraged group work.

“The supportive environment of this class taught me to be braver and more confident when making public speeches,” said Lin.

For Professor Elliot, a highlight of the course was getting to know his students on a deeper level.

“Although I get to know my students a bit during normal classes, it’s different when you’re sleeping in the same hotel, traveling on flights with them, or riding in bumpy car rides for two hours,” said Elliot. “To see students really engaged, be open, and then changed is what you live for as an educator. It’s what gets you up and inspires you to work hard.”

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