Jesuit organization makes education accessible at the margins

A group of refugees studying and using computers at one of JC:HEM's learning centers.Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) is an initiative of the Society of Jesus dedicated to bringing higher education to underserved and marginalized communities. The organization's international staff partners with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and more than 30 universities, including Marquette, to provide learning centers for refugees in Malawi, Kenya, Afghanistan, Jordan, Syria and Thai-Burma.

Marquette's Heidi Schweizer, the director of e-learning at the Center for Teaching and Learning; Jon Pray, provost for educational technology; and Eric Kowalik, instructional technologist at Raynor Memorial Libraries, led the charge in getting Marquette involved with the project.


JC:HEM courses are provided by volunteer faculty members from Jesuit universities across the United States. The organization offers its students two opportunities for higher education:

  • The Diploma in Liberal Studies, a certificate awarded by Regis University that comprises of 45 credits and may be transferred to another university;
  • and a Community Service Learning Track, which allows students to enhance their vocational education.


Dr. Mary McFarland, the current international director of JC:HEM and a professor at Gonzaga University, says the program was inspired by Australian Catholic University’s success with its own tertiary education program for refugees on the Thai-Burma border. With the support of JRS and an anonymous donor, JC:HEM launched four-year pilot programs in Dzaleka, Malawi; Kakuma, Kenya; and Aleppo, Syria, and has a commitment to open 10 new locations over the next four years.


McFarland describes the JC:HEM team as a group of “kindred spirits.” “It’s a journey we really believed in,” she says, “and we’re lucky to be a part of the Society of Jesus and the Jesuit network to bring higher education to these refugees.”


The refugees are learning to think differently and engage with their community in ways that might not have otherwise been possible. “There’s a palpable hunger for higher education there,” she says. A Somali woman who went through the program became a teacher at a primary school, and since then the number of young girls attending the school has doubled. Other graduates started a literacy program for adults in the refugee camps. “The content we bring is equally important to what the students bring,” McFarland explains.


JC:HEM is always looking for faculty to provide courses and community service learning. Full-time and adjunct faculty, as well as graduate and doctoral students, are welcome to offer their services as online tutors. Visit or contact Heidi Schweizer for more information.


Marquette staff answer call to service

Eric Kowalik In 2011, during his inaugural address, then-President Fr. Pilarz announced a Call to Service, asking the Marquette community to pledge a year of service.

Eric Kowalik answered that call.

An instructional technologist at Raynor Memorial Libraries, Kowalik suggested that the e-Learning team in the Center for Teaching and Learning partner with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) to provide online courses and instructors.

Kowalik first heard about JC:HEM in early 2011, and he says the organization’s mission to educate refugees through hybrid courses resonated with him.

“I believe the ultimate goal for JC:HEM is to educate those living in refugee camps so they can in turn use that knowledge to better not only their lives, but the lives of those around them in the camps,” Kowalik explains.

As a former student at Marquette, Kowalik says he understands how transformational a Jesuit education can be. “I am fortunate for the educational opportunities I have had in my life,” he says, adding that the opportunity to work with JC:HEM was a way for him “to give back in a small but meaningful way.”

“In my mind, education is the one thing no one can take away from you,” Kowalik says. “So no matter what the future holds, the knowledge these students gain will be with them for the rest of their lives.”



MU faculty volunteer to teach refugees with JC:HEM

Chima KoriehMarquette’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Instructional Media Center (IMC) have worked with JC:HEM to develop and teach two online courses for the organization's Diploma in Liberal Studies. Chima Korieh, associate professor of history at Marquette, volunteered to redesign his History of Africa course and teach it to 60 African refugees online in 2012 and 2013. Stephen Plecnik, a doctoral student in the philosophy department and a Logic instructor, redesigned and taught his Logic course for another group of refugees.

When Heidi Schweizer and Jon Pray approached Korieh about teaching History of Africa for JC:HEM, Korieh enthusiastically agreed. He says the project was a “unique opportunity to live out the tradition of service” that’s so highly valued at Marquette.

Korieh, who was born in Nigeria, says he felt that teaching the course would be a way to give back to Africa, especially “to those who have been displaced by the problems plaguing parts of contemporary Africa” and “students who have, for the first time in their lives, an opportunity for some form of higher education.”

Korieh had already worked with Schweizer to adapt an online version of the History of Africa course he teaches at Marquette. “The most critical challenge was delivery,” Korieh says. “The course was being offered to students in an environment in which … the internet is inadequate and electricity supply is not very reliable. The things you take for granted here are a luxury in many developing country, and even worse in refugee camps.”

For his students in Kakuma, Kenya, and Dzaleka, Malawai, Korieh kept the course content and requirements the same as they are for Marquette students. However, the students in Kakuma and Malawai faced a separate set of challenges than the average student at Marquette. “Many of these students are studying in a very unconventional setting,” Korieh says. “Many have to struggle to deal with everyday survival. They have to put bread on the table. They can’t afford the luxury of devoting all their time to education.... You can’t do your assignment at home when you do not have a computer.”


In the spring, Korieh and his fellow History of Africa instructors will offer the course at a third refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. Korieh says volunteering to teach for JC:HEM has given him “a different kind of satisfaction.”


“It’s amazing how the students at the camps in Africa claim the history as their own,” he says. “They bring a different perspective—one that confirms that every history is political.”




CalendarFrom excursions to the Milwaukee Art Museum to holiday celebrations, the Office of International Education offers a wide variety of programming open to all Marquette students. Check our events calendar for an up-to-date schedule of events.

Gender and Human Rights in Africa: Intersection of Culture, Religion, Sexuality and Politics
Wednesday, April 23
6 - 7 p.m.
Wehr Physics 141

Dr. Obioma Nnaemeka, professor of French, Women's Studies and Africana Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University will present a keynote address on the intersection of gender and human rights in Africa for the Conference on Sexuality, Human Rights and Public Policy.





Conference on Sexuality, Human Rights and Public Policy
April 23-24
Raynor Memorial Libraries Beaumier Suites

Marquette will host academics from around the world to give talks on gender, sexuality, culture and public policy at a conference on Wednesday, April 23, and Thursday, April 24. The conference is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the History Department, the Women and Gender Studies Program, and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.




Table Tennis and Conversation Cafe
Thursday, April 27
4:30 - 7:30 p.m.
OIE Program Center

Come join us every Sunday for a little friendly competition in table tennis. Equipment will be provided, but feel free to bring your own. Stay after for a little conversation with peers during conversation cafe 6-7:30.



OIE End of the Year Graduation Party
Friday, May 2
5-7 p.m.
OIE Program Center

The end of the year is almost here! Come celebrate another great year and the graduation of several international students at the OIE Program Center.


WAICU Student Diversity Conference
May 2 - 3
AMU Ballrooms

Marquette University will host the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU) 2014 Student Diversity Conference on Friday, May 2, and Saturday, May 3, 2014. Come connect with students from all across the state of Wisconsin who are dedicated to learning about diversity and social justice while developing skills to create change as campus leaders.



Study Break
Sunday, May 4
5-7 p.m.
OIE Program Center

Take a break from cramming for finals and join us for a study break with treats and activities to take your mind off exams... for a little while at least!


“Beyond the Veil: Dress Identity and Tradition through the Eyes of Muslim and Arab Women of Greater Milwaukee”

Inauguration of the Exhibit

Thursday, May 15
6 p.m.

Milwaukee Public Museum

Garden Room


The exhibit caps a 4-year-long project led by AMWRRI (Arab and Muslim Women’s Research and Resource Institute) founded by Dr. Enaya Othman, who teaches Arabic at Marquette’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. The work on this exhibit has been made possible by the Marquette University Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences’ Mellon Grant for Undergraduate Student Research. AMWRRI’s research has been funded by Wisconsin Humanities Council.


RSVP by April 25 to or 414-288-5761.





Scholarships & Conferences

Check out our scholarships and conferences webpage dedicated to keeping up-to-date listings of scholarships, fellowships and academic conference opportunities available to undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff. Click on the links below for details and the complete listing.

Fellowship Opportunities

-Fellowship in Latin America and the Caribbean 

Internship Opportunities
- Peace Action Wisconsin Summer 2014 Internship Program

-InterExchange Teaching Internship








Theogene Baravura
JC:HEM Graduate
Lead Academic Tutor
Dzaleka, Malawi

"...The JC: HEM management knew our problems and challenges, and organized many workshops to help us overcome our challenges related to the e-learning. At one time, I think during our second year of the Diploma, some of our online instructors came to Malawi and facilitated workshops for us.

During one of the workshops, one instructor presented two pictures to us at the end of her facilitation: One of a football player symbolizing speed, a second one was a place to observe and contemplate a sunrise or sunset in woodland with a view of a lake. The second was symbolizing reflection and thinking. I kept the two messages, speed and reflection, with me in order to be successful for the remaining courses and activities around HEM. I had to be a fast reader and researcher, and at the same time I needed breaks to reflect on my readings and ideas to write my academic assignments. Since I had understood the benefit of being a fast and a reflective student, I started to be confident and doing well in my classes..."

Read more: JC:HEM - The Student Experience


Office of International Education
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
(414) 288-7289