Several years ago, with the encouragement and guidance of colleagues at other U.S. schools as well as Northern Ireland colleagues, Swarthmore undertook exploration of the possibility of setting up an unconventional, community based service learning (cbsl) semester in Northern Ireland, focusing upon the ongoing Northern Ireland peace process.
The catalyst for this was Jon Van Til, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Urban Studies at Rutgers, Camden, an expert on civil society and a researcher, educator and frequent visitor to Northern Ireland. JonVan Til is also a Swarthmore graduate; founding member of Swarthmore's Soc/Anthro department; active in College affairs and Swarthmore Friends Meeting and resident of Swarthmore. In addition Jon was encouraged and supported in his efforts in Northern Ireland by his brother, Roy Van Til, also a Swarthmore graduate, Economist and free lance researcher.
From Jon's work in Northern Ireland and his familiarity with Swarthmore, Jon discerned distinctive foreign study possibilities for a small number of Swarthmore students in Northern Ireland; brought these possibilities to the attention of the Off-Campus Office; and facilitated communication with key people in Northern Ireland, such as Professor Arthur Williamson, Professor Emeritus; Director of the Center for Voluntary Action Studies (CVAS) at the University of Ulster and world renowned contributor to research, teaching, and applied work in the area of voluntary action and peace processes.
In 2006, through the good brokering offices of Jon Van Til and Arthur Williamson, Dr. Denise Crossan, Derry resident and Lecturer in Social Entrepreneurship, Trinity College Dublin (previously with the University of Ulster), was recruited to act as the Regional Director for the NI Semester, and in spring 2008 the NI Semester gladly welcomed its first group of students, located and engaged with community organisations in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
In fall 2010, the NI Semester began conversations with the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE), Trinity College Dublin, with a view to affiliating the Swarthmore College NI Semester with the ISE's undergraduate programmes in peace and reconciliation, delivered through their Belfast Campus. In spring '10, the first swarthmore student, Devon Novotnak was enrolled as a Foreign Studies Student with Trinity College Dublin, and received her NI classes in the Irish School of Ecumenics in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
To date, the NI Semester has welcomed the following students:
Spring 2008 - Maurice Weeks, Reina Chano, Anne Coleman
Summer 2008 - Jessa Deutsch
Fall 2008 - Andrew Van Buren, Cecelia Osowski
Spring 2009 - Caitlin O'Neill
Fall 2010 - Samia Abbass, Sarah Brajtbord, Michael Duffy
Spring 2010 - Devon Novotnak
Fall 2011 - Josh Satre and Hannah Kurtz