The Connect Program—Soliya’s flagship virtual exchange initiative—is an online cross-cultural education program integrated into curriculum that provides young adults with a unique opportunity to:
Integrated into university courses across a variety of disciplines—including media studies, international relations, and religious studies—the Connect Program gives students the opportunity to engage in facilitated and substantive dialogue, and build meaningful relationships across national, cultural, religious, and ideological boundaries. Through a webconferencing application, students speak face-to-face in groups of 8-10 global peers, with no more than two students from a physical classroom assigned to the same online group so as to ensure a deeply multilateral learning experience. Each group is led by one or two facilitators trained, by us, to sustain dialogue and support an environment where students can comfortably explore perspectives, uncover biases, and arrive at a better understanding of cultures, with the goal of developing the global competence essential to thriving in an interconnected world.
Since 2003, the Connect Program has linked students from over 100 universities in 30 countries across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Europe, and North America. Learn more about our University Partners »
Soliya has developed a full academic curriculum for the Connect Program including readings and classroom activities that complement the online dialogue sessions. Soliya conducts extensive evaluation of the Connect Program each semester in partnership with the Saxelab Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at MIT. Learn more about the impact of the program »
See what it's like to be in a Connect Session!
Soliya facilitators encourage students to share personal stories and develop meaningful relationships. In this clip, Ayca, a participant from Turkey, introduces herself to her group in the first session of the semester.
Connect Program participants discuss a range of issues throughout the semester including identity, religion, culture, and social and political topics. Group members are encouraged to share their cultures and perspectives openly. In this conversation, two participants discuss aspects of religion in their respective societies.
Each group has one to two facilitators, who are an integral part of the Connect Program dialogue and provide support and guidance to students throughout the semester. In this clip, a facilitator explains her role to the group to set appropriate expectations.
What if every student had a meaningful cross-cultural experience as part of their education? Working closely with the Saxe Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at MIT and the Annenberg School of Communication at University of Pennsylvania, we evaluate the educational impact of the Connect Program with a focus on empathy and understanding, 21st Century skills including critical thinking and cross-cultural communication and collaboration, empowerment, and activation.
Feedback from Students
90% are glad to have participated in the program and would recommend participation to their peers.
82% agree that participating in the program helped them clarify what they think and feel about issues that are important to them.
25% increase reported in having a good understanding of their peers from other regions, and recognizing they have a lot in common with them.
25% increase in having challenged media representation about the relationship between their societies and societies abroad.
90% shared information about what they were learning with their peers and community members.
25% increase in speaking out or acting to promote awareness about an issue related to international affairs after participating in the Connect Program.
30% of Connect Program alumni go on to participate in our UN-certified Facilitation Training program, an indication of their desire to continue to be engaged and to take a leadership role in fostering international understanding.
“There is nothing quite like conversation with your peers. Soliya creates a safe environment for us to talk about controversial issues we might not bring up. Having this dialogue made me more aware of other opinions and of my own. I learned so much. ”
— program alumna, University of St. Thomas, USA
“[What I learned most is] to have self-confidence and to give my opinion freely without any fear.”
— program alumnus, Al Azhar University, Egypt
“The best thing about the Soliya program was being able to meet and interact with people from around the world. To have a global network is invaluable in this day and age. And then to be able to have intellectual conversations within the group was priceless to our education and life perspectives.”
— program alumna, University of Northern Colorado, USA
“Never before have I been able to discuss such interesting topics with so many people all living in different countries at the same time. Our discussions were always really fertile and I feel that they broadened my personal horizon a lot.”
— program alumna, Basel University, Switzerland
“Soliya allowed me to open the box that I was living in for a long time and see the world around me. It taught me never to judge people according to where they live…It made me discover my personality all over again.”
— program alumna, University of Jordan, Jordan
Feedback from Professors
97% say the Connect Program helped them accomplish the goals for their course.
89% say the Connect Program enhanced the quality of discussions in their class.
90% of professors agreed that their students developed an understanding of alternative perspectives through their participation in the Connect Program.
81% say students gain confidence, communication skills, and critical thinking skills.
88% say students gain media production skills and increase their ability to be critical media consumers.
“Their eyes were opened to a reality with which they had previously had no contact, except through the media. They discovered through direct contact with young people of their age the events and emotions associated with the realities of the Arab world. In short, Soliya is my students' window on the Arab world and is simply indispensable in that context.”
— Dr. Robert Crane, École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, France
“It is fine to talk about theories about “engaging the other” or “increasing understanding across cultures”, but Soliya puts the students on the front lines of intercultural relations. They will learn more about themselves and their place in the world in the Soliya sessions than in a semester in International Relations classes.”
— Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, Georgetown University, USA
“The Connect Program offers sustained cross-cultural exposure over longer periods of time. And it has been very fruitful. So, thank you for offering this program to a community of middle and low-middle class students who are in need to see others as they really are: human beings sharing common fear, love, and hopefully understanding.”
— Dr. Osama Madany, University of Menoufeyya, Egypt
“The Soliya program was phenomenal in terms of its impact on the students' capacity to engage, learn, and, quite frankly, be transformed [...] Across the board, all of the students displayed a heightened consciousness of the diversity and multiplicity of perspectives. […] the aim is to open up minds and spur young people to taking their responsibilities as global citizens more seriously.”
— Dr. Junaid S. Ahmad, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan
Results guide Soliya’s ongoing development of the program and improvements to the curriculum. Evaluation results are also shared with professors, enabling them to better assess student participation and learning.
As a professor, how can my students participate in the Connect Program?
As a student, how can I participate in the Connect Program?
How does Soliya select participating universities?
What academic disciplines does the Connect Program relate to?
The Connect Program can be integrated into a variety of existing courses but is most commonly integrated into the schools of arts, humanities, social sciences, languages, and international studies, as well as the core curricula.
Is there a fee for participation?
What is required of participating universities?
- Each university will select 5 to 30 students to participate in the Connect Program.
- Soliya recommends that the program be offered as part of a credit-bearing course and will assist university staff in finding the best way to integrate the program.
- Each university should identify a technical point person responsible for ensuring access and configuration of computers on campus.
- We hope university faculty become genuine partners in the Connect Program, providing creative suggestions and critical feedback about program design and implementation.
What will Soliya provide to participating universities?
- Software and media elements necessary for participation in the program.
- A “Curriculum Menu” for faculty to customize their specific intended learning outcomes.
- Extensive introductory and training materials for students, the sponsoring professor, and technical support staff.
- Consistent technical and program support.
- An exciting learning opportunity for students that will bring current events to life and give them key critical thinking, communication, media literacy, and technical skills for the 21st century.
How much time is required of participating faculty and staff?
- During the first two weeks, a professor, staff member, or graduate student should spend three to four hours per week to set up the program and ensure that students are registered.
- After that, a professor, staff member, or graduate student will spend approximately one hour per week on coordination. Soliya will provide ongoing support as needed.
- Again, a technical point person should be designated to work with Soliya to configure the computers and help students become accustomed to the technology.
What is the timeline of the Connect Program?
- Fall semester: eight weeks from October to December.
- Spring semester: eight weeks from March to May.
What do we ask of participating students?
- Before the program, students participate in a brief online orientation.
- During the program, students participate for an average of three hours per week.
- Students complete a final media production project.
- Students complete brief pre- and post-evaluations about their experience.
What criteria should be used in selecting participating students?
Ideally, participating students will be:
- Fluent in English.
- Motivated and mature.
- Able to work well without extensive supervision.
- Interested in cross-cultural communication.
They need not have any previous experience in video production.
How is the Connect Program accredited at participating universities?
There are two ways the program can be integrated into coursework:
- A university can structure a course specifically around the Connect Program using the curriculum created by Soliya’s Academic Advisory Committee, which provides select academic materials that complement the online discussion. Many universities have structured participation and credit in this way, including the American University of Beirut, Tufts University, the American University of Sharjah, and the University of Amsterdam.
- A university can integrate the Connect Program into existing courses and as a supplement to an existing curriculum. Connect can be a course requirement or a supplement, such as a final project or extra credit. The American University in Cairo, the University of Iowa, Al Akhawayn University, Carnegie Mellon University’s Pittsburgh and Doha campuses, and Clark University have done this.
Soliya will work closely with each participating professor to ensure that the Connect Program fits into the course and meets the learning objectives.
What are the technical requirements?
The program is designed to provide a rich online experience with minimal technical requirements. Soliya’s technical team supports the set-up of technology on campus and trouble-shoots throughout the semester.
Ideally, universities provide students access to five or six computers during flexible hours, since groups meet across a variety of time zones. Computers should have the following specifications:
- Windows XP (recommended), Windows Vista, or Mac OSX or higher.
- Pentium III or equivalent; G4 or better for Macs; 256 MB of RAM.
- 500 MB of available hard drive space.
- Internet Explorer 6 or higher and Flash Player 9.24.00 or higher.
- A webcam, USB headset/headphones, and a microphone.
- Minimum bandwidth of 200 Kbits/sec download and 100 Kbits/sec upload is required. Wireless Internet cannot be used.
Have questions about the Connect Program? Contact Us »