Honors students, faculty travel to Sierra Leone to deepen educational partnerships

The Honors College Servant Heart Research Collaborative, in conjunction with Honors students who have been awarded the Davis Foundation Projects for Peace grant, will travel to Sierra Leone June 7–19 to work with local partners on the observation and implementation of two projects created by the collaborative.

Stephen Kaplan, a rising sophomore computer science major, and Alli DellaMattera, a 2018 graduate in sociology and Spanish, will be joining to bring expertise on the projects they have helped develop over the last three years.

One is a six-part series of workshops on attachment theory created by UMaine Honors students for caregivers of children who have experienced trauma. The workshops address specific issues related to attachment, and include activities to support awareness and skill building. DellaMattera, Grace Pouliot ’18 and Alex Reppond ’19 wrote Honors theses based on the research or results of these trainings. Aliya Uteuova ’18, Kim Crowley ’19 and other students also contributed to the project.

The second project is NETT (National Exam Test-practice Tool), a test-taking platform to help students prepare for tests to progress from elementary to middle school and from high school to university. NETT allows students to take practice tests, and allows teachers to review students’ progress and identify areas that students need to work on.

To date, more than 2,000 students in Sierra Leone have used this online tool. One school for girls reported almost 19 percent more students passing the national exams this past fall compared to the previous year.

NETT was developed by Honors students Kaplan; DellaMattera; Pouliot; Colleen DeMaris, a rising junior computer science major; and Gene Herrschaft ’18; as well as Jacob Hall ’19. Grant Carrier ’18 and Ciara Lawrence, a rising senior, also helped with the project.  

DeMaris is a key member of the team working on the NETT project and will be on campus troubleshooting for the duration of the trip.

The trip will further the relationship between the groups at UMaine and in Sierra Leone, and will allow the UMaine team to experience the projects’ implementation and impact firsthand and gather feedback to inform next steps.

Faculty members who mentored the student projects will be joining the students on the trip: Melissa Ladenheim, Honors College associate dean; François Amar, Honors College dean and professor of chemistry; and Julie DellaMattera, associate professor of early childhood development and education. UMaine alumni Allen ’73 and Patty Morell ’73, who established the Servant Heart organization that works with the Child Rescue Centre in Sierra Leone, also will be traveling as part of the group.

For more information, contact Amar, 207.581.3262; amar@maine.edu.