In summer 2015, Political Science Professor Okşan Bayulgen led a study abroad program on Sustainable Energy and Development in Istanbul, Turkey. Seven UConn undergraduate students lived and studied in Istanbul for six weeks. Students learned about the economic, social, and political consequences of using fossil fuels in Turkey, an exemplar of a country with a rapidly developing economy with a growing demand for fossil fuels. Students examined what sorts of economic, social, and political obstacles facilitate or hinder Turkey’s transition to more renewable energy resources.
Professor Bayulgen elaborated about the “power of place” that studying abroad brings to the classroom: “Being in that place and talking to locals who are in it, breathing it, is important…it makes what we are studying more real and grounds what students learn in practical terms.” The timing of the program worked out so that students were in Istanbul during the parliamentary election season. There were protests in streets outside the classroom, allowing students to observe citizen engagement, even as they learned about the politics of sustainable energy in Turkey.
Finally, the course also had a component on national and international policies on sustainable energy and the associated compliance of governments, including the United Nations Global Compact. Structured around ten principles derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international law treaties, the UN Global Compact is a set of recommendations and expectations designed to establish a culture of corporate social responsibility and promote environmental sustainability.
With this background, students also participated in an internship project. Each student served as an intern for two weeks for one of three energy companies in Turkey. During their internships, students met with a range of employees, including management staff, and asked them questions from a standard questionnaire developed by the UN Global Compact. An important question all students asked was: What are you doing to protect labor rights?
Students not only asked tough questions, but they also did challenging work. Internships consisted of attending meetings, conducting research, and doing site visits to company factories alongside other full-time employees. On these site visits, engineers explained how plants operated, offering students unique insight into daily operations. At the close of the program, students provided a final assessment and evaluation of their respective company’s performance based on their research and interviews. Assessments were shared with the internship sites.