It’s a new year and the best way to mark it is by relaunching a Chicks segment.  Believe me, you’ll want to meet Jenny Buccos.  Follow the breadcrumbs of a business minded project manager’s awakening to the gifts of travel.  Jenny saw a deficit in the world and instead of dismissing it – she started a non-profit organization – one that blends joy, discovery and circling the globe.  But not just for anyone, her educational multimedia content targets the most impressionable – school children.  If you’re an educator or just intensely curious about our global community, welcome to ProjectExplorer.org

Q:  You founded ProjectExplorer.org in 2003.  Why combine education, children and a video travel series?  What did you see in the world that was lacking and prompted you to start this organization?

A:  In the early stages of developing ProjectExplorer.org, I found that people had a wide variety of preconceived notions about other countries and cultures, particularly here in America where our culture, news, and discussions can be so inwardly focused.

In our rapidly shrinking world, I believe global understanding is a critical 21st century skill that all students will need to possess in order to succeed. Seeing foreign places firsthand and having my own beliefs challenged was a real awakening for me, and I wanted to try and give that experience to as many people as I could — especially young ones. Of course, it is not possible to take every student abroad. For me, the solution was simple: by creating free student-focused videos on global topics, thousands – even millions – could experience the world beyond their borders through online video.

Q:  What was your personal journey that served as the the springboard for ProjectExplorer.org? 

A:  My global education began in Hong Kong in 2000, whilst on assignment with an investment bank. This was my first time off the North American continent.  This experience and the months after 9/11 became the catalysts for founding ProjectExplorer.  Beginning in the winter of 2001, I spent several months observing the people around me becoming increasingly afraid of the world outside of America’s borders. As I listened to these conversations, I began to think about how developing a global awareness from a young age could someday improve international relations. We could start by raising a generation of truly global citizens.

The idea for an online travel series for students began brewing in early 2003. (This was before the existence of YouTube and online video was not yet mainstream.) As I began initial research that year to better understand students’ ability and means to travel, I was surprised to come across the following statistic:

 According to the U.S. Department of State, about 75% of Americans do not have a passport. (Source: Testimony of Frank E. Moss, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services, U.S. State Department)

In 2006, after months of research and fundraising, the first series debuted, providing virtual passports to students and learners across the country and around the globe, and encouraging our users to experience the world.

In a traditional headdress worn during performances of the Jankunu dance in Belize

 Q:  How do your videos differ from a typical travel video series, say something that airs on NatGeo, for instance?

A:  Think virtual field trips to far-flung destinations such as Mauritius, Azerbaijan, and Jordan!

ProjectExplorer.org’s programming is designed to expose young students to a variety regions, traditions, histories, and cultures. Unlike NatGeo or similar television programming, our videos and related lessons are presented at three levels of learning (grades 3-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12.).  We currently feature about 400 short films, all of which are kept to under five minutes. This allows educators to incorporate them into everyday classroom lessons,  with each video designed to serve as a springboard for further dialogue.

We select projects that give new attention and depth to subjects and regions that are often overlooked in schools. We constantly ask for input from parents and teachers on what locations or topics they would like covered. When developing our videos, we consult with educators to ensure the script is age appropriate, digestible in terms of content and length, and adheres to curriculum standards.

Our goal is to infuse a global perspective across traditional subjects. For example, in science class students can learn the physics of bungee jumping in Soweto, South Africa or how a volcanic island like Mauritius formed (link: https://vimeo.com/53374293).

Under our educator section, we offer lesson plan suggestions that encourage in-class discussion in addition to creative exercises that challenge students to analyze and interpret the materials they have seen.  Many of our lessons ask students to compare and contrast past historical events with current global issues, fostering dialogue that explores ways to resolve conflicts, including environmental and racial issues.

Q:  You use the term ‘Global Citizen.’ What does it mean to you?

A:  To me, being a global citizen means celebrating our common humanity, while respecting the different path another culture or group might take.  The first step in becoming a global citizen, in my opinion, is educating oneself on those differences and similarities.

Working in Mauritius with a young Aldabra Tortoise

Q:  You’ve been asked to speak at three TedTalks conferences [TEDxSoweto, TEDxNYED and TEDxCinncinnati] and were recently selected as a White House Champion of Change.  What is the ultimate message you want people to learn from your public appearances or accolades?

A:  I hope that these honors and public appearances encourage more teachers to incorporate global themes in their everyday lessons.

We recently commissioned a nationwide survey and found an increasing importance within diverse industries for employees to have an understanding of global issues, yet just 30% of educators surveyed regularly incorporate global themes in their lessons. Teaching Global Citizenship is becoming more and more critical, and doesn’t need to come at the expense of other subjects; instead, it can be integrated across all areas.

 Q:  2013 signifies ProjectExplorer.org’s 10th anniversary.  Congratulations!  What is in store for this momentous year?

A:  We will embark on a 10-country world tour to produce our most ambitious project yet. “The Rise and Fall of the British Empire” will be filmed across five continents, and this series will explore both the positive and negative sides of colonialism to create a complete picture of this rich history.

Jenny M. Buccos is the Director, Producer, and Series Creator of ProjectExplorer.org and an agent for global citizenship.  Over the last 7 years, she has directed/produced 400+ short films for students, working with global leaders and visionaries including: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Belize’s First Lady Kim Simplis Barrow, Ziggy Marley, and Anthony Bourdain, to name but a few.  To date, Jenny has traveled to 50 countries. She is the two-time recipient of a GOLD Parent’s Choice Award for Excellence in Educational Programming. She is a 2010 recipient of a National Award for Citizen Diplomacy, honored alongside Academy Award winner Robert Redford for her work as a citizen diplomat. In July 2012, Jenny was honored as a White House Champion of Change.

Website: www.projectexplorer.org.
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/jbuccos.
Twitter: @ProjectExplorer

I urge you to watch Jenny’s TEDx talk “Global Citizenship In the Classroom”.  It’s nothing short of inspiring:

You can support their free educational programming by making a donation here: justgive.org.

Chicks Conquering the World is a monthly series about women overcoming the odds or doing unique and different things.  If you’d like to be featured or want to nominate someone, contact me  at: [email protected].

 All images: © ProjectExplorer.org