Being the Change

Building global officers

by Jan Gillis ('07)

Members of JMU's Duke Battalion

By Jan Gillis ('07)

How do you mold future military officers to have the global awareness and language proficiency so crucial in today's world? The U.S. Department of Defense has made it a top priority with Project Global Officer, or Project GO, an initiative designed to build global officers.

Project GO is a collaboration of the National Security Education Program, the Defense Language Office, all three military services and a dozen U.S. universities — including James Madison University. "We're honored to be chosen to participate in Project GO-Nenda Alliance," says Lt. Col. Robert Pettit, JMU professor of military science. "The Army ROTC program at JMU is one of the finest in the United States and has consistently been ranked in the top five percent of more than 270 universities nationwide. We consider Project GO a further indication of our program's continued commitment to excellence and enhancing the education of our nation's future Army officers."

In fact, JMU is one of four universities in the nation to receive a Defense Department grant for the Nenda Alliance for sub-Saharan languages and culture, specifically Swahili, according to Pettit. "The Nenda Alliance is comprised of JMU and the University of Virginia teaching Swahili, Boston University teaching Wolof and Hausa, and Southern University teaching Wolof," he says. At present, Swahili is the number one priority language on the Defense Language Office's list of critical languages.

Two strengths led JMU to be selected for this project — its strength in Africana studies and Swahili in particular, and its Study Abroad Program in Kenya. "JMU is one of the few universities in the country to have a tenure-track professor of Swahili, Dr. Besi B. Muhonja," says Pettit. JMU's Summer in Kenya program, which has been in operation since 2003, is well established and highly regarded. Dr. Jennifer Coffman, founder and director of the Kenya program has been working in the country's Kajiado District since 1995.

"Our program provides majors from many different disciplines the opportunity to learn about Kenya through intensive, firsthand experiences," says Project Specialist Lorie Merrow, of JMU's Office of International Programs. "Students study topics in anthropology, history, politics, development, environment and literature with a special focus on how these areas interrelate."

JMU's Project Nenda is a collaboration between the university's Department of Military Science, Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and Office of Internaitonal Programs. That interdisciplinary approach will be crucial in developing military officers with a broad cultural background says Pettit. "At JMU, we will be running Project Nenda, a joint honor corps for future officers interested in sub-Saharan Africa as part of Project GO," he says. "JMU Army ROTC cadets participating in the program will receive scholarships for study in Kenya and Swahili, as well as special advising and other educational opportunities."

Project Nenda promises to enhance the already sterling reputation of the Duke Battalion for producing some of the best leaders in training in America. "We pride ourselves on educating enlightened citizens who are committed to serving our nation," says Pettit. "Project Nenda will be an excellent tool for further enhancement of our battalion — the chance to educate cadets and future Army officers with the global awareness and language competency to help communicate and interact with other cultures and potentially solve the complex problems facing our world."

Interested in learning more about Project Nenda, JMU's ROTC and study abroad programs?

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Published: Sunday, April 1, 2012

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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