Meeting of Minds

CALS and Croatian students attend ag law class together via transatlantic connections.

It’s the first summer session at N.C. State University, and, in a Park Shops lecture hall, 45 students are assembled for class. Actually, 16 are physically in the room. The other 29 are more than 4,000 miles and six hours’ worth of time zone away, at  J.J. Strossmayer University in Osijek,  Croatia. Yet, they, too, are absolutely present on the Raleigh campus – on two huge screens at the front of that specially equipped classroom, just as their N.C. State classmates are likewise on view in Osijek.

The course they’re all taking is a special version of ARE 306, Agricultural Law, a course taught in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The brainchild of ARE professor Dr. Ron Campbell, this transatlantic version of Ag Law is offered through a collaboration between Campbell and Dr. Ivan Stefanic of Strossmayer University. It connects both groups in real time with two live video cameras.

Campbell is in Croatia, where he and Stefanic lead the course at 4 each afternoon, while, at the same time (10 EST) in Raleigh, CALS’ Dr. John Russ teaches the class. The Croatian and American students interact, ask questions, present reports and basically attend class together via the TV hook-up.

“Our ag students are excited about this transatlantic version of Ag Law for the numerous learning possibilities in meeting and working directly with European students,” says Campbell, who has visited the university in Croatia twice before.

Dr. Arnie Oltmans, ARE undergraduate coordinator, traveled to Croatia with his wife and a group of ARE students to  Strossmayer University two years ago when the concept for this seminar first developed, Campbell explains.

Stefanic, Russ and Campbell confer a half hour before and after each seminar session via international Skype to review the seminar goals and achievements of the students during that session. The three teachers bring different backgrounds and interdisciplinary perspectives (business entrepreneurship, economics and law) to enrich the discussions.

Russ is “an integral part of the three-person team,” Campbell says. “To prepare to teach this unique seminar, he audited my course in ARE AG Law starting last January. When the topic was insurance for ag professionals, John shared his knowledge of the value of proper coverage in business insurance, homeowner’s coverage and umbrella auto policies. He has first-hand knowledge.”

And Stefanic has a history with CALS: He and his wife were Fulbright scholars at N.C. State in 1995. More recently, Stefanic welcomed N.C. State students, along with Oltmans and Campbell, to Croatia in May of 2012 and brought Croatian students to NCSU in October of that year.

Together they are teaching a special global version of ARE 306, a course that focuses on the applied legal principles needed by today’s graduates to adapt successfully to the challenges and changes that they are likely to encounter over their careers.

“Dr. Campbell uses real-world examples that relate to the interests of students and their typical career paths,” Russ says. “His philosophy is it is always better to avoid legal problems in the first place than to deal with the consequences, which is excellent business advice. He teaches students how to recognize legal situations when they should consult with an attorney versus trying to deal with the situation themselves. He does an excellent job motivating and instilling an interest in law in students.”

Topics commonly covered in ARE 306 include the court system, torts (civil wrongs that unfairly cause suffering on others – and the legal ramifications), contracts, real and personal property law, starting and organizing a business, environmental regulations affecting agriculture, labor regulations affecting agriculture, and income and estate taxation of agriculture.

CALS student Patrick Giunco makes a presentation with his Croatian partners (on screen) Klara Stefanic (left) and Birgit Boehning.
CALS student Patrick Giunco makes a presentation with his Croatian partners (on screen) Klara Stefanic (left) and Birgit Boehning.

In the summer seminar, Europeans are paired with Americans to research such agricultural law topics and to give presentations together, albeit long distance over the two-way video conferencing.

“N.C. State students and Croatian students work together to prepare and present three classroom lectures about law,” says Russ. “Law in the United States is compared and contrasted with law in Croatia. Detecting, discovering, and exploring the reasons why differences exist in the law make the course more interesting and thereby motivates student participation.”

In addition to classroom interactions, students communicate outside of class on assignments by email, Skype, Facebook and the like.

“The students at J.J. Strossmayer who are in this historic, first-time-ever transatlantic seminar all speak English,” Campbell says. In fact, he adds, “Croatian students have studied English since the first grade. These highly motivated European business students all have iPhones and Facebook pages, and they know how to Skype for video communications. Both the Croatian and NCSU students know how to prepare PowerPoints.”

First among the Croatian students presenting today are Klara Stefanic, who is also the daughter of Ivan Stefanic, and Birgit Boehning. In Raleigh, their presentation teammates are Jon Bender, a senior in agribusiness management, and Patrick Giunco, who came to the College’s four-year ARE curriculum from the CALS Agricultural Institute. In well-coordinated fashion, the four are analyzing the differences in laws that govern obtaining and keeping drivers’ licenses in North Carolina and Croatia. Because this is a first round of presentations, students can choose any law topic that they feel the most comfortable with – not just agricultural law – to help them refine their skills researching the law and presenting their findings to the class.

Next on the agenda is a discussion of drug and human trafficking, from U.S. and Croatian perspectives. In Osijek, Morina Njomza shows a global drug trafficking map, substance abuse statistics and information from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. She expands on these findings, explaining the penalties for such crimes in her country. Picking up that thread, Davante Falls, her partner in Raleigh, gives a detailed account of global human trafficking activities and how they are being combatted, including the U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. The two show the roles of the United States and Croatia in both the propagation of and the fight against these types of crimes.

Up next, Drazen Betlemovic in Croatia and David Nicholson at NCSU discuss laws of self-defense in their homelands, while Zack Sledzic in Raleigh and Darija Ivankovic in Osijek prepare to offer an Environmental Law presentation.

The strong student interaction enriches the course, Russ says. “By learning and studying together, students make friends with peers in another culture and they become more sophisticated in terms of their view of the world. The course surely drives home that we live in a global economy where our interests are more similar than different, and geographic boundaries don’t have to be obstacles to ideas, friendships and commerce.”

Another benefit is that “students who earn a B or better will be invited to participate in the Italy/Croatia Study Abroad program,” says Campbell. Russ, along with his ARE colleague Melissa Hendrickson, will be leading that program, planned for May 2015, in which participants will study selected global agribusiness topics.

Russ particularly commends Campbell’s efforts in developing the summer seminar and organizing the methods of how students in both counties work together and learn from each other.

In addition to studying class materials and the ARE 306 textbook (which Campbell authored), “each evening before 10 p.m., the CALS students and the Croatian students have to complete the electronic self-assessment quizzes found on Moodle,” Campbell says. “By reading the assignments before class and completing the electronic quizzes that close at 10 p.m. the night before, students are more prepared during live lecture sessions in the class.”

Russ also emphasizes the important collaboration and instruction that Stefanic provides: “He is an expert in intellectual property law and greatly augmented the coverage provided to that topic this semester by way of a lecture and workshop he provided.” Stefanic also designed an excellent team-building game that students in both countries played at the same time, Russ says.

Campbell hopes that, in the future, there will be more transatlantic versions of courses where students may experience real Europe without leaving Raleigh.

“The students are so energized by this experience,” he says. “Their parents are in communication with me about the impact of this seminar on their students. For the Croatians and their parents, too, this transatlantic version of Ag Law has been a win-win situation.”

— Terri Leith

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