In 2016 the SIETAR USA Master Workshops are organized into a 4-track framework. Each track includes two coordinated workshops offering the opportunity to take both workshops related to an important intercultural theme. Please note however, each workshop can be taken individually or paired with one from a different track.

Insights into Polarization

AM: Polarization in Modern Societies: Is Religion a Factor?
Livingstone Thompson, Ph.D.  

PM: From Polarization to Cognitive Complexity: The Path of an Interculturalist
Janet Bennett, Ph.D.

Perhaps you have noticed a preponderance of dualistic thinking in the world around us. Whether in local politics or global migration, it seems there are always two perspectives on everything. But unfortunately, only two. Which side you are on is far more important than nuanced interpretation. We more often talk of building walls than bridges. Often a tweet has more power than a poem. And “yes, we can!” has become, “no, you can’t.” Polarization tends to obscure the subtlety and the context of our cultural interface, whether with refugees, migrants, or those of other races or religions.

Meanwhile, we know that research suggests that cognitive complexity is essential for mitigating prejudice and developing intercultural competence. In a dualistic world, how do we conceptualize the path to such complexity? Can we teach individuals to create multiple frames of reference, and to shift these frames fluidly?  You will receive training materials and resources for your own work. Through a variety of activities, we will:

  •  Examine the Perry model for developing cognitive complexity

  •  Discuss the utility of cognitive complexity in our work
  •  Experience activities for increasing frame of reference shifting
  •  Share resources for teaching and training about this core competency

Janet Bennett, PhD is executive director of the Intercultural Communication Institute and chair of the ICI Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations program. She designs and conducts intercultural competence and diversity training for colleges and universities, corporations, NGO’s, governments, and social service agencies. While teaching short courses around the globe, she appreciates the many ways of seeing the world through the eyes of other cultures. Janet focuses on her particular interest in uniting the goals of intercultural and diversity and inclusion; training design; and leadership. She recently finished editing the SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence. 

Diversity/Inclusion: Strengthening Our Capacity to Engage

AM:  Neuroscience of Appreciation: Breaking Through the Brain’s Base Instincts
Shannon Murphy Robinson

Did you know within 200 milliseconds of seeing someone our brain unconsciously categorizes them as being “like us” or “not like us”? Differences, particularly unfamiliar ones or differences that make us uncomfortable, can trigger the defensive mechanisms in the brain, leading the brain to instantaneously categorize and place people into us/them polarizations. Come join us for this highly interactive workshop and learn how recent neuroscience research on appreciation can help us learn how to work with the brain to override the mechanisms that feed into exclusion and the polarization of differences, and see differences through the lens of appreciation. To advance our ability to be inclusive, we can learn to override these base instincts, and it involves strengthening the social circuitry in the brain and consciously building the positive brain. We have innate social circuitry, however this circuitry doesn’t engage as easily with people who our brains perceive as “not like us.” Studies show that centers for empathy in the brain are active with people like us and are not with others we see as different.
We can now consciously intervene on these unconscious process, which is the good news, and strengthen the brain’s capacity to engage care, compassion and kindness across differences. We can now use neuroscience to intentionally leverage and strengthen the positive brain, which is not the brain’s natural inclination, yet a critical skill in being able to bridge differences and be inclusive in our words and actions. Through neuroscience, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to consciously shape a more inclusive brain and increase the brain’s capacity to see differences in the lens of appreciation and move away from fear-based, unconscious responses.
 As a result of participating in this workshop, participants will:

  • Gain insight into the base instincts of the brain that directly feed into exclusion and polarization of others, and how we can learn to override and re-pattern them
  • Understand the importance of building and strengthening the positive brain to increase appreciation and understanding of differences
  • Learn strategies and tools to strengthen the brain’s ability to engage empathy, care and compassion across differences, even if they make us uncomfortable or are unfamiliar
Shannon Murphy Robinson, M.A., Co-Founder BrainSkills@Work, LLC, brings over 15 years of expertise in global diversity and inclusion, and intercultural management working with a wide range of Fortune 500 companies and organizations. She’s combined her expertise in leadership development, intercultural management and inclusion training with neuroscience, and in May 2012 achieved Advanced Certification as a NeuroBusiness coach at Harvard with Dr. Srini Pillay. Shannon is co-author of the BrainStates Management™ Self-Assessment profile, The Neuroscience of Inclusion: Managing Unconscious Bias white paper, an upcoming book.

She has successfully created and implemented large-scale diversity and inclusion training initiatives (20,000+ employees) with clients such as Deloitte, Deluxe, American Express, Cargill, and AT&T. Formerly a Vice President for ProGroup, a leader in providing diversity and inclusion programs globally, Shannon designed multi-year strategic global training initiatives, launched and managed affiliates across three continents, and lead many client engagement teams.

PM: Synthesizing Intercultural, Diversity and Social Justice Approaches to Address Modern Global Challenges

Amer Ahmed, Ed.D.

The fields of U.S. Diversity, Social Justice, and the Intercultural Field each play an important role in the work of effectively navigating and addressing identities across human differences.  Despite the importance of their respective contributions, there still remains a need to bridge structural, practical and conceptual divides in order to more effectively address modern challenges.  As globalization continues to fuel rapidly accelerating global inequity; holistic, dynamic solutions are needed to address current issues of identity in our increasingly polarized world. To that end, it is necessary to cultivate a cohort of interculturalists who will creatively unleash that potential.

 In this session we will explore together the possibilities for interculturalists to synthesize our work with Diversity and Social Justice approaches in order to holistically address modern global challenges.  Participants in this workshop will:

  • Develop a grounding in foundational concepts in the U.S. Diversity and Social Justice field in relationship to intercultural approaches.
  • Explore practical applications and case studies that provide examples of how effective solutions to modern human challenges can be developed.
  • Consider how to create synergy within organizations in which these divides often exist.
  • Develop a resource group among colleagues and participants in order to support future implementation efforts after participation in the workshop.

Amer F. Ahmed, Ed.D, serves as Director of Intercultural Teaching and Faculty Development at University of Massachusetts - Amherst, Faculty at the Summer and Winter Institutes for Intercultural Communication and a member of SpeakOut: Institute for Democratic Leadership and Culture. He has been featured on MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris Perry” show and in Dr. Shakti Butler’s film on racism entitled “Cracking the Codes.” An individual with eclectic personal and professional experience, he is a Hip Hop activist, spoken word poet, diversity consultant and college administrator, channeling his diverse experiences into work geared towards facilitating effective intercultural development. Amer’s education in Anthropology and Black Studies, professional experience in Higher Education and extensive global experiences support his efforts to address issues of social justice that continue to face traditionally marginalized communities. He is also engaged in the field of Intercultural Communication with a focus on a developmental approach to Intercultural competency. Such approaches have been useful in his work in Organizational Assessment and Development, Inclusive Human Resource Management, Workshop facilitation, Public Speaking, Leadership Development and Student Support.

Best Practices for Developing and Sustaining an IC Practice

AM: Business Skills for Independent Interculturalists and Small Business Owners 
Monica Marcel and Randall Stieghorst

This master workshop will focus on developing the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully manage the business side of (a) being a self-employed interculturalist and/or (b) running a small business that provides professional services. 

The facilitators, Monica Marcel and Randall Stieghorst, will leverage their 15 years of experience managing Language & Culture Worldwide (LCW) to explore such topics as:

  • Marketing: Building your Business through Marketing, Referrals, and Self-promotion
  • Pricing: Concepts and Strategies for Pricing your Services
  • Contracts: Negotiating a Fair Contract
  • Collaboration: Managing Employees and/or External Consultants
  • Technology: Technologies and Systems for the 21st century
  • Strategy: Do’s and Don’ts for Staying in Business Long-Term

The format of the workshop will be a balance of short presentations, followed by Q&A’s, and then individual planning and reflection. Participants may wish to bring to the workshop samples of anything relating to the above topics from their own business/work. This will be a very collaborative and non-competitive environment, with extensive sharing and open conversation, specifically for small businesses and independent consultants. 

Monica Francois Marcel co-founded LCW in 2000 with Randall Stieghorst and a mission of inspiring professionals to connect across cultures. To every LCW client engagement, Monica brings a perspective that is rooted in experience on-the-ground in over 45 countries and work with dozens more, as well as 20+ years' of leading communication, learning, and organizational development projects. Her primary role today is serving as LCW's Master Consultant and Chief Engagement Leader for clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to world class universities and the U.S. Peace Corps; she helps them achieve cultural transformations, develop cultural competence, engage global talent, and better connect to the local contexts in all the locations where they operate. A particular specialty lies in interrupting unconscious bias in the STEM fields.

Monica's passion for cross-cultural work was awakened in the late 1990s while living in Eastern Europe (Latvia) as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Early in her career she was a research engineer with the National Academies of Science and Engineering and U.S. Department of Transportation. She earned her Master's degree in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, her undergraduate degree from NC State University, and a fellowship in Sustainable Development Studies at the Institute for Future Studies in Stockholm. She serves on several advisory boards, was Adjunct Faculty at the Loyola University Chicago Graduate School of Business, and was a board member of SIETAR-USA for five years.

Randall Stieghorst is a partner at Language & Culture Worldwide where he brings more than 20 years of personal and professional cross-cultural experience—including living, working, and studying for extended periods in Eastern and Western Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. His focus at LCW is on finance and operations. For clients, he focuses on training design, development, and delivery (for classroom, virtual, and eLearning audiences) as well as large scale project management, the creation of educational multimedia, and executive coaching using the IDI®.

Born in the U.S., Randall is proud to speak several languages (the strongest of which include Spanish, Portuguese, Latvian, and French), and has delivered culture and diversity training in North America, Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Randall an AFS returnee, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and has an MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business in Strategy and Economics.

PM: Creative Coaching: An Advanced Workshop
George Renwick

Most coaching conducted in the USA by Americans is, understandably, done in American ways. Increasingly, however, given the globalization of education and business, coaches are called upon to work with individuals and teams from other countries. Serious disconnection can then occur between coach and client.

During recent years, George has been experimenting with a variety of new ways of coaching, ways that are situation specific and culturally intelligent. The results of these experiments have sometimes been surprising (and usually very positive).

During this workshop, George will explain actual situations where he has used new coaching methods that seemed exactly appropriate and uniquely effective. Countries in which these challenging situations have occurred include the U.S., China, Korea, India and Saudi Arabia.

Before coming to this workshop, participants are asked to visualize one challenging coaching situation they themselves have been in, or would like to be in. During the closing phase of the workshop, participants will have an opportunity to describe their situation. The other participants and George will suggest creative, uniquely effective, ways to conduct their coaching.

George Renwick, Ph.D., is the president of Renwick and Associates, an international consulting firm. He has completed consulting assignments in 26 countries for 40 multinational corporations. George has taught Master Classes on coaching at the University of London and the Birla Institute of Management Learning in Mumbai, India. He has coached, in person, more than 500 men and women in management positions. They represent 28 nationalities. In addition, George has been responsible for training programs on  cultural awareness, pre-departure preparation, in-country orientation, technology transfer, reentry, training of trainers, multicultural team building, supervision, negotiation, and international executive development.

Training Design and Facilitation of Games and Experiential Exercises

AM: Facilitating Interactive Sessions to Explore Disconnection, Controversy, and Polarization
Sivasailam Thiagarajan

The 2016 SIETAR USA conference theme offers not only rich food for thought but also a stimulus for developing strategies that work to bridge the disconnections and bring about greater understanding. Interactive exercises are one of the best approaches but they must be well facilitated to achieve those goals.  This workshop will focus on polarities, reconciliation, and argumentation. The workshop will include interactive stories, board games, card games, structured sharing, and facilitated exercises.

As a participant, you will experience Polarities, a board game, Critical Thinking, a card game, Shouting Match, a structured-sharing activity, Sentry, an interactive story, and Reconciliation, a facilitated activity. All of these activities are selected to align with the conference theme. 

 The activities will provide the basis (and the excuse) for figuring out how to conduct interactive exercises on potentially controversial topics with divergent groups of people. Before, during, and after each activity we will jointly figure out facilitation techniques for handling these types of challenges

  • How do we conduct an interactive experiential session in an effective, engaging, and inclusive fashion?
  • How can we blend different techniques and approaches to achieve our training goals?
  • How can we frame disruptive behaviors as opportunities for enhanced learning?
  • How can we integrate structure and spontaneity to maximize the outcomes of a debriefing discussion?
  • How can we prevent the anticlimactic letdown of a dull discussion that follows and exciting experience?

Sivisailam Thiagarajan (“Thiagi”) for the past 50 years, has been making a decent living by playing games and helping others play games. He is currently the Resident Mad Scientist at the Thiagi Group. He has lived in three countries (India, Liberia, and the USA) and has conducted training workshops in 26 other countries. Author of the popular Barnga, a simulation game on cultural clashes, Thiagi has published 40 books, 90 games and simulations, and more than 200 articles. He currently writes an online newsletter, Thiagi GameLetter.

PM: Adapting and Designing Experiential Intercultural Activities for Bridge-Building and Inclusion
Basma Ibrahim DeVries and Jon DeVries

In these polarized times, interculturalists need to expand their toolkit to assist participants in understanding, appreciating, engaging, and ultimately, bridging and leveraging their differences. In this workshop, we engage in activities that lead to greater understanding of divergent views and their potential effects, both positive and negative.

The first part of this experiential workshop focuses on discovering how and why people are so polarized. Intensity factors in intercultural interactions are considered while we discuss and explore adapting and designing activities for various audiences. Communication styles activities assist participants in identifying disconnections, practicing patience and developing strategies for leveraging differences for maximum satisfaction and productivity. Workshop participants can expect to be creatively, experientially, and reflectively engaged. 

Participants will have the opportunity to:

  • Explore creative approaches to intercultural and diversity teaching and learning
  • Gain knowledge and insights about intercultural discovery tools and applications
  • Expand and strengthen their design, adaptation, creativity, and facilitation skills by utilizing a variety of new tools and concepts
  • Broaden knowledge of intercultural communication theory and its application to the practice of training, teaching, and/or coaching
  • Engage in discussions exploring group dynamics and working within polarities with concentration on “teachable moments”
  • Expand skills to (co-)facilitate with spontaneity and be fully present for a groups’ realities.

Basma Ibrahim DeVries, Ph.D. is a professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University in Minnesota, and faculty member at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. Basma also provides intercultural and diversity training and consultation to corporate clients, educational institutions, and community organizations. Basma co-authored Communication Highwire: Leveraging the Power of Diverse Communication Styles and Cultural Detective® Egypt. She served on the national board of SIETAR-USA. Currently, Basma is Board Vice President of GiGi’s Playhouse – Twin Cities, Down Syndrome Achievement Center. 

Jon DeVries is an intercultural trainer and consultant specializing in Intercultural Competence Development, Leadership Development, Team Building and Training Design with a background in Experiential Education and Adult Learning Theories. Prior to working for himself and their two energetic young boys, Jon held positions at the University of Minnesota, including Short-Term and Custom Programs Director in the International Student and Scholar Services Office. He has worked with large and small businesses, K-12 and higher education institutions, government agencies and non-profit organizations. He is also a Music Teacher through the nationally accredited Music Together Program and on Basma’s Facebook page is known as “super-daddy.” Basma and Jon enjoy leading student travel and service-learning groups abroad and were faculty members and Intercultural Learning Circle Coordinators aboard the inaugural semester-long voyage of The Scholar Ship. They significantly enhanced their own intercultural competence practices while living together in a 12’ by 9’ cabin for four months at sea, while facilitating the intercultural competence development of student, staff and faculty from over 50 countries. They are also founders and planning board members of SIETAR-Minnesota. They have recently expanded their practice with deeper examination of the role differing abilities play in intercultural communication.

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Westmont, IL 60559-0578


Wild Apricot theme design and development by Webbright