Human rights initiative earns Community Engagement and Scholarship Award

March 27, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative, led by Boaz Dvir, assistant professor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, has received the 2020 Penn State Award for Community Engagement and Scholarship.

Boaz Dvir

Boaz Dvir

IMAGE: Penn State

The award recognizes a project that best exemplifies Penn State as an “engaged institution,” which the Kellogg Commission defines as an institution that has redesigned teaching, research, and extension and service functions to become even more sympathetically and productively involved with its communities.

For the initiative, Dvir created a unique statewide effort to give K-12 educators advanced educational tools to teach difficult subjects related to bigotry and racism. The project began after the Pennsylvania Department of Education requested to add two of Dvir’s documentaries to its Holocaust instructional material.

The initiative helps school districts meet Pennsylvania’s Act 70, which encourages providing children with “an understanding of the importance of human rights and the potential consequences of unchecked ignorance, discrimination and persecution.”

“Anyone who knows Dvir is familiar with the energy, passion and commitment he brings to this initiative and anything else he is involved with,” a nominator said. “He has sparked interest and support across Penn State for this work. He has also raised the profile of the project with political leaders across the commonwealth and even Governor Tom Wolf, whom he has met with twice to discuss the importance of this kind of education for students.”

Dvir is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have shown on PBS, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and The New York Times. His films added to the curriculum include:

  • “A Wing and a Prayer,” which premiered on PBS in 2015 and won Best Documentary at the 2016 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, depicts World War II veterans racing against the clock to prevent what they viewed as a second Holocaust during Israel’s War of Independence (1948-49).
  • “Cojot,” which chronicles a Holocaust survivor who set out to kill his father’s Nazi executioner. 

Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the initiative brings together Penn State’s colleges of education, communications, and liberal arts, as well as the School of Law, Humanities Institute, the Jewish Studies Program and the Center for Immersive Experiences.

Besides Dvir, participating professors include Scott Metzger, associate professor of social studies education; Eliyana Adler, associate professor of Jewish studies and history; Tiya Maluwa, H. Laddie Montague Chair in Law, professor in law and the School of International Affairs; Alexander Klippel, geography professor and director of the Center for Immersive Experiences; and Tobias Brinkmann, Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and History. Melissa Stanley, a doctoral student in the College of Education, serves the initiative’s first doctoral assistant.

Nominators said the effort was essential to improving K-12 education and creating critical thinkers beyond.

“Effective instruction of difficult topics can sharpen students’ critical thinking, instill empathy and inspire them to become agents of positive change,” Dvir said. “Yet, according to a 2018 study by Schoen Consulting, four out of 10 young Americans possess little to no awareness about the Holocaust.”

Long-term goals for the initiative include:

·       The creation and delivery of teacher professional development that is based on the latest research and best practices

·       The curation and customization of Holocaust, genocide and human rights educational content

·       The buildout of a robust, easy-to-use curricular and learning technology interface available to educators throughout the world

·       The research into teaching and learning difficult topics and the efficacy of the initiative’s activities and products

·       The creation and curation of immersive technological instructional tools such as virtual reality modules

Last Updated March 27, 2020