By Julia Chen. This past June, over 100 speakers from around the world convened in Cotes de Acardins, Haiti, at the second annual Haiti Tech Summit. Among them was UC Irvine Dean Michael Dennin, a renowned scientist, author, and professor. The conference, organized by the Global Startup Ecosystem, brings together scholars and innovators to discuss the ability of new technology to revitalize Haiti’s entrepreneurial economy. As dean of Undergraduate Education and vice provost of Teaching and Learning, Dennin is passionate about the benefits of merging technology with education.
A primary focus of the summit was to focus on investment in technology and entrepreneurship to create a thriving internal ecosystem in Haiti. “I was really impressed by the local effort and energy. It was clear that it was a predominantly Haiti-driven endeavor,” Dennin said about the summit. “Everyone was passionate about the critical importance of community in building a successful educational infrastructure.”
Dennin was on a panel, “The World of Education: How do we prepare our communities for the future?” He used UC Irvine as an example of how to transform community connections: UCI has recently been working to expand its connections within the Orange County community and families of first-generation college students. This resonated with Haitian leaders, who have been focusing on building a larger community infrastructure, especially in education.
When asked about the increasing prevalence of technology in education systems, Dennin said, “Technology can be a big help in education, but you have to be careful. We ask ourselves: which technology does what for you, when? If the infrastructure is there, the Internet and technology can give access and lots of tools to way more people than it ever did before. But you still have to be educated and trained to use it in the right way.”
The summit provided a space for attendees to share their ideas openly and freely. Investors and funding groups were present, and much of the conference was dedicated to brainstorming ideas to stimulate Haiti’s economy. “One of the biggest risks that the Haitians discussed was that their young people were getting educated and not coming back,” Dennin said. “They want to create an education system that helps people stay. This is something that I think UC can help a lot with.”
Already, UC is working to collaborate globally on matters of technology and education. The Division of Undergraduate Education founded the Blum Center for Global Poverty Alleviation at UCI in 2015. It is a UC-wide consortium that combats poverty through educational programs, research, and engagement. One of its goals is to help alleviate poverty through education and systemic change, rather than aid alone.
Haitian leaders at the summit share this goal, and Dennin noted their focus on creating a different visual of Haiti for the world – one of creativity and innovation, rather than poverty.
In the future, Dennin hopes to return to the Haiti Tech Summit with more representatives from UC or the Blum Center. “UC collaboration definitely makes sense,” he said. “With the Blum Center, we’re already working together to see what economic models work. And at the end of the day, it’s about education. Education is key.”
Julia Chen is a UCLA student intern in IT marketing and communications at the UC Office of the President.