Notre Dame innovates at home and abroad to further Paraguayan program despite pandemic restrictions

Author: Heather Asiala


On March 1, a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame’s Pulte Institute for Global Development part of the Keough School of Global Affairs and Instituto Desarrollo (ID) set out to begin work on the Rule of Law and Culture of Integrity in Paraguay (ROLCI) program. Funded by USAID and implemented by ID, ROLCI is designed to strengthen the role of higher education institutions in Paraguay in promoting the culture of legality and respect for the state of law. A subaward would allow Notre Dame to deliver a series of in-person training and research activities to meet this goal.

Two weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Midwest in full force: Notre Dame sent staff and students home, restricted travel and canceled all in-person events for the foreseeable future. The Pulte Institute and ID found themselves rapidly transitioning their work plans to implement a completely virtual program of activity across international borders.

Paraguay Workshop
Alex Ambrose, drector of learning and research at the Kaneb Center,
delivers a workshop session with translator Jennifer Zachman.

The original scope of work included a legal assessment of seven Paraguayan higher education institutions, targeted research focused on the Paraguayan judicial system and a resource methodology workshop series. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic soon made it clear that the intended travel for key informant interviews and delivery of an in-person workshop series would be impossible. By early April the planning had shifted, and the team decided to use video interviews to gather research data and the workshop series, intended as a five-day in-person workshop in August, was redeveloped as a multi-week online training series. This allowed the content to be delivered in smaller segments through both synchronous and asynchronous methods.

“The necessity of rapidly transitioning our work due to the pandemic actually created several opportunities within the scope of this project. For starters, we were able to reallocate funding previously held for travel to develop more Year 1 activities that would meet the needs of our Paraguayan partners,” said Edward Jurkovic, program manager within the Pulte Institute’s Entrepreneurship and Education Division. “Moving to the virtual environment forced us all to be creative. Our Paraguayan partners realized the immense opportunity that online learning presented, as many of their students work part-time or live off campus and ended up preferring online education. Working with ID, we were able to provide these partners with training to bring online teaching best practices to their students, both during the pandemic and after.”   

ID and the Pulte Institute quickly began discussions and outlined a plan to provide an additional Online Teaching and Technologies Webinar Series designed to prepare Paraguayan educators to use best practices for online teaching. Trainers and experts from ND Learning | Kaneb Center and OIT’s Teaching and Learning Technologies Group were commissioned to create, translate, facilitate and record an interactive webinar series using state-of-the-art technologies and online pedagogies during and after COVID-19. More than 230 faculty and administrators from several Paraguayan institutions including universities such as the National University of Asunción and public ministry training centers like the International Center for Judicial Studies of the Supreme Court of Justice attended and participated in the six-part live, dual-language series. 

Despite the pandemic drastically changing the trajectory of the project, ROLCI Program Director from Instituto Desarrollo José Tomás Sánchez found that the results achieved were impressive. “In total, the expected number of participants in our training courses increased by at least four times,” said Sánchez. “Additionally, we have been able to double the number of research projects we conduct and the number of interactions between Notre Dame academics and institutions multiplied. We did several workshops, meetings, forums and training courses. All of this was possible thanks to the incredible adaptability of the Notre Dame team and our partners in Paraguay.”

In addition to the Online Teaching and Technologies Webinar Series, the team was also able to deliver a comprehensive analysis of the barriers that Paraguayans face in entering the legal profession, as well as four research proposals for Year 2 activities. 

“We did not do this on our own,” emphasized Melissa Paulsen, who leads the Pulte Institute’s Education and Entrepreneurship Division. “We had incredible partners who gave us the latitude and support to switch and add things at the last minute. A lot of the work necessitated came through rapid collaboration and a willingness to innovate.”  

The ROLCI program is an excellent example of the collaborative and innovative spirit at Notre Dame. University collaborators spanned five departments and three schools: 

  • In addition to program management from Paulsen and Jurkovic, the Pulte Institute’s Tom Purekal, director of the Innovation and Practice Division, and Tom Hare, senior technical associate, delivered the Resource Methodology Workshop Series.
  • Notre Dame Law School professor Roger Alford, with assistance from graduate research assistant Maria Sonet and recent LL.M. graduates Maria Ospina and Xavier Romero, led the research analyzing the legal curricula of seven Paraguayan law schools and legal training centers.
  • Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, professor of political science and global affairs, and research consultant Andrea Castagnola co-led on the research activities evaluating the Paraguayan judicial system.
  • The Kaneb Center team was led by Alex Ambrose, director of learning research, with support from Kristin Rudenga, director of teaching excellence, and Kevin Abbott, educational technology specialist with OIT. Jennifer Zachman, associate professor of modern languages at Saint Mary’s College, provided translation services during the workshops. The opening session of the Online Learning series included a panel of Notre Dame Law faculty, including Kari Gallagher, John Kuehn and John Conway, who provided insights into their transition process to virtual legal education. 

The ROLCI program is a multi-year opportunity, and the Pulte Institute team is currently working with ID to finalize the next year of programmatic activities. Although COVID-19 will still likely impact travel restrictions, the team is confident it can deliver a set of activities that will strengthen higher education institutions and contribute to the improvement of the rule of law and culture of anti-corruption in Paraguay.

Originally published by Heather Asiala at on Oct. 28.