Syracuse to South Africa Video Portal project allows students to connect across the globe

How can students in Syracuse experience the world in the middle of a pandemic? In the face of limited travel abilities during the past two years, educators at Syracuse University and Makhanda, South Africa hatched a plan to bring their students together: giant video portals.

ITS students waving at the South African students through a video portal
Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central instructor, Jeffery Newell, and students wave goodbye to the Joza Youth Hub participants at the end of the opening event of the Window to the World: Syracuse to South Africa. Since launching the portal, students and instructors have interacted daily.

“When students enter the portal, it’s as if they are standing directly across from another person, but that person is halfway around the world,” says Ken Harper, associate professor of visual communications and director of the Center for Global Engagement at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, who worked with teams of teachers in both Syracuse and Makhanda to bring the project to fruition.

Two sets of 82-inch screens have been erected in the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central (ITC) and the Newhouse School (in Two other screens and cameras are located in the Joza Youth Hub and the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies in Makhanda.

Students in both locations can chat with each other in real time. Recently, a group of ITC media students tested the portal and conversed with South African students at the Joza Youth Hub during their school day. The conversation started with general questions about the time and weather and the sharing of details about their programs and the foods they enjoy. Later, the students compared dance moves and hair styles.

The intent of the project is to offer a life-size, alternative communication platform to further learning, research and exchange between Syracuse and Makhanda during, and after, the pandemic, according to Harper, who calls it “an organic, informal window into another world.” This initiative will be followed by a collaborative research project between Rhodes University and Syracuse University in the spring of 2023.

The project was funded in part by the Dorothy and Marhsall M. Reisman Foundation, the John Ben Snow Foundation, the Syracuse University Humanities Center, Hendricks Chapel and the Project for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration at the Maxwell School.

Cheerleaders smiling as they interact with the video portal.
Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central cheerleaders speak with students at the Joza Youth Hub in Makhanda, South Africa, during the opening event of the Window to the World: Syracuse to South Africa.

About the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement

The Newhouse Center for Global Engagement is dedicated to creating collaborative, ethical, globally-engaged students through experiential learning, cross-disciplinary storytelling, fellowships, industry partnerships, innovation and symposia. Established in 2014, the center has supported over 100 students and faculty who have worked in several countries such as Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, Nepal, Liberia, Lebanon and South Africa. For more information, visit: