Laurel Ridge students participate in virtual exchange with Jordanian students

For Immediate Release:
December 12, 2018

Primary Media Contact:
Sally Voth
Public Relations Specialist
[email protected]
Phone: 540-868-7134


Joint project tackles plastic bottle recycling

A team of Laurel Ridge students has participated in a 10-week foreign exchange program – without ever leaving their classroom.

They are taking part in the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge, in which they identify an ecological problem faced by the hospitality industry, and then work to create a solution with students at Khawarizmi College in Jordan.

The challenge is implemented by IREX, which was established in 1968 as the International Research & Exchanges Board, and initially facilitated student exchanges with Soviet Bloc countries.

The Sustainability Challenge is supported by the Stevens Initiative, an organization connecting young people in the U.S. with those in the Middle East and North Africa. The initiative was established in honor of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed during an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.

The Stevens Initiative is administered by the Aspen Institute, and funded by the U.S. State Department and the Bezos Family Foundation.


Project “BottleBot”

Laurel Ridge became involved after Computer Science Professor Melissa Stange, who is the faculty project advisor, received a flyer about the program from IREX.

“I thought it sounded interesting and like a great way to build global citizenship,” she says.

The students from Laurel Ridge and Khawarizmi College decided to tackle the challenge of encouraging people in Jordan to recycle plastic water bottles. They identified litter and lack of recycling opportunities as barriers to a more successful hospitality and tourism industry in Jordan. The students have developed a prototype box that can compact the bottles. The compacted plastic can then be sold to companies that could use it in building materials. 

The Laurel Ridge side provided much of the technological support, while the Jordanian team – mainly made up of civil engineering students – is building the prototype, which has been dubbed BottleBot.

“It’s taught us a lot,” student Rob Wallace says of the challenge. For nine Laurel Ridge students, the IREX challenge was an honors project, and the Laurel Ridge Foundation donated $1,100 in scholarships to cover the additional credit hour of honors tuition. 


Developing key job skills

According to Sarah Bever, a technology adviser for IREX, “The whole objective of the Stevens Initiative is to build mutual understanding and global competence, as well as practical job skills for students in the U.S. and the Middle East region.”

Any logistical or technical challenges faced by students on each side of the Atlantic will only hone their soft skills, she explains.

“More and more, in any job you will have to learn how to communicate with people over Skype, and you will have to learn how to communicate with people in different countries,” Bever says. “You have to learn how to communicate cross-culturally on virtual platforms, and it’s hard.

“Learning and developing these skills now is going to be so helpful. In the U.S., we’re used to everything being automatic, and so just learning how to work and adapt and anticipate these challenges is a valuable skillset. There will always be challenges, but the key is to then be solutions-oriented.”

While the Jordanian students are mostly studying civil engineering, the Laurel Ridge side includes students studying computer science, business and science, according to Business Professor Rachel Dodson.  

“It just provides them real-life experience,” Dodson says. “They’re looking at a business problem and finding a solution to it. They’re also creating and developing a business plan from start to finish.”

To learn more about marketing and developing a business plan, the Lord Fairfax students brought in NL Entertainment programming/promotions manager Andy Gyurisin. Gyurisin has successfully coordinated and marketed many events at Alamo Drafthouse in Kernstown.

The students also interviewed a Shentel executive, and shared what they learned with their Jordanian colleagues.


More Opportunity

For the many students unable to participate in a physical international exchange, virtual exchanges are a viable alternative.  Virtual exchanges now exist from kindergarten through university-level. They lead to increased empathy for other cultures and greater cooperation.

Some of the Laurel Ridge students noticed similarities with their Jordanian counterparts. 

“They’re not really much different from us,” one says. “They kind of joke around, just like us.”

Edwin Trujillo noticed the unpaved streets in the video from Jordan, which reminded him of his native Mexico.

“They act like the people of Mexico do, they’re really nice,” says Trujillo, who is studying computer science and cybersecurity.

The Global Solutions experience has led Jessica Sims to consider focusing on international business at James Madison University where she is transferring next fall after she earns her associate degree in business administration.

Laurel Ridge and Northern Virginia Community College are the only two community colleges in Virginia participating in the challenge. The top three teams from this cohort and the top three from the first group will present their prototypes in Washington, D.C.         

For more information about the Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge, visit


Founded in 1970, Laurel Ridge Community College is a multi-campus public institution of higher education. With three locations — Middletown, Warrenton, and Luray-Page County — the College serves eight localities in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont regions. The localities are the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester. Laurel Ridge offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of disciplines, in addition to providing access to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs offered on site by a four-year institution. Laurel Ridge also serves the business community by offering workforce preparation programs for employees and employers. Laurel Ridge serves more than 9,000 unduplicated credit students and more than 11,000 individuals in professional development and business and industry courses annually.

Laurel Ridge Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate degrees. Laurel Ridge Community College also may offer credentials such as certificates and diplomas at approved degree levels. Questions about the accreditation of Laurel Ridge Community College may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (

Laurel Ridge Community College is an equal opportunity institution providing educational and employment opportunities, programs, services, and activities. Laurel Ridge shall promote and maintain equal employment and educational opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age (except when age is a bona fide occupational qualification), status as a veteran, national origin, or other non-merit factors. Laurel Ridge also prohibits sexual misconduct including sexual violence or harassment. Inquiries may be directed to the Associate Vice President, Human Resources, [email protected]173 Skirmisher Lane, Middletown, VA 22645, 540-868-7226.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.