The Donn Youngstrom Global Learning Lab is allowing the collaboration and dialogue between Buffalo State and Rwanda's Urukundo Learning Center to blossom.

Buffalo State's Connection to Rwanda Grows with Donn Youngstrom Global Learning Lab


Drew Kahn, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor and founding director of Buffalo State’s Anne Frank Project, explained the Kinyarwanda greeting “Muraho” to those assembled in the newly renamed Donn Youngstrom Global Learning Lab at Buffalo State University on October 5. “Muraho,” he said, connotes “We celebrate your presence.” It extends far beyond the traditional American greeting of “hello.”

A few moments later, that gathering on the fourth floor of the Campbell Student Union offered a hearty “Muraho” to a classroom clear across the globe in Muhanga, Rwanda, using the Global Learning Lab’s newest technologies. The global connection, “like Zoom on steroids,” as Kahn calls it, is allowing an enhanced collaboration and dialogue between Buffalo State students and Rwanda’s Urukundo Learning Center to blossom.

“This lab allows us to sustain the work we are doing in the classroom on a weekly basis,” Kahn said. “It is because of Donn Youngstrom. This would not be possible without the generosity of Donn Youngstrom.”

Youngstrom is an associate professor emeritus of theater who taught at Buffalo State for nearly 25 years. The technology to make the lab a reality is just one result of over $2 million in gifts from Youngstrom to Buffalo State’s Anne Frank Project over the past two years. In addition to the fourth-floor lab in the Campbell Student Union, two similar labs have been outfitted in East Africa.

Over his theater career, Youngstrom landed more than 50 stage roles, including Polonius in Hamlet, Couthon in Danton’s Death, and Valentine in Faust in off-Broadway productions. Youngstrom also served in various roles after joining Buffalo State’s Theater Department in 1994, including lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, and department chair. He also directed 24 Casting Hall productions before retiring in 2018. His contributions to the university have continued in his role of philanthropist.

“We are deeply grateful for all that you did for Buffalo State then, and continue to do now,” Buffalo State University Interim President Bonita R. Durand, Ph.D., told Youngstrom at the dedication event.

Youngstrom, in turn, attributed his philanthropy to his mother, who spent years working with an organization that provided housing for mothers and their families. “That’s where I get my sense of giving,” he said. “Philanthropy is not dollar amounts; it is volunteering and support.”

Buffalo State has operated a study-abroad program for students in Rwanda most summers since 2010, led by Kahn under the aegis of the Anne Frank Project. In total, 154 Buffalo State students have traveled to East Africa as part of the program.

The Anne Frank Project uses the power of stories as vehicles for community building, conflict management, and identity exploration, Kahn said. Inspired by the wisdom of Anne Frank, the project uncovers, develops, and shares stories stifled by oppression.

“The spirit of this room reflects what the Anne Frank Project is,” Kahn said of the Youngstrom Global Learning Lab.

Kahn recalled an earlier instance of Youngstrom’s philanthropy, leading up to the first Rwanda trip for Buffalo State students. “Donn came up to me asking, ‘How short are the students?’” Kahn said. “He covered the costs for students and didn’t want them to know where it came from. That’s true altruism.”

Robert M. Zak, Buffalo State Council member, read the official proclamation renaming the Donn Youngstrom Global Learning Lab at the unveiling.

During Thursday’s connection with the Urukundo Learning Center, six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, a group of Rwandan students presented a story-based learning performance to the Buffalo State audience. Story-based learning provides an experiential template for teachers to attend to the academic and socioemotional needs of their students, using stories as the curricular platform for classroom instruction.

The Urukundo performance used aspects of what Kahn’s Buffalo State contingent facilitates in Rwanda each summer.

“We can’t wait to see you next year in June,” said Viateur Ngiru, headmaster at the Urukundo Learning Center.

A final “Muraho” from the Buffalo State gathering concluded the emotional ceremony.