Think Global—and Build International Ties
What does International Education Week mean for Saint Mary’s College? We check in on students, faculty, alumni, and leadership for their take on recent programs and initiatives.
We're wrapping up International Education Week, which seems a fine opportunity to highlight some of the interesting ways that members of the Saint Mary's College community build and nurture global ties. That includes students coming from around the world to study here on campus—for undergraduate and graduate programs alike. It includes students heading out from here to learn from and with communities internationally through the signature Jan Term opportunities. It includes the College's role as part of a global educational network, with a mission to make lasting change. And for faculty and alumni, it includes participating in prestigious fellowship and exchange programs for teaching and research, including the Fulbright program, which has existed for over 75 years.
What is International Education Week? It's an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State was launched as part of efforts to promote programs that prepare those from the U.S. for a global environment and to attract future leaders from abroad to study in the United States. This year it runs November 14–18.
For some global educational perspectives, we've put together a few snapshots from around campus.
Leadership and the Global Network
Earlier in November, two key leaders in the Saint Mary's community participated in a global meeting of educators from institutions founded and supported by the Christian Brothers. One of the outcomes is that Saint Mary's will play a new leadership role in that global network.
President Richard Plumb and Vice President of Mission Frances Sweeney attended ENCUENTRO — the Lasallian International Conference hosted November 7–12 in Beauvais, France, and Barcelona, Spain. It was an opportunity to represent Saint Mary's College of California on a global stage; to engage with and identify best practices from colleagues from other Lasallian college leaders; and to foster opportunities for students from around the world to study at Saint Mary's.
One of the outcomes of the conference: Frances Sweeney—who has served the Saint Mary's community for nearly three decades as a dean, director of programs for first-generation students, professor of Spanish, and more—has been tapped to serve a three-year term as Chair of the Mission Committee of the International Association of La Salle Universities. "This new appointment is a testament to Frances's wonderful leadership qualities, her reputation among peers, and her deep commitment to the Lasallian tradition," President Plumb said.
Frances Sweeney—who has served the Saint Mary’s community for nearly three decades and currently serves as Vice President of Mission for the College—was tapped earlier this month to lead the Mission Committee of the International Association of La Salle Universities.
In addition to spending time with peers and higher education leaders from around the world, President Plumb and VP Sweeney were delighted to meet with fellow educators and leaders, including Brother Armin Luistro of the Philippines, who serves as the 28th Superior General of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools; as well as the Brother Carlos Gabriel Gómez Restrepo of Colombia, who serves as Vicar General.
Each January, Saint Mary's students have the unique opportunity to learn and serve throughout the globe. Students spend five weeks diving deep into a single topic, studying everything from the rich religious traditions of India to overall happiness in Scandinavian countries. In Jan Terms past, Gaels have traveled to the favelas of Brazil, to the ancient limestone ruins of Athens, Greece, and to biodiverse coral reefs in Australia.
In Jan Terms past, Gaels have traveled to the favelas of Brazil, to the ancient limestone ruins of Athens, Greece, and to biodiverse coral reefs along the Australian coast.
For the last two years, travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have largely prevented Saint Mary's students from studying internationally. But in January 2023, the tradition returns: Students and professors are gearing up for another unforgettable Jan Term, with programs on four continents.
"I am delighted that students will have the opportunity to travel during January Term again this year," says Claire M. Williams, the Interim Director of January Term. "Travel courses provide students a unique opportunity to study abroad during an immersive month when otherwise they may not be able to due to financial constraints and/or commitments such as work or athletics. As in the past, students will have life-changing experiences that enhance their education and bring otherwise theoretical concepts to life."
Among the courses for Jan Term 2023 are:
“Spain: Identities Evolving Through Art, Architecture, and Culture” taught by Professor of Global and Regional Studies María Luisa Ruiz and Professor of English Molly Metherd
“Globalized Mexico” taught by Professor of World Languages and Cultures Alvaro Ramirez
“The Web of Life on Island of the Gods: Nature and Culture in Bali” taught by Professors of Environmental Studies Ken Worthy and Becca Brunner
Think global—and think critically
Shobi Sivadasan joined the Saint Mary's community earlier this fall as Vice President for Enrollment Management—and she brings a distinctly global sensibility. She previously led graduate and international admissions for the University of New Haven and served as vice provost for enrollment management at Missouri University for Science and Technology.
Sivadasan earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Calicut in Kerala, India, and her master's in engineering in the U.S. at the Stevens Institute of Technology. She was recently asked by one of the education centers led by EducationUSA—part of a global network supported by the U.S. Department of State—to talk about the advantages of studying in the U.S. For Sivadasan, the answer draws on her own personal and professional experience.
Shobi Sivadasan, Vice President for Enrollment Management, underscores that courses and programs that build critical thinking, confidence, and persuasive abilities in oral and written communication strengthen skillsets that are much needed—both in the workplace, and as citizens in a rapidly changing world.
"As someone who came to the United States for my higher education, I regard the education and student experience on U.S. campuses as second to none," Sivadasan says. Why? "U.S. colleges offer flexible study plans guided by student interests and career aspirations with a focus on student outcomes. Across many fields of study—including STEM, business, or the humanities—students also have the opportunity to gain real-world experience through internships with some of the best companies in the world. That helps students build and apply knowledge to the careers they pursue. Throughout U.S. institutions you'll also find courses and programs that build critical thinking, confidence, and persuasive abilities in oral and written communication. These skillsets are much needed—both in the workplace, and as citizens in a rapidly changing world."
Global Pathways to Saint Mary's
The Gael student community currently includes more than 100 students from over 30 countries studying toward undergraduate and graduate degrees. One of the draws: a tight-knit learning community that deeply values cross-cultural connections. To help those adjusting to U.S. higher education, the College's Center for International Programs provides a one-stop shop for all aspects of international student support. The center's mission is to help international and exchange students achieve their academic and professional goals while navigating the immigration system that governs their status in the United States.
What does that mean on a personal and individual level? Brian Muganda is currently earning his master's in Business Analytics at the Saint Mary's School of Economics and Business Administration. Home is Kenya, and he arrived at Saint Mary's with a bachelor's of commerce degree in finance from Kenyatta University and some experience in the tech and nonprofit sectors.
For Muganda, studying internationally has provided a "mindset shift," he says. "I can better appreciate various challenges and how they are solved differently by others." In addition, Saint Mary's has supplied him with valuable networking opportunities, a chance to engage with students of other cultures, a "superb classroom experience, and smiling faces all over."
From an undergraduate perspective, a few then-students—now recent grads—tell their story in a video that answers what the Saint Mary's experience has meant for them.
“I haven’t been on a team that has such good chemistry.”
—Jasmine Forcadilla ’19 (Australia)
Jasmine Forcadilla '19 calls Australia home. She studied Business at Saint Mary's and played point guard with the women's basketball team before going on to play pro ball in Australia. While playing with the Gaels, she observed, "I haven't been on a team that has such good chemistry."
Daniel Rascon '21 is from Chihuahua, Mexico, originally. He studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Saint Mary's and, as an undergraduate, held internships with Salesforce and Google before moving into a full-time position in tech.
Patrick Meyer '21 was born in Germany and raised in Suzhou, China. He majored in Global Business with a minor in anthropology, and after earning his bachelor's degree, headed to Fordham University for a master's program in data science.
Sejal Bahl '22 is from New Delhi, India, and at Saint Mary's. She majored in Communications, minored in Cinematic Arts and Theatre, and carved out time to work with the Bay Area Student Shorts Film Festival, the California Shakespeare Theatre, and the Bay Area Video Coalition. One of the things she was struck by was how welcoming and accepting the Saint Mary's community was. "Even though I'm from seven seas across the world," she said, "I still feel like this is home."
“Even though I’m from seven seas across the world, I still feel like this is home.”
—Sejal Bahl ’22 (India)
Saint Mary's athletes come from across the country and around the world, with international student-athletes competing for the Gaels in numerous sports. Some of the most famous professional basketball players to don the
colors of Saint Mary's came from outside the U.S. They include Patrick Mills, Jock Landale, and Matthew Dellavedova for men's basketball—all from Australia. For women's basketball, standouts include Louella Tomlinson and Lauren Nicholson, both from Australia, and Stella Beck from New Zealand.
While many Gael fans rightly associate the Saint Mary’s men’s and women’s basketball teams with players hailing from Australia and New Zealand, several teams actually feature an international flair.
While many Gael fans rightly associate the Saint Mary's men's and women's basketball teams with players hailing from Australia and New Zealand, several teams actually feature an international flair. Take SMC men's tennis, with no fewer than eight athletes hailing from countries outside the United States. Among them are a pair of brothers from New Zealand, James and Aidan Watt, who are both studying and playing at Saint Mary's currently.
On the women's tennis team, the media spotlight recently shone on Lene Mari Bolkesjø Hovda, who is from Asker, Norway. There's good reason for that attention: This summer she became the reigning Norwegian champion in both singles and doubles. Playing and studying at Saint Mary's has brought another dimension to the game for her. "Being part of a team is something very special," she said in a recent interview. "In Norway, tennis is an individual sport where people are mostly focused on themselves. At college, on the other hand, you do not only represent yourself, but the entire university, and everyone is rooting for you and wishing you success."
The Fulbright Connection
International exchange programs and fellowships provide valuable opportunities for scholars, recent graduates, and others to teach and research worldwide. The Fulbright program is the flagship academic exchange program established by the U.S. government, and last year marked its 75th anniversary.
María Luisa Ruiz, a Spanish and Latin American literature professor, is one of the scholars and educators whose work has earned her a Fulbright in recent years. A Fulbright-Hays Cultural Exchange Award took her to Mexico in 2021 as part of a select group of scholars exploring African heritage in Mexico—a program that, in turn, enriches her teaching of students at Saint Mary's. As she noted in embarking on the program, in a sentiment that underscores the value of global connections: “Inclusive, respectful, and intentional teaching spaces where students understand that intercultural
competencies are a societal and cultural necessity.”
A Fulbright-Hays Cultural Exchange Award took Professor María Luisa Ruiz to Mexico in 2021 as part of a select group of scholars exploring African heritage in Mexico—a program that, in turn, enriches her teaching of students at Saint Mary’s.
Here at Saint Mary's, Ruiz also serves as director of the Institute for Latino and Latin American Studies. She is currently sharing responsibilities as Chief Diversity Officer for the College.
John Edward Ellis completed his MFA in writing at Saint Mary's in 2017. He is the current recipient of a Fulbright fellowship to Senegal. He had previously lived in West Africa, the U.S., and Europe, and at Saint Mary's, he benefited from a teaching fellowship through the Center for Writing Across the Curriculum (CWAC). He has returned to Senegal as a writer and is now at work on his first book-length project, a collection of essays about
the Senegalese people and culture. He is also a resident of the Institut d'Etudes Avancées de Saint-Louis de Sénégal, a scientific and cultural association promoting African research.
John Edward Ellis completed his MFA at Saint Mary’s, and a Fulbright has now taken him to Senegal for a book project.
Ellis has taught school and served in the U.S. Army Reserve for a decade. "I owe both my writer's metamorphosis and my success in the Fulbright to SMC faculty," he noted. Among those he credits: MFA Professor Marilyn Abildskov; CWAC Director Tereza Joy Kramer; and Sarah Manguso, who was a distinguished visiting writer at the time—and a reference on his Fulbright proposal.
For Steven Saum, one of the contributors to this story, the Fulbright program also has a deep personal connection. After serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, where he taught at a university, he led an office for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv directing the Fulbright and other exchange programs.
Ben Enos, Mike Janes, Hayden Royster, and Steven Boyd Saum are part of the team in the Office of Marketing and Communications. Have a story idea to share? Write them.
LEARN MORE: Explore opportunities for international study at Saint Mary’s | BUILD FOR THE FUTURE: Support student global initiatives