Vol. 5, No. 17 / Jan. 6-Jan. 12, 2003
Nancy J. Ashmore

Off-campus mentorships developing program leaders,
building cross-cultural awareness on campus

More than three-fourths of all St. Olaf students participate in international and domestic off-campus programs during their careers at the college, some of them more than once. Many of them do so during Interim, the month-long period during which people focus on a single course.

Six hundred and forty-nine students will study off campus this January, according to Pat Quade, director of international and off-campus studies. They will be led by 33 members of the faculty and accompanied by six faculty and staff “mentees.” Some will travel to the Twin Cities; others will venture to the other side of the world. Their experiences will alter their lives, their perceptions of the world and, eventually, St. Olaf.

Mentoring future leaders
Helping students achieve the global perspective espoused in the college’s mission statement requires broad effort, says Quade. As the third paragraph of the mission statement implies:

“St. Olaf strives to be an inclusive community respecting those of differing backgrounds and beliefs. Through its curriculum, campus life and off-campus programs, it stimulates students’ critical thinking and heightens their moral sensitivity; it encourages them to be seekers of truth, leading lives of unselfish service to others; and it challenges them to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world.”

One way to insure that students are responsible and knowledgeable global citizens is to make sure that the men and women who teach them are equally knowledgeable about the world. This has not been a problem at St. Olaf in decades past, and Quade wants to make sure that continues to be the case.

In the more than 40 years that the college has been sponsoring them, 140 faculty members have led more than 300 off-campus Interim courses. There are now more faculty in the pipeline, thanks to a mentoring program that enables four to five faculty members each year to accompany an off-campus Interim program as an assistant in training to lead future off-campus programs. Each February, after the Interim courses for the following year are determined, Quade invites potential faculty mentees to submit written requests to him. In these they are asked to include a list of the programs they are interested in, a proposal for involvement in a future off-campus study program and the signatures of their department chair and associate dean.

The faculty mentees selected for 2003 Interims are Kathryn Ananda-Owens, assistant professor of music; Heather Klopchin, assistant professor of dance; and Ariel Strichartz, assistant professor of Spanish. Ananda-Owens is assisting Assistant Professor of German Friederike Von Schwerin-High with “Language and Culture Studies in Germany.” Klopchin is headed for Asia with Professor of History Bob Entenmann and the course “National Identity in China and Japan.” Strichartz is accompanying Associate Professor Emeritus of Spanish Frank Odd and the “Intermediate Spanish II in Ecuador” program.

Internationalizing the campus
Quade is interested in increasing cross-cultural awareness even further.

“Building and maintaining a learning environment that is truly internationalized requires engaging students, faculty, staff and administrative leadership,” he says. That is why he invited two administrators to accompany programs as mentees last year and found a way to make similar opportunities available to three more staff members this year. “The objective of off-campus programs is to provide students with the opportunity to gain knowledge and awareness of cultures other than their own and reflect on their own culture with a new perspective,” says Quade, “but this is not something that should only happen someplace else. We need to integrate international, cross-cultural and comparative perspectives into the academic, residential and social fabric of the institution.”

While he’d like to be able to involve staff from the Admissions Office, Financial Aid, Multicultural Activities and Community Outreach and others in future years, he’s quick to note that the going will be very slow.

“We’re doing this very small scale and on a pilot basis,” he cautions. “There’s no system for applying yet, no criteria for selection. That’s because so much depends on budgets (ours have been cut like many others) and on the need for backup personnel on programs that don’t have other providers on site.”

He doesn’t have to convince Dean of Students Greg Kneser and Director of the Counseling Center Steve O’Neill of the utility of the experience. The first two non-faculty mentees found their experiences last year extremely valuable.

“I have an idea now of what leading an off-campus program is like and a new appreciation of what the faculty go through,” says Kneser. He accompanied Assistant Professor of English Karen Sawyer on the “Theater in London” program. The experience was an eye-opening one

“It’s a wonderful experience to get so close to a group of students. It’s also incredibly stressful to be the one person they have to turn to – to be their teacher, mom and dad, financial advisor, counselor and dean of students all in one package.

“Experiencing what happens on an off-campus program has also helped me explain to my staff how important it is when we ‘vet’ the names of participants. We don’t decide which students go on programs, but my office and Steve’s work extensively with the Office of International and Off-Campus Studies to make sure that the students who go will be okay and that the faculty leading the programs have a ‘heads-up’ on issues that may arise. That could be anything from alerting them that someone has had eating issues to advising them to be very clear about expectations when leading a group with a preponderance of adventurous ‘alpha males.’”

Participating in the program has contributed to Kneser’s life outside of work, too: “I helped Karen with travel logistics and group dynamics – since I knew nothing about theater or about London. I learned, though. My appreciation and understanding of literature and theater grew enormously.”

O’Neill traveled to Austria with the “Arts in Vienna 1900” program led by Professor of German Karen Achberger. While his professional expertise was useful to a few students who were struggling to adjust to the international experience, for the most part “I handled the finances,” says the director of the counseling center. “Before, during and after, including compiling the final budget report. I also attended the classes, every lecture, all the performances.”

“A number of our students have to remain in contact with the Counseling Center as they travel,” notes Quade. “Steve’s month in Vienna has given him insights into the experiences students may have on such programs.”

O’Neill also learned a great deal of German while abroad; he hadn’t known any prior to the program. “Afterward I was able to recognize many words… especially those involving travel and eating!”

A changing campus, world
College Locksmith Bill Steigauf envisions playing a similar role while in Mexico with Associate Professor of Social Work Naurine Lennox and the “Family Social Services in Central Mexico” program. He won’t formally be a student in the class, though he expects that the anthropology major he completed at Mankato State University years ago might prove useful.

He isn’t much of a foreign traveler, Steigauf says, though he and his wife, Audrey, an office coordinator in the college’s Physical Plant Office, have talked about visiting Europe someday. His life has not lacked for excitement, however. Before coming to work at St. Olaf 14 1/2 years ago, he was a steeplejack for 15 years, a profession that took him around the country repairing steeples and smokestacks. For 10 years prior to that, he was a police officer in Faribault.

Why was he interested in accompanying the program in Mexico? In part, it was "the challenge of the thing,” he says. Then, too, his daughter-in-law is Mexican-American and his grandchildren are bilingual. That gave him another reason to work on his Spanish. He’s been doing that by listening to language tapes in the car, as well as to CDs of Mexican music and Freddy Fender recordings. He has a software program on his computer as well and a pocket computer that helps with pronunciation.

When he returns, he expects to be more conversant in the language – and to have a much better understanding of what public and private organizations in central Mexico are doing to assist those challenged by poverty, injustice, poor health and global economic pressures. That’s something that he intends to share with his colleagues and with others in the St. Olaf community who are interested.

“The ethnicity of the campus, the state and the world are changing rapidly,” says Steigauf. “It’s important that everyone have a much better understanding and a greater sensitivity to what that means.”

Eileen Shimota, program coordinator in the Center for Experiential Learning, will be examining those changes closer to home, as a part-time participant in “Food, Work and Culture,” taught by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Christopher Chiappari, and “Liberation Theology,” taught by Assistant Professor of Religion Phil Stoltzfus. Both have immersion components in the Twin Cities.

When Shimota first expressed interest in these programs, she was the academic administrative assistant in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She thinks they’ll provide valuable insights for the position she began this fall, as well as for the master’s degree she’s pursuing in experiential education.

“I’m excited about the experiences I’ll have, as well as learning from what the students experience.”

Associate Director of International and Off-Campus Studies Kathy Tuma is serving as an emergency backup for Assistant Professor of Russian Marc Robinson on the “The Capitals in Russian Literature” program. In addition to participating in the course, she will conduct visits to the sites of several semester-length programs and explore the potential for developing a new study-service program in Novgorod.