Global Education Initiatives Brings the World to Stark County
In Kenya, Sarah Schmidt discovered her calling.
A long way from rural Mansfield, Ohio, the girl who grew up with cows in her backyard was now halfway around the world learning Swahili and teaching children how to speak English. She was 20 when she crossed the Atlantic for the first time.
“It truly was life-changing,” says Ms. Schmidt, who spent half a year near Nairobi’s Great Rift Valley, part of an intracontinental ridge system that runs through Kenya from north to south.
“After that trip, I knew I wanted my career to be in the international arena.”
Nine years later, Ms. Schmidt has landed as the outreach program coordinator for the Office of Global Education Initiatives at Kent State University at Stark. The office is responsible for advising international students and scholars, helping students interested in education abroad, and overseeing all education abroad initiatives and international partnerships at Kent State Stark.
As a liaison of the Office of Global Education at the Kent Campus, the Kent State Stark program connects domestic and international students with excellent services and support.
Ms. Schmidt began her work in Kent State Stark’s position, newly created in 2015, after earning a master’s degree in ethics, peace and global affairs from American University in Washington, D.C. While in the nation’s capital, Ms. Schmidt served as American University’s program coordinator of the Mohammed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace.
Over the past few years, she has played a pivotal role at Kent State Stark, which has experienced tremendous growth in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. The initiative began with 11 Chinese students, increasing to 27 and then to 34 students studying at Kent State Stark last fall.
“It is cool to look back three years ago, when the office was established, and think about all that we’ve done since then,” Ms. Schmidt says. “It’s pretty awesome, actually.”
International students compose one of Kent State’s largest student groups. About 7.5 percent of Kent Campus students – nearly 2,100 – are international.
There is not only power in numbers, but in a collective, reciprocal experience.
“What I love about our program is that it provides students with opportunities to travel, but for students who do not go abroad, we are bringing the world to our campuses through our programs,” Ms. Schmidt explains.
"Having that cultural and exchange component is crucial,” she says. “We shouldn’t be hearing from one voice in an international program; we should be hearing from each other. Anything we can do to foster understanding and empathy is a good thing. The more we can dispel stereotypes, the better."
And Ms. Schmidt knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. Her flight anxiety has not stopped her from traveling to 40 different countries. Her limited understanding of Arabic did not keep her from going to Morocco on a whim. It was one of her most memorable trips yet.
“Since I was a child, there’s always just been something inside me that was drawing me away – in a good way,” she says. “Not turning my back on my roots, but taking them with me.
"Coming home, I’m changed,” she adds. “We all are — when we see the beauty there is in the world.”
Study Abroad: Broadening Horizons
Short-term, education-abroad trips are the most popular for students at Kent State Stark. The Florence Summer Institute in Florence, Italy, tops the list for many students. In 2016, 40 students went to Florence; last summer, 95 students made the trek. Switzerland and Japan are other top destinations.
Faculty-led trips are a growing trend. Leslie Heaphy, Ph.D., associate professor of history, has included an education-abroad component in her History and Public Space course this spring. The class will travel to Xi’an, China, during Spring Recess.
“I believe students learn so much more about the world and themselves by visiting other cultures and appreciating how different people see the world and experience all it has to teach us,” Dr. Heaphy says.
Also during break, Marie Gasper-Hulvat, Ph.D., assistant professor of art, is taking students to Rome, Italy, to study art created during the Baroque era. Students receive 3 credit hours for the course, completed during the Spring Recess abroad.
“There’s a whole litany of things students gain from study abroad,” Dr. Gasper-Hulvat says. “It changes their perspective on life and the world. They are coming for the art, but the travel-related experiences they have in addition will have an equally profound impact.”