Global center transforms students’ perspectives.

The “VP-50 Project” connects students and professors in South Hadley with experts worldwide through videoconferencing.

By Emily Harrison Weir

As the College’s hub of internationalization for the past decade, the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives has put Mount Holyoke College students in touch with the world in two equal but opposite ways—by helping students learn abroad, and by bringing international ideas and experts to campus. Both have enriched students’ lives in myriad ways.

Bringing the world to MHC.

Although the center is best known for arranging student learning experiences abroad, there’s no need to leave the country. Just attending Mount Holyoke College is an international experience.

Mount Holyoke has one of the largest and most diverse groups of international students in the country, and that has a profound impact on learning outcomes for all students, says Eva Paus, Carol Hoffmann Collins Director of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives.

On any given topic, in courses from The Politics of Ethnic Conflict to The Arts of China or French History in Film, the life experiences of students enrich the discussion and learning possibilities for everyone in the classroom.

Jon Western, Carol Hoffmann Collins Professor of International Studies, discovered this firsthand.

“I was hoping to introduce the complexity of American foreign policy to the students,” he said. “It turned out their own collective experiences and perspectives did that much better than anything I could present in class.”

The McCulloch Center also cosponsors dozens of campus events, including a biennial conference with leading scholar-practitioners. Conference participants analyze a particular global challenge from a comparative, cross-disciplinary perspective and explore policy solutions. The most recent conference, for example, focused on “Building Peace in Post-Conflict Societies.” A team-taught course linked to the conference topic involved 146 students and seven professors from five departments.

And each year a Carol Hoffmann Collins Global Scholar-in-Residence engages the campus community, increasing understanding of critical international issues from cross-cultural and cross-national perspectives. The scholars’ backgrounds have run the gamut, including activists, educators, and leaders in government and nongovernmental organizations.

Professor of Spanish Rogelio Miñana says the center’s activities produce an “interdisciplinary, vibrant space” that allows departments with a global focus to exchange ideas and resources.

“It enriches not only academic interactions with students and colleagues, but also connects our campus community with global perspectives and experiences that go well beyond the classroom walls,” he said.

Global voices are brought within the classroom walls too, thanks to a major collaborative initiative, the “VP-50 Project.” Since 2011, it has connected students and professors in South Hadley with experts worldwide through videoconferencing.

For example, students built language skills in French, Italian, and Russian by Skyping with students in universities abroad. Education professors connected students in a teacher-preparation class with students and faculty in South Africa, Pakistan, and Chile. And in Economic Development in the Age of Globalization, students talked with Ghana’s minister for natural resources.

Forty-five faculty members have already participated, often using videoconferencing in multiple classes. The project won a national award earlier this year for its leadership in internationalization through technology.

From Mount Holyoke to the world.

But even in a high-tech age, there’s no substitute for learning about a country or culture by traveling there in person. A major part of the center’s work involves facilitating study, work, and internship opportunities for students in countries around the world. And those who have learned abroad say their experiences have been formative.

"The McCulloch Center gives students the opportunity to become a part of a community very different from their own,” says Sinafik Gebru ’15.

“I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone, and that helped expand the already-wide scope of my liberal arts education. I have developed new perspectives on academic subjects, practiced a different language, and experienced personal growth,” she says. “Overall, the center has helped make me a global citizen in today's interconnected world, and for that I will forever be grateful.”

For Denisse Jerez ’15, the six months she spent studying in Brazil was one of the most significant experiences of her life.

“It broadened my understanding of a multitude of concepts and expanded my view of what I am capable of and the opportunities available to me after Mount Holyoke,” she said.

Bharati Manandhar ’15, too, studied on a center-arranged exchange program. Manandhar polished her French language skills at MHC before joining a program at Sciences Po in Paris, and says the center helped to tie her academic interests, study abroad, and work experience together.

Many return from an experience abroad seeing the world through new eyes. That happened for Maggie Jacobi ’15, who said her time overseas changed her worldview permanently.

“The new perspectives I developed abroad helped me hone my academic passions and led me to pursue new interests,” she said.

Leanne Finamore '15 had a similar outcome. She said the McCulloch Center's Globalization, Development, and Social Change Program in Costa Rica “changed how I think.”

Mary E. Woolley Professor of Anthropology Lynn Morgan spent four months at that program, and calls it “one of the best teaching experiences of my life.” She is not alone in noticing the changes made by the center’s work.

“The McCulloch Center has made the world a smaller place by encouraging students to study and do research in locations ranging from Nepal to Patagonia and Korea to Denmark,” adds Catherine Corson, Miller Worley Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies. She said it “helps students to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to become future global leaders.”

In small ways and large, on campus and around the world, the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives continues to bring the world closer together. Professor Catherine Corson sums up the center’s impact, saying it “has exposed my students to ideas, experiences, and communities that will shape the rest of their lives.”

• This story is the second in a two-part series celebrating the center’s tenth anniversary. The first part focuses on the center’s founding and mission.

• View videos highlighting the breadth of faculty’s global research.