On May 31, the eight WKU faculty members selected to participate in the inaugural Zuheir Sofia Endowed International Faculty Seminar (ZSEIFS), along with program leader Melissa Stewart (Modern Languages), completed the international leg of what has been a semester-long exploration of Ecuador.
An integral part of the International Year Of… program, the ZSEIFS facilitates an interdisciplinary exploration of each target country while providing opportunities for individual faculty to build connections and knowledge within their respective fields. Over the course of their 12 days in country, participants broadened their knowledge of Ecuador and its diverse historical, political, cultural and geographical landscapes. The late David Coffey (Agriculture), who was originally slated to lead the ZSEIFS to Ecuador, was integral in laying the foundation for this program.
“Dr. Coffey worked tirelessly on the Faculty Seminar,” said Addie Cheney, Coordinator of International Programs. “Losing him before it all came to fruition was an immense obstacle. We were incredibly fortunate to have a seasoned leader like Dr. Melissa Stewart step forward. The work that Dr. Coffey put into designing this program and the strength of his contacts in Ecuador along with the dedication and leadership of Dr. Stewart were absolutely key to the success of this inaugural ZSEIFS.”
The two weeks in country was the culmination of a semester of work but only the start of a long-term engagement with Ecuador. ZSEIFS participants met regularly throughout the spring semester, completed readings and assignments centering on Ecuador in preparation for the May trip.
In the months following the ZSEIFS to Ecuador, faculty participants will begin incorporating the knowledge and connections they have gained into their teaching, research, and service. These activities will be essential to the success of the upcoming International Year of Ecuador (2014-15) but also to the long-term goal of internationalizing the WKU curriculum.
“Enhancing the curriculum with international content, fostering the development of new courses, research projects, co-curricular programming by creating a unique opportunity for faculty to build contacts and deepen their understanding of a country or world region —these are the goals of the ZSEIFS. For the coming year and beyond, we are likely to see Ecuador in the classrooms, publications, and service projects of the returning faculty,” Cheney said.
“An essential element of WKU’s vision to be A Leading American University with International Reach lies in providing our faculty with enriching international experiences such as this,” said Dr. Gordon Emslie, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “The knowledge, scholarship and wisdom of our faculty is vital in shaping the WKU student experience, both in and out of the classroom. By investing in programs like the Zuheir Sofia Endowed International Faculty Seminar, we are investing in our faculty, who in turn ensure that our graduates have the knowledge and skills that enable them to be leaders in an increasingly global society.”
Donielle Lovell, ZSEIFS Participant and Assistant Professor of Sociology (WKU Elizabethtown/Fort Knox) said this of her experience in Ecuador: “Traveling to Ecuador has meant creating fantastic networks to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between activists, faculty, and citizens of Ecuador and WKU faculty. These connections mean I have firsthand accounts to teach from in my classes. Longer term, I intend to maintain these contacts so I can continue to gain understanding, foster opportunities for faculty and student exchange, and hopefully one day lead a study abroad to this wonderful country.”
The robust 12-day ZSEIFS itinerary included a tour of local museums, dinner and discussion with Ecuadorian artists. Participants delved into U.S.-Ecuador relations with consular officers at the U.S. Embassy and met with scholars and other experts in their respective disciplines at WKU’s partner university, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, building connections for future collaborative projects. Faculty explored health care in Ecuador when touring a local hospital and clinic, interacting with doctors and other health care professionals. During their final days in country, they were able to meet with the Kotococha indigenous community, learning about their history, customs, dance and food, in addition to donating supplies to their school and interacting with some of the children. They also considered ecological and environmental issues with presentations by an expert in this area, observing firsthand the effects of a volcanic eruption in Baños.
ZSEIFS faculty participants include Aaron Hughey, Student Affairs; Albert Meier, Biology; Beverly Holland, Nursing; Donielle Lovell, Sociology, WKU Elizabethtown/Fort Knox; Jill Brown, Liberal Arts & Sciences; Kelly Conroy, Modern Languages; and Virginia Pfohl and William Pfohl, Psychology.
Additional representatives from WKU joined the ZSEIFS faculty participants for the two-week program. Aramark co-sponsored the participation of Head Chef Gil Holts. Holts applied for and received a Staff Internationalization Grant (SIG) from the Office of International Programs. The SIG provides funding support for professional staff members to gain international experience. Holts plans to use this experience to enhance Aramark’s menu with Ecuadorian cuisine throughout the upcoming International Year of Ecuador (2014-15).
Neil Purcell, a WKU senior broadcasting major, accompanied the group as well. The Office of International Programs selected Purcell from a competitive pool of applicants to document the inaugural ZSEIFS to Ecuador. Purcell’s work covering the ZSEIFS will be available on the OIP website later this summer.
OIP, under the guidance of faculty leader Mike Stokes in Biology, is preparing for the international faculty seminar to South Africa in summer 2015. Applications for that seminar will be available at the start of the Fall 2014 semester.
The Zuheir Sofia Endowment was created to facilitate the mission of the Office of International Programs, which endeavors to provide leadership in the development of a strong international profile. Zuheir Sofia, a 1969 WKU graduate and 2014 Honorary Doctorate recipient, is chairman, president and CEO of Business Bank of Florida Corp.
About the Office of International Programs: The Office of International Programs supports the internationalization agenda of the university by creating opportunities for faculty and staff development in an global context and supporting the development of meaningful co-curricular programming for student, campus and community audiences.
Contact: Addie Cheney, (270) 745-3036.