WKU faculty members from eight departments spent more than two weeks in South Africa as part of the second annual Zuheir Sofia Endowed International Faculty Seminar (ZSEIFS).
With investment from the Office of International Programs (OIP), Academic Affairs and the relevant academic colleges and departments, the ZSEIFS brings together faculty from different disciplines and backgrounds to both collectively and individually investigate a single country for a full semester. A complement to the International Year Of… (IYO) program in its shared emphasis and drive toward comprehensive internationalization, the ZSEIFS contributes to the infusion of target country content into the teaching, research, and service of its participants during the associated IYO and beyond.
The 2015 ZSEIFS South Africa participants were: Dr. Saundra Ardrey, Political Science; Dr. Mark Cambron, Engineering; Dr. Fred DeGraves, Agriculture; Dr. Margaret Gichuru, Teacher Education; Dr. Philip Lienesch, Biology; Dr. Andrew McMichael, Potter College/History; Dr. Christina Noel, Teacher Education; Dr. Anthony Paquin, Psychology; Dr. Michael Smith, Biology; and Dr. Kristin Wilson, Educational Administration, Leadership & Research. Dr. Mike Stokes, Biology, served as faculty leader.
Over the course of the 18-day program, the group traveled more than 33,000 kilometers to and through Africa’s southernmost country, exploring sites of historical, cultural, political or scientific significance like Robben Island, the Cradle of Humankind and the U.S. Embassy in South Africa.
The robust itinerary incorporated official visits to multiple South African universities, including Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Western Cape and University of Limpopo. Central to the goals of the ZSEIFS, these visits connected participants with scholars and professionals at the host institutions, seeding what will hopefully prove to be long-term and productive relationships. Throughout the program, the country itself served as the classroom for the 10 participants, with Dr. Stokes, numerous guest speakers—whether university scholars, wildlife professionals or Foreign Service officers—and even co-participants acting as teachers.
“Perhaps the greatest benefit of the trip was the opportunity to get outside of my own academic silo to not only learn about other disciplines but also the chance to interact and socialize with colleagues outside the social sciences and humanities,” Dr. Ardrey said of the experience. “Discussing social justice and equality issues with a biologist from a scientific perspective was an epiphany. It forced me to entertain new ideas of how to teach such issues to students not familiar with concepts I take for granted.”
The in-country program was the culmination of a semester of preparation and work for the 10 faculty participants. For Dr. Stokes, the process began more than a year ago when he and WKU’s Chief International Officer Craig T. Cobane traveled to South Africa to lay the groundwork for the program.
Dr. Stokes, who has 12 years of experience conducting research in or leading student programs to South Africa, brought a wealth of professional and personal expertise to the program.
“Mike’s outstanding leadership coupled with a group of committed and talented faculty is proving to be a recipe for success,” said Addie Cheney, Assistant Director of International Programs, the office that administers both the ZSEIFS and IYO programs. “This year’s ZSEIFS is already yielding positive outcomes, including new research projects with South African scholars, a potential partnership between local and South African elementary schools, joint conference proposals, and even a Fulbright application to teach and conduct research in South Africa. I am confident that WKU will continue reaping rewards from this program for years to come in the form of enhanced courses, research projects, and in countless other unanticipated ways.”
The ZSEIFS South Africa alumni will play lead roles in the upcoming International Year of South Africa. Not only will the participants be infusing South African content into their academic courses, many are actively engaged in bringing South African-themed events and programs to campus. A calendar of events for the upcoming IYO South Africa may be found at www.wku.edu/iyo.
OIP, in collaboration with faculty leader Dr. Tim Rich (Political Science), is preparing for the third installment of the ZSEIFS—set to take place in South Korea in the early summer of 2016. Further details related to the program, including application materials and feedback from ZSEIFS alumni, may be found at www.wku.edu/zseifs
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. For more information on past and future ZSEIFS and the IYO series, visit the OIP website at www.wku.edu/oip.
Contact: Addie Cheney, (270) 745-3036