We are just a few days away from the beginning of final exams here at Defiance College, with graduation to follow several days after (the first weekend in May). The day after graduation, I will be leaving with a group of students to travel to Tanzania. Shortly thereafter, another group of students will leave for Cambodia, and our men’s basketball team will be traveling to Costa Rica over the summer as well.

These trips are in addition to the trips that occurred over Spring Break to Italy, Ireland, and Peru.  And, of course, there are many more to come next year, including Jamaica, Belize, London, and Berlin (to name just a few). 

As regular readers of this blog will realize by now, I adore traveling with our students (and I do so on as many trips as my wife will allow me to participate in!). But one of the reasons why I so enjoy these trips is that I get the opportunity to see our students grow in incredible ways — ways that often surprise the students themselves.

This point was driven home to me recently when I was reading some letters which the students who traveled in March to Peru had written about their travels. All of the letters are wonderful, but permit me to quote from two. In one, a student wrote about how the trip impacted her on a personal level:

“[m]ost importantly, I learned a lot about myself. At first, I didn’t want to go on the trip. I’m a fairly quiet and reserved person, and I didn’t feel like I fit into the group. Once we left and began our journey, that all started to change. I won’t say that I’m completely outspoken now. I’m not. But, I am more willing to talk with people, even people I’ve never met. I’m willing to step up to do my part without being asked, to lead without speaking. Granted, I still struggle with this and my confidence, but this trip has allowed me to see that I can do it. I can be a leader, even though I have a bit different style in doing so. I know that I can handle more than I think because of the experiences I’ve had in Peru and traveling.

“This trip has taught me that some risks are worth taking. If I hadn’t gone to Peru with this group, I would not be the same person as I am now. It’s strange to think a trip like this can really make a difference to someone, especially considering the trip itself was not long at all. I’m here to say that it does. It’s not just about helping others. It’s about creating yourself by learning what you are truly capable of.”

Another student wrote about how he had never been at all interested in traveling. In fact, he wrote that “[c]hoosing Defiance College as a place to further my education was not hard, although I was a little apprehensive about all the travel options.” In fact, he indicated that he didn’t really want to travel beyond the Defiance area, where he and several generations of his family have been very happy and have never felt a need to travel out of the country. He proceeded to write that:

“When approached about the trip to Peru, my initial thought was one full of skepticism. Not only would I be traveling to a third world country, but I would be doing so over spring break, giving up a week full of much needed and hard-to-find rest. Before long, however, I was convinced to commit and give it a try. Looking back, this may have been one of the boldest choices in my life. As the weeks passed by in preparation, the group’s excitement grew. When the travel date was within a month, my entire family had heard about my proposed expedition, and they were full of questions and wonder. Any apprehension that I had previously was now completely gone. I was beginning to understand the significance of the opportunity that I was being given.

“Traveling in a foreign country for the first time is one of the fastest ways to completely reshape your reality. In the United States, I fall under zero categories of minorities. In Peru, I was an outsider for the first time in my life. This reason, combined with the complete cultural immersion, was extremely influential in producing the largest learning moment in my entire life. My perspective completely turned inside out. All of my comfort zone walls were penetrated, without concern. For the first time in forever my mind was extremely open, absorbing everything that I could. The experiences gained in Peru far surpass anything learned in the United States. The magnificence of these cannot be simply recorded on paper or in pictures, but forever in my brain and heart. Never have I experienced such a sudden change of heart about something that had defined my life to that point. Imagine taking one of your strongest, most important beliefs and experiencing something so wonderful that you abandon that once important thought. I have enjoyed many different aspects about Defiance College and its many opportunities. Many of these have been taken advantage of by me, but travelling to Peru … takes the cake. After returning home and reporting the various parts of the trip, it hit me even more how significant it was. Not only did I grow internally, but we as a group were able to help a lot of people (especially children). I plan on continuing with service for as long as I am able bodied, and when the day comes that I no longer am, I will contribute financially. I hope that in the near future and distant future, students will be able to experience the same thing that I did.”

These excerpts are just two examples of the ways that students are growing by experiencing new things through Defiance College’s travel opportunities. Of course, the international travel is just one part of the many new experiences that we want students to enjoy and grow from at Defiance, but re-reading these letters makes me even more eager to depart for Tanzania in early May!

Last week was our spring break here at Defiance College, and I must admit that when I look at everything that was going on, the term “break” just really does not apply. Indeed, sometimes I need to catch my breath when I think of all the places our DC students are traveling at any given time of the year.

I had the pleasure during the past week of traveling with a group of DC students to Peru. The students lived with Peruvian families in the town of Urabamba (in the Cusco region), and participated in service activities that included handing out shoes to elementary school students, painting murals at a school, building a stove in a village, and helping with after-school programs. We had the opportunity one day to travel together to Machu Picchu and that was truly a tremendous experience. I am continuously amazed by how much our students learn from and grow while on these trips.

While the students and I were in Peru, other groups of students were traveling in Ireland and in Italy. In addition, on the domestic front, we had students traveling to Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Missouri.

And there is even more travel coming up, with students leaving this week for Philadelphia (this trip is coordinated by the Criminal Justice Society), while next week about 50 students will be traveling to New York City. In May, students will be heading off for Tanzania and Cambodia, with trips to France and to Costa Rica to follow during the summer months.

We make a real effort to offer travel opportunities that expand students’ learning and knowledge without disproportionately burdening their wallets. Under our DC Global Program, incoming students who successfully complete the full four-year program at DC (in good academic and financial standing) are guaranteed an international opportunity in their junior or senior year. In order to make it possible for even students from families of limited economic means to gain the benefits of international travel, we subsidize the DC Global trip significantly for our students.

While specific costs vary by trip, students typically pay only a part of their air travel or hotel expenses and the cost of their passport, travel insurance and incidental expenses for international trips. Similarly, we make a real effort to offer our domestic trips at very low or no cost to our students. We work very hard to keep the student’s portion of the costs as low as possible.

This is all a significant investment by the College, but it is one well worth making. I have been now on many domestic and international trips, and I am thrilled each time as I watch our students grow in curiosity, competence, cultural understanding, confidence, and many other ways. These trips offer students opportunities to take what they are learning in the classroom and move a step beyond, by exploring those concepts in the outside world. They add wonderful elements to our students’ resumes, while also challenging students to think about places and people they have never encountered. They truly can be life-changing experiences.

I fear it may be getting repetitious for my blog readers to constantly be hearing about some new trip or experience that I had with Defiance College students.  So please forgive me this new installment about a recent trip to Washington, D.C. with about three dozen DC students.

What a wonderful experience this was for all concerned!  There were actually two distinct groups of students traveling.  The first group was comprised of students with a special interest in social work.  Social work professors Jeff Weaner and Alesia Yakos-Brown coordinated for them a spectacular series of meetings with national social work groups, Amnesty International, the Veterans Administration, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and others.  In addition, the students got to tour some of the major sights in our nation’s capital.

Another group of students had more varied interests, and they were treated to a whirlwind itinerary put together expertly by professor Elcin Haskollar, who directs our Global Studies program.  The students met with experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (hearing about issues from US-Latin American relations to the latest developments in robotics and neural technologies), spoke about Afghanistan with a colonel at the Pentagon, networked with young professionals, saw Ford’s Theater (where Lincoln was assassinated), viewed the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, walked around the perimeter of the White House, and toured the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and more.  In addition, thanks to the help of Senator Sherrod Brown and his staff, our students were able to witness history being made as they sat in the Senate gallery during the final debate and vote on the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

All of the students together attended a performance at the Kennedy Center, toured the major monuments, and went to the Holocaust Museum, in addition to enjoying several distinctive dining experiences.

I am always amazed by how much our DC students benefit from these trips and the opportunities they provide.  And, like so many of our domestic trips, these were offered free for our students.  I was particularly pleased to hear freshmen on the trip already starting to think about their next DC domestic trip opportunity, even before this trip had ended!

Every seven years, the IACBE (which stands for International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education) comes to visit college campuses as part of the process of reviewing and renewing the accreditation of their business programs.  A few weeks ago, we at Defiance College had our visit, and it was a great opportunity to boast about the innovations in our undergraduate business program.  Our visitors were able to hear all kinds of good things about our Business Advantage Program, which enables students majoring in business, sales, marketing, accounting, etc., to create and run at least two different businesses while at DC.  We also got lots of positive feedback about the opportunities that our business students (like other DC students) have to travel and become globally literate.

But what really struck me was something that one of the accreditors said at the end of his visit.  He said how impressed the accreditation team was by our students and all they had experienced, but he said that one remark from a student would remain with him forever.  That student had said to him: every student finds his or her own reason to fall in love with Defiance College.  Our visitors seemed to find that to be a particularly powerful expression of what makes DC special, and I too was touched by it.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our daily activities that we forget how many different ways DC reaches and impacts our students.  I think we also forget how many fantastic opportunities there are at DC:  all the activities, the relationships with faculty and administrators, the great network of alumni, the domestic and international travel, the opportunities to engage in rigorous learning in the classroom and then apply it to the real world, the training in entrepreneurial skills, the community service, the student involvement in research, the friendship and so much more.

We are about to enjoy our Homecoming celebration, and we will be joined on campus by many alumni for whom the connection to DC remains strong even many decades after their graduations. They know how much DC has meant to them and the successes in their lives, and each of them has also found his or her own reason to continue to love DC throughout their lives.  Now that is something to celebrate as well!

I just returned about 10 days ago from Barcelona, where I had been traveling with our women’s soccer team.  Their trip to Spain really was a great experience, as they got an opportunity to tour Barcelona, Sitges, Figueres, Girona, Montserrat, Madrid, and the old town of Toledo.  For me, these trips are always special, as I get to watch our students (many of whom have never been outside the United States) as they discover new cultures, new languages, and new worlds.

“Discovery” is actually not a bad way to think about many of the aspects of the college experience here at DC.  Upon my return from Spain, I immediately started spending a significant amount of time with some of our incoming students, who have reported early to be part of our summer Bridge program.  They are also on a journey of discovery, as they learn new ways of thinking, of studying, and of analyzing material to help prepare them for the start of classes in just a few weeks.

In fact, it is difficult to believe that the new semester really will be getting underway so soon.  More and more groups of students are starting to arrive, and we will be back to “full strength” when classes begin on August 26.  It is, of course, too early to know exactly what our entering class will look like.  But, I have been very encouraged by the continuing growth in interest from prospective students all around the country.  And more and more of them have heard of the special opportunities that DC offers, from international and domestic travel to hands-on experience that links the classroom and the real world.

These are, indeed, exciting times for us at DC, and we all eagerly anticipate the arrival of the hundreds of incoming students who will be sharing these next years with us.

For those of you who might not have seen it, I thought that I would share with you a recent article that appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette about my interactions with the students here at Defiance College.  Anyone who knows me realizes that my favorite part of the job as President of DC is having the opportunity to get to know our students personally and to have them become part of my family.

“Keeping it personal in Defiance”
http://www.jg.net/article/20130617/LOCAL04/306179960

I just returned from a 15-day trip with a group of Defiance College students and faculty to Tanzania in East Africa.  This was an exploratory trip to see if it makes sense for us to develop a continuing relationship between our McMaster School for Advancing Humanity and some villages/towns in Tanzania, so that our students will be able to annually travel to do service projects in Tanzania.

I am pleased to report that the trip was a huge success, as we developed relationships with the Nelson Mandela Institute in Arusha (near Mt. Kiliminjaro), the village of Mvomero (not far from the city of Morogoro), and several other locations.   Future potential projects for our students range from working in local schools to helping with the village’s public health center; from helping build a sports program for village students to establishing a business which will enable village elders to sell their home-made handicrafts, from micro-finance lending to chemical analysis of drinking water, and much more.

As President at DC, what struck me the most about this trip, however, was the extent to which our students grew and thrived during their visit.  They became increasingly comfortable with being in a different culture and environment; they started to learn some words in Swahili; they did a great job interacting with many different kinds of people; and they showed an increasing sense of curiosity about the culture and the history of Tanzania.

We were also fortunate enough to share some incredible experiences.  We had a free day in Dar es Salaam, which meant that we were able to make a quick visit to Zanzibar, which was an unforgettable experience for all of us.  And I think all of the students would agree that our 3-day safari (we saw innumerable giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras, baboons, wildebeests, impalas, hippos, and so much more) was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Every time I accompany students on an international trip (my next such experience will be traveling with members of the DC Women’s Soccer team to Spain in late July), I am reminded about the great opportunities DC students receive through our DC Global program.  And I have to pinch myself when I see our students thriving in different environments, as these experiences open students’ minds, raise their sights, and often open their hearts as well.

Given the success of this exploratory trip, do not be surprised if you start hearing about regular trips of DC to students to Tanzania, in addition to the many other places to which our students currently travel!

The Defiance College International and Global Studies Program (IGS) took a huge step forward recently, as we entered into an innovative partnership with the world-renowned Washington-DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Under this partnership, students studying international and global studies at DC will get all the benefits of being at a small college like DC while also being able to tap into the worldwide network of knowledge, experts, and potential internship opportunities at CSIS.

What this means is that international and global studies classes at DC will now have access to a wide range of materials and expertise prepared by CSIS.  In addition, our students will be able, through the use of technology, to participate remotely in various CSIS events, and will now have at their fingertips literally a world of knowledge, expertise, and contacts.  I am particularly excited that CSIS will also be working with us to set up a wonderful itinerary for our IGS students when they travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with various experts and officials.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I hope this partnership can become.  I have had the pleasure of getting to know John Hamre, the head of CSIS, and he is an inspiring leader who has made clear his willingness to work with DC to create even more extensive opportunities for our students to learn about the world.  This partnership can truly become a national model in terms of enhancing global literacy, and I am very excited that our DC students will be able to be at the forefront of these developments.

I just returned less than a week ago from an invigorating visit to New York City with 51 Defiance College students.  As many of you know, this is part of our broader Imagine Initiatives which fund both domestic and international travel opportunities for our students.  In fact, over the past year or so, DC students have traveled domestically to New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Florida, South Carolina, Cincinnati, Memphis, Nashville, Selma, and numerous other locations.

We arrived in New York early Friday evening, had some quick pizza, and then proceeded to visit Times Square, which is always a wonderful site for first-time visitors.  We then went on a pretty extensive walk around the Upper West Side, walking up Broadway, seeing, among other items, the theater where the David Letterman show is filmed, Columbus Circle, the building where numerous scenes from Ghostbusters take place, Lincoln Center, The Dakota (where John Lennon lived and in front of which he was shot), Columbia University, and much more.  Of course, we also stopped for some great pastries.

The next day we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, walked in Central Park, and made our way down Fifth Avenue, seeing The Plaza Hotel, FAO Schwarz (the world-famous toy store), St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Rockefeller Center to name just a few.  That evening, we all went to a performance of the Broadway show Annie, followed by delicious cheesecake at Lindy’s.

Sunday started for the group with a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, and then we proceeded to head downtown to visit the World Trade Center memorial, Wall Street, the site where George Washington was inaugurated as president, and to see the Statue of Liberty.  A wonderful surprise was that we were able to arrange for our students to meet for 45 minutes with the prominent NYC real estate developer who owned the World Trade Center (and now owns the Freedom Tower and the other buildings being built there).  He spoke very movingly about what it was like on 9/11, as well as all the pressures he faced as he worked to rebuild on such an emotional and historic site.  Many students told me that they would remember meeting him for the rest of their lives and how moved they were to meet someone who was now such a part of history.

Our Sunday concluded with dinner in Chinatown, gelato in Little Italy, Grand Central Terminal, and a spectacular view of NY at night from the top of the Empire State Building.

I am pleased to report that not only did the students learn a lot from the trip, they also told me that they had a spectacular time.  And, as is our policy on many of these domestic trips, the entire experience was essentially free (they were only responsible for the cost of the subway rides).  What a pleasure it was for me as the President of DC to see our students experience one of the great cities of the world, and to see them growing before my eyes in curiosity, competence, confidence, and cultural understanding.  I am certainly looking forward to next year’s NY trip, but, I need to pinch myself when I remember that in just a few weeks I will be off to Tanzania with a different group of DC students.  So stay tuned for more to come.

I had the pleasure of spending the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day weekend with 49 Defiance College students on one of our Imagine Initiative trips to Philadelphia.  As many of you many know, under our Imagine Initiatives, DC takes students on numerous cultural, performing arts, domestic, and international trips in order to introduce them to different historical perspectives, cultures, sites, and much more.  The more I go on these trips with students, the more convinced I become about how important they are in our students’ development and maturation.  These trips truly do open students’ eyes and minds, raise their sights, and also, frequently, open their hearts.

This trip to Philadelphia was a new one for us — to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our McMaster School for Advancing Humanity by introducing students to key sites in American history.

We boarded the bus early Friday morning and spent time on the bus watching the movie 1776, which is a great musical about the decision by the Continental Congress to adopt the Declaration of Independence.  After the movie, each student on the bus was responsible for reading about the background of a specific signer of the Declaration, and then they shared stories about their signer with others on the bus.  We got to Philadelphia in time to go to a 76ers basketball game.  On Saturday, we saw the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (where the Declaration was adopted and the Constitution was written), Congress Hall, Christ Church, ate Philly cheesesteaks, and went to a Philadelphia Orchestra concert.  Sunday was filled with touring the Philadelphia Art Museum (we also ran up the steps in front, which were the steps that Rocky runs up in the movie), the African American Museum, Ben Franklin’s grave, Betsy Ross’s house, the Second Bank of the United States, and much more — topping it off with a performance of the musical Catch Me If You Can, followed by a late-night dinner.

As any student who has ever traveled with me can attest, we also had multiple stops for ice cream along the way!

It was wonderful for me to watch as our students learned more about American history, were exposed to different cultural events, and also just had a great time touring a new city.  Of course, this trip was just one of many that are going on for DC students this semester, including trips to New York City, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines, Denver, Selma, Memphis, Florida, and various other places.  And that’s not to mention the upcoming international trips to London, Cambodia, Spain, and Tanzania.  (In fact, this past Friday, our Board of Trustees heard from two students who had traveled with faculty to Paris for a week in December — wow, it was great hearing about how much they saw and experienced!).

As President of Defiance College, I really do love being able to give our students so much here at Defiance, while also introducing them to so much of the world beyond at the same time.  It is a pretty unbeatable combination.

July 2014
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