Center for Global Engagement a robust life-changer two years in
Ever-more substantial and frequent global experiences enjoyed by Saint Michael’s students testify to the strength, cooperation and hard work of a crack leadership team for the College’s Center for Global Engagement since its creation two years ago.
“Global competency and appreciation for global citizenship are liberal arts learning outcomes in the third decade of the 21st Century that are arguably as important as reading, writing, mathematics,” said Jeffrey Ayres of the political science and international studies faculty, a former dean of the College who helped found (and now directs) the Center. “To be professionally successful and personally and civically aware, one needs to be globally competent.”
Ayres said engaging global experiences early on in College often lead a student to seek more international opportunities over four years so that by graduation, they have built a skillset of global competencies and gained valuable perspectives. The director describes this process as intentional “scaffolding” to connect academic and experiential learning experiences through the Center — one important reason for its creation.
At the end of spring semester, the director reviewed some of the Center’s top headlines this year from his view. High on his list is the growing number of students, alumni and faculty headed off around the globe or coming to campus on Fulbright scholarships. Further, similarly competitive and prestigious Freeman Foundation Scholarship summer internships in Asia keep expanding, with 4 students now in South Korea and 11 in Vietnam. This also has been a banner year for the Peace Corps Prep program under faculty advisor Allison Cleary.
Ayres also cited wide interest in faculty-led intensive short-term academic study trips, including to Wales, Ireland, Quebec and Denmark just after graduation, and the steady but sure re-emergence of full-semester or summer Study Abroad interest, after the pandemic made a large dent in robust pre-COVID numbers. He mentioned, too, emerging possibilities with State Department Critical Language Scholarships with a first-ever finalist this year in Adrian Harwood ’23, or teaching assistantships abroad, given two students earning those this year for advanced studies in France and Spain.
The Center also has recommitted to a longstanding but pandemic-diminished Saint Michael’s partnership with the Vermont Council on World Affairs, hosting groups from Hungary and from countries in Africa and Latin America for campus visits over the past academic year. Ayres said he and his team further are exploring expanded possibilities with the substantial New American and refugee populations in the greater Burlington area, particularly in Winooski just down the hill from campus.
Creating an even more welcoming campus environment for international students is also an important goal of the Center, supporting international students with their immigration and visa concerns, as well as making it clear that many of these global engagement opportunities are available to enhance an international student’s educational experience at Saint Michael’s. In addition, the campus Model United Nations Club is attracting interest among more students, with members attending and leaving their mark at the McGill Model United Nations event in Montreal this year as they went head-to-head with delegates from top colleges from around the world.
Beyond that — although a domestic rather than a global excursion yet still advancing the Center mission — Ayres said that he and the College’s Boucher Career Education Center Director Ingrid Peterson led a trip this year to Washington, D.C., which they call the “Destination DC Global Careers Trip.” More than 10 students with the leaders spent three days meeting with State Department officials, going to Capitol Hill, and joining a Saint Michael’s Purple and Gold alumni event in the nation’s capital. They plan to make this a recurring option for interested students including in the upcoming 2023-24 academic year.
Many of these activities, Ayres said, have been possible through the generosity and work in Congress of prominent alumnus, recently retired Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy ’61. The CGE received $400,000 in federal funding from the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, signed on March 15, 2022. The support, championed by Leahy, has already helped to expand student international internship opportunities to Europe, notably supporting four Saint Michael’s students currently participating in eight-week Spanish language immersion internships in Madrid, Spain, with plans to expand this opportunity to students studying French with internships in France in summer 2024. The funding also enables the Center director’s regular international travel to advance student opportunities, and supports programming on international issues such as the inaugural Global Issues Lecture Series featuring Dr. Rowena He in April, while cover operating costs for the Center, Ayres said.
Another key funding source for the Center came last August when the Saint Michael’s College Class of 1972 delivered a master example in effective and meaningful fund-raising to honor their recent 50-year reunion by meeting their ambitious goal of a $1 million gift. Class member Brian Lacey ’72, a highly successful entertainment executive and long a champion of the humanities and international scholarship at Saint Michael’s as a donor, trustee and volunteer, led the push for his class to support the new Center for Global Engagement.
“If you look back I think we had a fantastic year,’ said Ayres, who spoke about Center achievements in early June from Wales, UK, where he was co-leading an Academic Study trip with faculty colleague Laura Stroup (environmental science/studies) focused on the sustainability and public policy. Later this summer, Ayres said, he will be off to Seoul, South Korea and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to firm up details and wider possibilities for the competitive and popular Freeman Foundation Asia internship program. Along with such travels, he said, he hopes to stay focused on cultivating funding sources through gifts and foundation support to expand global engagement programs even further.
Returning to his roots and specialty area under the scope of the Center, Ayres plans to teach Canadian politics in the fall and, for the first time since COVID, joining his longtime UVM colleague professor David Massell for an Ottawa Parliamentary field trip as they have led over 20 times in years past.
Ayres posted on social media this spring after receiving a Senior Class Appreciation Award at the annual Awards Brunch, based upon student appreciation for his leadership of the Center:
“As I reflect on wrapping up my 25th year at the College, I realize that much of the success of the Center is due to the hard work of my CGE team. They include Trish Siplon, director of Undergraduate and Post-Graduate Fellowships including Fulbrights, Peggy Imai, director of the Study Abroad Office, Rosemary Yargici, director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, Lisa Keil Lagerquist, director of International Admission Services and International Enrollment, and Allison Cleary, director of the Peace Corps Prep Program and Post-Graduate Service Opportunities.”
“The CGE had an outstanding academic year of supporting and expanding a variety of global engagement opportunities for members of our campus community,” Ayres stated on the post, “and I’m excited to work with this talented and hard-working team to build on our success in the upcoming 2023-24 year.”