SIT alumna Janessa Goldbeck on the campaign trail. (photo courtesy of Janessa Goldbeck)

At SIT, we develop our Study Abroad, International Honors Program (IHP), and Graduate Institute offerings within a framework of today’s most Critical Global Issues. Our students and alumni are using this training to deliver meaningful responses and take on these challenges in their communities and across the world.

Shannon Service, an alumna of the comparative IHP Global Ecology Program and member of World Learning’s Global Advisory Council, is driving awareness through filmmaking and unmasking human rights abuses in the fishing industry. Service recently co-directed the award-winning documentary film Ghost Fleet, which follows Thai activists who track down victims of forced labor in the industry in order to reunite them to their families. Service says her IHP program changed her life by bringing her face-to-face with the devastating environmental and social consequences of “unregulated, rampant capitalism.”

“I think that's part of the power of IHP. As I was learning about the scientific and economic underpinnings of how that narrative happened—that it's a human creation; it has a historical trajectory—I was living with people who I really connected with who were being impacted super negatively by all of this,” says Service.

This stretching, where students develop the ability to challenge their biases and assumptions while learning in community, is built into all SIT programs—and many SIT alumni have turned it into path-leading research. Tyeesha Webber, an alumna of the Senegal: Global Security and Religious Pluralism program, was one of 11 SIT Study Abroad alumni who presented their undergraduate research at the 2020 Human Development Conference hosted by Notre Dame University in February, and she was awarded the Rev. Ernest J. Bartell, CSC, Prize for Undergraduate Research on Poverty and Development for her work on Senegal’s informal sector. Henry Chen, an alumnus of the South Africa: Social and Political Transformation program, published an article based on his own research with SIT faculty addressing questions of multiracial identity, memory, and post-apartheid masculinity in South Africa in the Journal of Southern African Studies last December.

SIT programs are additionally structured with community engagement and mutually beneficial relationships with host communities in mind. As part of this commitment, IHP supports student-led reciprocity projects that enable students to effect change locally while on program. In one recent project, students from the IHP Climate Change fall 2019 cohort produced hundreds of screen prints and an enormous ground mural for strikes to mobilize climate action. Alumni can be seen championing these values of respect and care well beyond their SIT programs too.

Students from IHP Cities fall 2019 volunteer to make art for upcoming climate strikes. (photo courtesy of Peter Menchini)

Nixon Cadet, a TESOL MA alumnus and teacher in Haiti, is applying these principles to the complexities of teaching during COVID-19 pandemic, where, as Cadet puts it, teachers are required to take on other roles as healers and sources of comfort as they try to create trauma-sensitive learning environments for their students. Another TESOL MA alumna, Caitlan Rivera, similarly carried this through her role virtually assisting the Habla Inglés Access Teacher Training Program in Ecuador, after she was selected by the U.S. Department of State for this prestigious English Language Specialist assignment. Lizbeth Anne Cullity, an alumna of SIT Graduate Institute’s International Administration MA, embodies this in her work as a top expert representing United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in meetings with heads of state on critical human-rights issues in the Central African Republic.

SIT programs are transformative. Alyssa Kaewwilai, an alumna of the Samoa: Social and Environmental Change in Oceania program, says that her growth during her SIT semester was essential to her work with NASA during the summer of 2019, where she advanced the user search functionality of NASA’s Earthdata tool for its satellite information cloud. She particularly credits the self-reliance and programming skills she gained during her Independent Study Project on climate-resilient urban design.

“I gained an entirely new experience of perseverance in not only gaining real, verbal feedback from [sustainable home] candidates around the island but also self-teaching myself an advanced 3D modelling, mechanical engineering software program with a constrained use of internet,” says Kaewwilai.

SIT Samoa alumna Alyssa Kaewwilai during her internship at NASA (photo courtesy of Alyssa Kaewwilai)

Janessa Goldbeck, an alumna of the Uganda: Global Development Studies program, echoes Alyssa and says her SIT experience showed her how to face enormous challenges—and overcome them. Goldbeck, who is an LGBTQ ex-Marine captain, ran as a first-time U.S. Democratic candidate in one of the most hotly contested congressional elections of 2020.

"My time in Uganda taught me how we can all have a role not just in changing the country, but in changing the world," says Goldbeck. "I came back to the U.S. all fired up."

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