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SMC brings fellow to stay on campus

Teresa Nowakowski | Friday, January 30, 2004

Helen Thimmayya, who has taught English and Communications at Women’s Christian College in Chennai, India for 15 years, will spend a semester at Saint Mary’s through the United Board Fellows Program.The Fellows Program provides an exchange in which faculty and administrators can develop leadership experience, expand their content area in creative ways, and earn promotions upon returning to India. First, a fellow spends a semester at an institution of higher education in Asia and is then matched with a school in the West, where he or she spends another semester. These fellows are assisted by their host schools, which provide a coordinator who secures the fellow’s comfort, visa, travel, office and housing space.Thimmayya’s coordinator at Saint Mary’s is Sister Marianne Farina, Director of Scholarship for the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership and a teacher in the department of justice education. Farina believes that this program will aid in a “cross cultural understanding” that will allow Saint Mary’s to be more open to diversity. “Diversity is something we are striving for,” Farina said. “Helen is learning from us. We’re learning from Helen.” She added that Saint Mary’s hopes to become more global, focusing on the differences and similarities that exist between cultures. Thimmayya’s goal, Farina continued, is an academic immersion. Thimmayya is allowed to “enter through the eyes of the students,” which Farina described as the most “genuine and authentic way” to enter a college atmosphere.Thimmayya will sit in on Communication courses, as that is her field of expertise. She hopes to be able to implement what she learns here in her own classroom in India.Thimmayya is also able to attend meetings with the various committees on campus to see how they function. Through these meetings, Thimmayya can “build up [her] own skills,” Farina said, and add new aspects to her existing experience.One idea that surprised Thimmayya was the amount of self-governance and judicial action the students have at Saint Mary’s. At the Women’s Christian College, students are involved in service, cultural activities, organization and academic councils, but they do not have a judicial board composed of students. Thimmayya said she was also impressed with Residence Life. In the residence halls at Women’s Christian College, the directors are older women who “guide the students,” she said, but at Saint Mary’s, the younger hall directors encourage students to relate. Coming from a college of 100 faculty members, Thimmayya said she “is not going to create a stir” when she returns to the Women’s Christian College. Instead, she will discuss small changes with her department and the director of the school.Thimmayya, who spent last semester in the Philippines, said that the Women’s Christian College gives a chance to all students by motivating intelligent students to move forward while aiding those who may be struggling academically in school. “The girls [in India] are very sheltered,” she said, adding that parents send their children to a women’s college because they view it as more secure. However, she said she realizes that “students are students,” no matter what the culture.Thimmayya, who has a husband and a 16-year-old son in India, said she has been pleased with her Saint Mary’s experience so far. “Everyone goes out of their way to greet and help,” she said.