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SMC students attend conference in Dubai

Liz Harter | Wednesday, March 26, 2008

While many students were basking on a beach or visiting family members over spring break, five Saint Mary’s students were preparing to attend a leadership conference at Zayed University in Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates.

Seniors Sarita Fritzler and Chelsea Iverson, juniors Becki Faunce and Sarah Barnes, and sophomore Adriana Rodriguez joined over 2000 delegates from universities throughout the world at the Women as Global Leaders Conference which ran March 10-12.

The group spent nine days in the country with their advisor Joy Evans, the assistant director for scholarship and research at the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership (CWIL) visiting mosques, historical sites, and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding along with attending the conference.

Rodriguez said she and the others who attended the conference are all involved in different ways on campus through different student government groups and they all plan on incorporating the things they learned through those organizations and in their classes.

Barnes agreed with her and said that she has already begun to share her experiences with her Critical Issues in Mass Communications course.

“We all definitely plan on implementing what we learned at Saint Mary’s,” Barnes said. “I’m talking to my class about what I observed about the media in Dubai.”

Each of the women who attended the conference are applicants for the new CWIL Certificate for Intercultural Learning which debuted this year.

“For the last couple years we’ve really been developing the structure and process [of the certificate],” said Evans, who is also one of the key leaders of the program. The leaders did work on the certificate for about two years until they were ready to run what she called a “pilot year.”

Participants of the program are required to attend a kick-off retreat, peer-mentoring meetings, advising meetings, the capstone retreat, and mentoring meetings with an international leader and a local community leader. There is also a study abroad requirement, 50 hours of community-based service required, and a catalyst trip, also according to the certificate’s Web site.

All this must then be included in an inclusive leadership project and finally in the e-portfolio, according to the Web site. The portfolio highlights students’ experiences studying abroad, reflection papers, power points, video clips, and digital essays, Evans said.

“It’s the idea that they’re practicing their leadership and they’re practicing the values of the certificate program, as well,” she said.

Evans said that while studying abroad is a requirement of receiving the certificate attending a conference of this magnitude is not.

“This group of students got together and decided that they wanted to go to the conference,” Evans said. “It was not paid for by the [certificate] program at all.”

The group received most of its funding from CWIL, but also wrote grant proposals to the Board of Governance and Student Diversity Board.

Rodriguez said it took a couple of months to prepare for the trip because they had to get the grants in order and then study the culture and language of Dubai through several documents that the group read.

Barnes said the group also talked to the mother of another Saint Mary’s student who is from Morocco.

“[The mother] talked to us about the culture and taught us basic Arabic phrases, which was so helpful,” she said. “When we were in Dubai, we knew what to expect a lot of the time because of all the advice she gave us.”

Barnes said she learned a lot at the conference but the most important thing she learned was to try to be less ethnocentric.

“[The conference] taught me to understand a culture before trying to ‘help’ them,” Barnes said. “People are often too ethnocentric and quick to impose their values on other cultures. A mutual understanding has to be reached before you can make any progress.”

Rodriguez said the trip was very informative and she is going to try to focus on people’s similarities rather than differences in the future.

“No matter what your culture, religion, ethnicity or background we all have so many things in common with one another,” she said.