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Gifting a Global Perspective

A life-changing study abroad trip compelled Brian Sethness ’96 to make sure the next generation of St. Norbert students would have its own formative international experience.

Sethness has provided funding to allow SNC to join the American Council on Education's (ACE) 19th Internationalization Laboratory cohort. This lab experience brings together a select group of colleges nationwide as they develop individualized strategies that will form successful policies, programs and initiatives to provide students with enhanced international opportunities.

The lab group works together over an 18-month period, with various assessments of current programs and areas to explore, meetings with an expert advisor, and monthly “Lab Chats” with the entire cohort.

St. Norbert is joined by 12 other institutions, including large state schools like Louisiana State University and University of Central Florida, and faith-based institutions like Augustana and St. John’s. Dan Stoll (Center for Global Engagement) says, “When you’re talking to schools like Bucknell, Pomona, the others on that list, they have wonderful stories to tell as well, so [I’m] eager to hear what has worked for them and how they have approached some of these issues.”

But he is also proud of what SNC can bring to the conversation. Stoll says, “I think our position as a liberal arts college of the church gives us a unique perspective when it comes to internationalization. We have a very high participation rate in study abroad, higher than some of our peer institutions in the cohort have.”

Within higher education, ACE sees internationalization as a coordinated, united response “to make colleges and universities more globally oriented and internationally connected.”

For Sethness, this is a chance to pay it forward. He advises current and future students that his semester in London was a great introduction to new cultures: “I made lifelong friends there. I recommend that every student travel abroad, and my gift to SNC will hopefully make this opportunity more achievable for current and future students.”

Building on a strong foundation
Stoll and Joy Pahl (International Business & Language) are co-chairing SNC’s ACE lab committee. They are excited for the opportunity to build on St. Norbert’s commitment to providing international experiences.

“We’ve got a very, very strong foundation already if you look at study abroad numbers, if you look at the number of international students coming, any number of measures,” says Stoll, adding “there’s always more we can do. One of my goals will be, ‘How can we make international opportunities available to the widest number of students?’ and by that I don’t mean just study abroad … but particularly for students that are for any number of reasons unable to physically leave campus or the state. How can we ensure that an international experience is part of their SNC education?”

Pahl adds, “St. Norbert, for its size, was early to the whole internationalization, globalization focus. … The campus has a lot of great initiatives.” She believes the ACE lab process will allow everyone to see the efforts of the college as a comprehensive approach. Pahl believes the programs, international-focused courses and diverse faculty and student body experiences speak to the college’s successes, but a more coordinated effort will reap untold rewards for everyone.

Stoll and Pahl are leading SNC’s involvement, but support and important input will come from every corner of campus. Pahl adds that they plan to use campus resources like the office of institutional effectiveness to help understand how students (and faculty and staff) currently perceive internationalization efforts.

Vital learning for life
In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, international experience carries added weight for graduates entering the workforce. Stoll says, “If we are truly preparing students for rewarding careers, we have to at least make them aware of, if not prepare them for, careers that will probably intersect internationally. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be doing international business or diplomacy, but I think so many careers require those kinds of skills and perspectives.”

And the benefits don’t stop with their career; the personal and social benefits are immense. Stoll adds, “It also makes you much more sensitive to and open to diverse opinions and perspectives.”

Life-affirming and eye-opening
The ACE lab program looks at internationalization through seven lenses (examples: data-informed decision making, faculty support and mobility). For Stoll and Pahl, the concept of mobility is an exciting one. “There’s a tendency to regard mobility as study abroad, or bringing international students to come here. And those are incredible dimensions of this, but also supporting faculty in their research, supporting faculty in how they develop new courses or short-term programs. And recognizing that mobility might not be physical … but being able to connect to other parts on another campus outside the country virtually,” Stoll says.

Sethness found that his international experience was more than immediately transformative: On a professional level, his London internship contributed to his first job after SNC.

Pahl agrees: She thinks the strategic work undertaken with ACE is vital to ensuring students are prepared to live out the St. Norbert mission: “The interconnectedness of different cultures and different ways of seeing things, of experiencing world that they’re going to have to live in and work in. … The better we can prepare them for that and expose them to other ways of thinking, other cultures, I think they’re going to benefit."

“Living in community is not just what happens on campus, we’re part of a larger global community … that we can’t ignore.”

Nov. 5, 2021