Rutgers Faculty and Staff Ambassadors Leverage Travel Abroad
New program strengthens existing partnerships, lays groundwork for future collaboration
As dean of junior and senior year programs at Rutgers’ Douglass Residential College, Karen Alexander develops global rapports that will enhance the professional and intellectual development of undergraduate women students.
“To understand the world from a global perspective is a crucial part of an education,” says Alexander, a Kentucky native who received her doctorate in English from University College London.
She considers the five years she spent studying in the United Kingdom transformative. “I would like every Douglass student to have some sort of international experience.”
While her husband, School of Arts and Sciences honors program writer-in-residence Paul Blaney, prepared to direct a study abroad experience for Rutgers students in Lewes, a town in East Sussex, England, known for its countryside and proximity to sites of literary interest, Alexander applied for a grant from the university's new Faculty and Staff Ambassadors Program.
The program, administered by the Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA), provides supplemental funds for Rutgers faculty and staff members to visit and strengthen relations with the university's international partner institutions and organizations while traveling abroad. The grants complement already confirmed international travel plans.
Alexander considered the ambassador grant an opportunity to reconnect with her British colleagues and establish mutually beneficial institutional relationships. “I’m always looking for ways to create interesting partnerships, exchanges and distance learning scenarios to make connections between students,” she says.
During her trip, Alexander met with University of Sussex scholars, including fellow English professor Pam Thurschwell to discuss the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration on Sussex modernism and Alison Phipps, director of gender studies, regarding exchange and distance learning scenarios for Rutgers and Sussex students.
“At any moment, Rutgers faculty and staff members are all over the world, attending conferences, engaged in research projects,” says Joanna Regulska, vice president for international and global affairs at Rutgers. “There’s no way our office can take all those international trips. If people are already going abroad and willing to be a Rutgers ambassador for a day, it’s quite cost effective.”
Ambassadors may offer lectures, host alumni gatherings or hold informal meetings with other organizations, including embassies and NGOs, in the host country. The GAIA staff facilitates introductions and assists faculty and staff members as they tailor presentations to the culture they will visit.
Since the ambassador program’s pilot phase began this summer, it has supported an additional night of accommodations and meals for faculty from the School of Education, the Bloustein School, the School of Social Work and the School of Arts and Sciences with itineraries throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.
Regulska hopes the program will encourage more faculty and staff to engage in university-related activities while traveling, helping to strengthen Rutgers' presence abroad.
Social work professor Michael LaSala applied for an ambassador grant before departing for Rome to present his research on stigma, rejection and violence faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual children during the International Festival of Family Therapy.
LaSala spent his additional day in Rome at John Cabot University, an English-speaking, four-year liberal arts college. He offered a well-attended lecture on his book Coming Out, Coming Home, which explores the coming out experiences of gay and lesbian youth and their parents’ perspectives.
Before returning to New Jersey, LaSala also met with administrators at the American Academy in Rome, which facilitates independent research in the arts and humanities.
“What I do when I travel is a reflection of Rutgers,” he says. “As a member of the faculty, I am always an ambassador.”
For more information, please contact Kim Edelen, program coordinator, email@example.com.