In the spring and summer of 2004, an ad hoc faculty committee laying the groundwork for the Fall 2005 Mexico Semester at Missouri Southern State University began exploring ways in which campus-wide participation in the semester could be improved. The committee proposed that a faculty group study trip to Mexico, several months before the semester began, could immerse faculty from across campus in aspects of Mexican history, cultural traditions, politics, economics and social issues. The expectation was that upon returning from the trip, faculty would be able to contribute directly to the Mexico Semester, through course planning and campus workshops and presentations as well as serving as resources for their respective departments.
The idea was modeled after St. Lawrence University’s “Cultural Encounters: An Intercultural General Education” program that Martha Nussbaum described in her 1997 book Cultivating Humanity. Seventeen humanities faculty at St. Lawrence began meeting in a weekly seminar throughout the year, discussing common readings while focusing on the cultures of India and Kenya. After a year of extensive preparation, they spent a month living in the regions they had studied. Upon their return to St. Lawrence, the faculty designed new courses reflecting their own disciplinary expertise.
Following the St. Lawrence model, MSSU sent six faculty to India for four weeks in the summer of 2000. The results were significant; one person created a new interdisciplinary course (Contemporary India), others developed major course components on India, and one led a student study abroad group to India three years later. And all six provided expertise for the Fall 2002 India Semester on campus.
To facilitate greater participation in themed semester events and, more importantly, a broader sense of ownership in MSSU’s international mission across campus, the ad hoc faculty committee asked the administration for $25,000 for a faculty group study tour to Mexico. This would enable all 21 departments on campus to select one participant for the spring break trip, March 18-27, 2005. MSSU President Julio León agreed to fund the project, but stipulating that it be a “very intensive” faculty development experience that would be integrated into the classrooms and departments. He also requested that Dr. Pedro Talavera-Ibarra, head of the Department of Foreign Languages and a native of Mexico, be involved in planning the faculty study experience.
Dr. Talavera determined that the trip would cost $1,335 per person, including all in-country travel, hotels, meals, tips, entrance fees, cultural activities, etc. Initially, the ad hoc faculty committee thought that each faculty member would pay a reasonable portion of the cost of their participation in the trip, such as 15 to 20 percent, but Dr. Talavera calculated that this wouldn’t be necessary due to the favorable rates he was able to bargain for in Mexico.
Each department was asked to select one representative, using the following criteria:
Seventeen departments selected a participant. They were Val Christensen, art; Gerald Schlink, biology; Cliff Toliver, English; Leslie Parker, foreign languages; Juan Vazquez, mathematics; Jeremy Kushner, music; Roger Chelf, physical sciences; Tom Simpson, social science; James Lile, theatre; John Lewis and Greg Buchholz; international business; Danny Overdeer, teacher education; Pat Lipira, kinesiology; AmyKay Cole, psychology; Fran Bartholet, CADD/CAMT; Jim Collins, computer information science; Barbara Box, nursing; and Glenda Pippin, respiratory therapy. Four program directors used their own budgets to join the trip: Chad Stebbins, Institute of International Studies; Bill Trudeau, International English Program; Tatiana Karmanova, International Language Resource Center; and Rod Surber, Office of Public Information. Five spouses, including Holly McSpadden (English), and one grandson also paid $1,335 each to accompany the group. Two students, Sam Brown and Sarah Cox, who received study abroad grants, brought the traveling party to a total of 31. Pedro Talavera-Ibarra, of course, was the group leader along with Ms. Parker.
The group arrived in Mexico City on March 18, departed by bus for Morelia on March 22, and concluded with two days in Guanajuato, returning to Joplin on March 27.
Each faculty and student participant was asked to write a 1,000-word narrative report of their experiences upon their return. Those reports can be found by clicking on their names.