Goshen College hosted a two-day conference this week to reflect on the past 50 years of Study-Service Term (SST) and to look ahead at the future of the program.
The “Global Education for All: Renewing our Vision” conference began on the evening of March 5 with a lecture by Elaine Meyer-Lee, associate vice president for global learning and leadership development at Agnes Scott College.
Wednesday began with a panel of former SST leaders and international education directors who reflected on the past and significance of SST. They were followed by the “Global Education for All” convocation, featuring student and faculty speakers.
As with the lecture the previous night, Wednesday’s convocation started with a performance of “Baba ni Mungu” from Voices of the Earth, formerly Women’s World Choir. Jose Ortiz, a senior, then took to the platform to welcome the audience by explaining that the purpose of the conference was to celebrate the SST and while learning how to adapt it to the future.
“This convocation is where the first generation, who spoke this morning about their original vision, passes the baton on to us who will carry it forward into the next 50 years,” Ortiz said, speaking to current students and faculty.
Special guests Wang Ying and Anges and Theo Odhiambo were introduced. Ying had traveled from China with her husband and has served as a consultant to the SST program for 12 years. The Odhiambo’s have worked in coordinating the Tanzania program.
Following this, a map was displayed on the screen highlighting the 24 countries that the 422 units and over 8,000 students have traveled to during SST’s history.
“Our alumni say over and over again that SST was the most important thing they did at GC,” Ortiz said as a photo of the 1969 Honduras SST group was displayed on the screen.
Ortiz acknowledged that “over these 50 years, the student body has changed, the faculty has changed and the world has changed.”
“The number of students taking advantage of SST internationally has gone down dramatically,” Ortiz said.
A graph was displayed that showed the decline of students participating in SST from 82 percent of the class of 1983 to 53 percent of last year’s graduating class. Oritz explained that many of next year’s SST units are under enrolled. However, this doesn’t mean that GC students aren’t taking advantage of international programs. Many students are opting to do other forms of study abroad, such as through May term courses. 71 percent of last year’s graduating class had done some form of studying abroad.
Beth Miller, associate professor of nursing, and Siana Emery, junior, then spoke about the search conference that was held in September 2018. The pair spoke of the difficulties that nursing majors, athletes, commuters, undocumented and international students face when trying to go on SST due to scheduling or financial conflicts.
The search conference consisted of faculty, administration and students. It highlighted the significant events from SST within its history, looked at current issues and what they hoped SST will look like in the future.
“The biggest outcome of this conference was the renewed commitment to making this intercultural immersive experiential learning a part of everyone’s GC education,” Emery said.
The conference concluded that there will no longer be a SST program and an SST-Alternative program. Instead, there will be one unified program “that will meet the same goals of global education,” Emery said.
Zachariah Begly, sophomore, and Carter McKay-Epp, senior, then took to the platform to share data from an SST student survey they had sent out. The survey wanted to know how SST could be more possible for students and how the student body felt about the current program.
The survey showed that only 3 percent of the 425 respondents did not see a value in SST. 83 percent of respondents rated their experience on SST as positive.
The main deterrents that prevent students from going on SST were the financial commitment, length of time, anxiety regarding the experience and athletic scheduling.
The pair explained the initiatives that had been discussed to make SST appeal and be more accessible to everyone. These include: better post-processing, more intentionality with regards to both physical and mental health, different lengths, including potentially domestic options, and better communication.
Amanda Guzman, sophomore, and Anna Kurtz Kuk, assistant professor of theater, then spoke of the SST rebranding. They invited the audience to participate in a poll for a new name for the program. The list included the current name of Study-Service Term but also gave the options of Goshen Global Experience, Global Service Learning, Intercultural Immersive Learning, International Education, Global Study Term, Real World Learning and Classroom Without Walls.
Following announcements, Voices of the Earth returned to the stage to sing”Yesu Anasema,” another Tanzanian song.
Throughout Wednesday afternoon, there were numerous workshops and presentations. These sessions presented work from the search conference working groups and invited feedback from students, faculty and staff.
Some topics covered in these sessions included potential models for a replacement SST-Alternative program and ways to make SST more affordable.
The conference closed Wednesday night with an address by Ron Krabill, a 1990 Goshen graduate and a 1987 China SST alum.