Skidmore's UWC scholars are global student-citizens
Last fall Skidmore celebrated its 10th year as a partner of the Davis United World Scholars Program, which provides financial aid for students from 14 UWC schools around the world. At a gala anniversary event, Skidmore President Philip Glotzbach reported that the percentage of international students on campus has grown from one percent a decade ago to about nine percent this year. He added, “We have hired 25 international faculty members into tenure-track positions, created the Friendship Family Program with local residents, and developed a range of academic, cultural, and social activities” to serve international students and to enhance global understanding across the entire student body.
The stated goal of the United World College movement is to make education a force to unite people, nations, and cultures for a peaceful, sustainable future. Here are a few of Skidmore’s Davis UWC scholars living that mission:
Kengthsagn Louis ’17
Kengthsagn Louis ’17, a psychology and business major from Haiti, came to Skidmore for the balance of a close-knit, yet globally aware and diverse community. “So far,” she says, “Skidmore has met most of my expectations and exceeded some of them. I enjoy the fact that there is always something here to satisfy my broad interests, main passions, and curiosity.” The resources at Skidmore, she says, “inspire us to inspire each other on a daily basis.”
Louis recently won a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant to fund her lab-science initiative in a school in Haiti. “Public schools in Haiti suffer from a severe scarcity or even absence of science laboratories,” she explains. “I have experienced the consequences of such a lack, and millions of other Haitian students do too.” To improve the situation, Louis has been collecting unneeded science equipment from Skidmore and other organizations to redeploy to Haiti. “The project is super exciting,” Louis says, because “hopefully it is just the start of what could transform the educational adventure for many Haitian students.”
Louis acknowledges that she’s “always been passionate about psychology; however, I discovered my enthusiasm for business studies at Skidmore”—at first through a Skidmore SEE-Beyond internship back home that strengthened her interest in organizational behavior. She worked for Fondation Toya, which seeks to empower women by supporting training, rights advocacy, and entrepreneurship. Louis says, “The internship combined many of my interests, such as gender studies, cultural differences, government, and business strategy. After the internship, I came back to Skidmore and took a business course.”
Ultimately, Louis wants to help her “beloved country,” so she plans to spend time there “as well as traveling to explore different cultures, including within the United States.” She concludes, “I believe that I will be wherever I can make a difference in helping other people.”
Abude Al-Asaad ’17
Abude Al-Asaad ’17, a Palestinian raised in a Syrian refugee camp, knows about real life. Today he’s an economics major who enjoys rethinking how theoretical economic models apply to the real world. He is the kind of student colleges clamor for: critical, curious, connected, concerned, and uncannily canny. In turn, those traits helped him decide that Skidmore, where individuals are highly valued, was his college of choice.
“I really appreciate my relationship with my professors,” he says. “We send each other interesting articles and book reviews, and we meet for coffee to debate big ideas and discuss current events.” He cites as his “most intellectually rewarding college experience” an independent study with Professor Roy Rotheim exploring economic models.
Hoping to return to Palestine to help others access opportunities like his, Al-Asaad comments, “I do not think I am smarter than anyone else; I was luckier.” His mission now is to express gratitude through actions, rather than words. He says, “I am committed to strengthening international understanding as a means to achieving world peace,” which he says can only happen outside of dogma and rhetoric.
So far, he’s on task, with experiences such as a summer at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, where he researched the history of monetary policy and economic thought; representing the UN Relief and Work Agency in Syria; and, on behalf of UNICEF, training Palestinian and Syrian adolescents in communication and self-awareness skills as well as HIV protection. He has even delivered a TED talk extolling extracurricular learning.
His extraordinary life notwithstanding, Al-Asaad considers his nomination as Outstanding Community Member at Skidmore a pretty fair description of him: “indefatigable in his drive to foster and propagate critical thought at Skidmore.” The citation references, among other achievements, his single-handed facilitation of a community discussion with Professor Sheldon Solomon on student apathy. Plans for one on affirmative action fell through when one of the guests withdrew for fear of controversy—in contrast to Al-Asaad, who, it’s said, “approaches the most incendiary topics with the kind of sober honesty requisite for serious inquiry.” That includes the hot-button—and very personal—Israel-Palestine conflict, about which he welcomes discourse.
Finally, along with recognizing Al-Asaad’s brand of genius, the nomination calls him “simply a decent and kind person.” Sometimes nice guys do finish first.
Emebet Tessema ’16
Emebet Hailemariam Tessema
Emebet Tessema ’16, from Ethiopia, is studying economics and international affairs. She chose Skidmore because of its community of students and faculty from around the world.
She observes, “Living in a diversified community, not only do we learn from each other’s backgrounds, but we also develop the ability to tolerate everyone’s opinions and beliefs, which is essential. My stay at Skidmore has been one of the main bridges in achieving a greater understanding of the value of diversity. I am a student from a third-world country, but my unique exposure to African, North American, and European cultures and learning methods has allowed me to analyze different situations using intercultural disciplines.” Living and studying at Skidmore, she says, provides “different opportunities to reach my goals and explore my interests”—including a half-year of study in Europe.
She is looking forward to graduate school after Skidmore, but in the longer term will return to Ethiopia “to make contributions to my home country, once I have enough resources and gain essential experiences from being here.” In the summer, for example, she hopes to volunteer at a Red Cross refugee camp.
“I have always been interested in volunteering in organizations that support children and youth,” she says. “Growing up in Ethiopia as a woman, I was always inspired to work in an organization such as the UN, helping people access opportunities for education. I have always believed that education is a route to economic development. I had the opportunity to get an international education as a young girl; I would like to help develop a system to ensure other children can also benefit from this opportunity.”
When she worked in an orphanage, she recalls, “I always told the children that, as a person from a developing country, education is almost the only way to ‘make it’ in life.
Nathanael Rehmeyer ’18
Nathanael Rehmeyer ’18 was born in Baton Rouge, La., but at age 10 he moved with his Christian missionary parents to Swaziland, where he attended school with students from more than 50 nations. Then he began looking for a college with excellent sciences and research as well as small classes, “where I would be more than just another face in the crowd.”
Skidmore filled the bill academically, but when it arranged a campus visit and offered generous financial support, he realized the commitment was as much Skidmore’s to him as his to Skidmore. He says, “I felt appreciated and that they wanted to get to know me. I had dinner with chemistry professor Ray Giguere, and the way he described the science program had me hooked. I was amazed by the opportunities at a small college that I would never get at a large university. I left contemplating whether I would be doing the freshman London program or starting on campus—already past deciding whether to attend!”
Now Rehmeyer is involved in a Skidmore lab doing malaria research, helping to develop a test for the parasite using urine instead of blood, which will make getting a diagnosis easier, quicker, and cheaper. “This is very exciting and will benefit millions of people,” he enthuses. He promptly trained to be a member of Skidmore’s emergency medical services team, staffed and operated by students state-certified at the EMT level or higher—an experience he describes as “a passion.” He is also a leader in the Christian Fellowship, “exploring my faith at Skidmore.”
He muses, “I think my future might lie outside the USA.” Growing up abroad, he recalls, “I saw the extreme need and lack of care in many parts of the world. I would love to be a volunteer doctor in a developing country someday, to help those who cannot help themselves because of poverty. I want to treat people who cannot afford insurance or who have fallen through the cracks. I want to be a beneficial part of my community.”
Penleak Chan ’12
Enthralled with Skidmore even from her home country of Cambodia, Pinkie Chan ’12 says she and the college “chose each other.”
She was interested in pursuing economics, but also enjoyed art, and saw that “Skidmore would let me explore my interests without compromising one for the other. When the admissions officer said, ‘Creative Thought Matters,’ I didn't have to look further.”
Chan also took on management and business studies, although, she confides, “I was frightened by the idea. But Professor Harper told me, ‘Pinkie, you cannot live your life driven by fear.’”
Emboldened to explore widely, Chan performed analytical research and also worked at the Tang Museum, where she learned about visual teaching based on exposure to art and design. At the time, the process was strictly a source of enjoyment; now it is a tool she uses in her work as a data and information communicator, creating maps and infographics for Open Development Cambodia, an initiative that aggregates and maps development trends in the country to promote equitable, sustainable development and good governance. ODC assists the general public, investors, researchers, journalists, and policymakers.
“I discovered at Skidmore that I am not one to settle for the confines of one orthodox practice. Having many passions is good, because it accommodates my natural tendency to learn many things at the same time; however, it’s challenging to find a job that satisfies most, if not all, of them, including feeling that I make a difference,” she says.
“Now, I function as glue to connect multiple disciplines and practices, to tap into their combined value. I am intrigued by innovations for simplifying information and want to create processes for shortcutting the time from insight to action. My Skidmore experience taught me to step out of my comfort zone, think outside the box, and take chances.”
Ermir Bejo ’10
Albanian native Ermir Bejo ’10 is a self-described “contemporary troubadour and errant composer.” He first came to Skidmore to study economics, but “along the way,” he recalls, “my interests took a sharp turn, and I found myself majoring in music and composition. This decision really shocked friends and family. They interpreted it as caprice.” He says encouragement from friends and colleagues, from Skidmore Italian professor Shirley Smith, and from several music faculty members mentored and inspired him.
Now a PhD student in music composition at the University of North Texas, Bejo is also exploring new media, envisioning a future at the intersection of art and science, such as producing computer-assisted composition and applying algorithmic tools to music analysis. He feels he is, “by many criteria, an outsider, forcing my way into modern music-making, but equally fluent in both traditional and fringe practices.” He says he also draws from visual art and cinema, classic literature and philosophy, “as well as good food and great drink.”
A natural philosopher, Bejo ponders, “What can music contribute to society?” His answers: “It would be a mistake to think of music as only entertainment, simple storytelling, or a refuge, because the ability to perceive, create, and communicate through music is a testament to the human potential for intellectual enrichment.” He concedes, “Unfortunately music cannot accomplish much to counter the rather grim political and socioeconomic global situation.” In fact he believes that artistic endeavor—no matter how life-altering—can never directly address the fundamental crises of the global economy. He concludes, “Solutions to global problems reside primarily in economics, and only secondarily in social relations, technology and humans’ relationship to nature.”
Still, with his roots in practical economy and his wings aimed at the loftiness of the arts, Bejo hopes that somehow “music and the arts in general might make a small, positive contribution.” —Helen Edelman ’74