College Cements Focus on International Experiences


President Blake greets Dr. Josef Jarab, Rector (President) Emeritus of Palacky University.
President Blake greets Dr. Josef Jarab, Rector (President) Emeritus of Palacky University.

Today’s college students are increasingly seeking a higher educational experience that prepares them for the global marketplace, and recent developments at Mount Mercy ensure that students will have greater access to international programs and courses. With the addition of a director of international programs, a revamped international studies major, and memorandums of understanding with two European universities, Mount Mercy has become even more competitive in providing students with a comprehensive, global education and international travel abroad opportunities.

In July, Catharine Cashner joined Mount Mercy as director of international programs, bringing extensive international expertise and cultural experiences to her role. Previously Cashner worked for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., where she administered various programs, including teacher and high school student exchanges under the National Security Language Initiative, business mentorships for women entrepreneurs from developing countries, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Program. Additionally, she has worked for the American Councils for International Education, coordinating international exchanges for high school teachers with Eurasian countries. She is fluent in Russian, and has lived and worked in Moscow.

This past fall semester, Cashner and President Christopher Blake traveled to Palacky University in the Czech Republic and Blake traveled to Canterbury Christ Church University in England to discuss the establishment of study abroad opportunities and to promote goodwill between Mount Mercy and both institutions.

Mount Mercy has had a longstanding relationship with Palacky University, in which both institutions offer students the opportunity to study at the partner school for a semester or an academic year. During the 2008–09 academic year, Mount Mercy is hosting two students from Palacky. Additionally, Blake has worked to foster relations between Mount Mercy and Canterbury Christ Church University, and the visits to both institutions further served to establish a dialogue about expanding the respective agreements and taking international exchanges to the next level. Cashner viewed the visits by the Mount Mercy delegation as essential to continuing positive relationships and to engaging in programmatic conversations. “Having the President come [to Palacky and Canterbury Christ Church Universities] made them realize the importance Mount Mercy places on collaboration,” says Cashner. “Higher level meetings get discussions started and bring up ideas and common interests we wouldn’t have found simply by e-mailing back and forth.”

The face-to-face meetings with their European counterparts yielded several new ideas, including introductions between the institutions’ education and English departments. “The education and English departments overseas are really excited about working with Mount Mercy,” says Cashner. “Professors in the English department at Palacky are specifically interested in teaching and technology. They are thinking of ways students can connect online and ways faculty can co-teach overseas.” She also notes that there could be a natural connection to English literature, for instance, teaching the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 14th Century author of The Canterbury Tales, in a Mount Mercy English course, and then offering students the possibility of visiting Canterbury Cathedral.

The meetings also helped initiate a conversation about adopting shorter term exchanges for international internships, allowing Mount Mercy students the opportunity to study abroad for a short period of time — two- or three-week intervals — rather than an entire semester.

Additionally, global opportunities will be further strengthened by the curriculum improvements in Mount Mercy’s international studies major. The major has been amended to make it more accessible for students to double major or add a minor, thus strengthening their academic credentials for future employers.

The changes have been met with critical praise by faculty members. “A serious liberal arts education at the college level must have a global focus,” says Mohammad Chaichian, professor of sociology and chair of the department. “The international studies major will serve as a good model for other interdisciplinary programs.” Students enrolled in international studies will have more opportunities for internship placements, including positions overseas with companies influential in global trade or posts in political offices in foreign affairs. The new curriculum developments will ensure that students gain an understanding of the social, cultural, economic, and political currents that surround them, as they gain an appreciation of international politics in an expanding global economy.

“Mount Mercy students will have more opportunities than ever before to know and understand how global and international issues are formed,” says Blake. “As we continue to move toward University status, these changes will only enhance the experiences of our students and our graduates will gain an understanding of the skills and knowledge necessary to be leaders of their communities locally, nationally and globally.”