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In Their Own Words

A Conversation with Sylvia Mitterndorfer and Amy Quark

Mitterndorfer and Quark
  • Sylvia Mitterndorfer (SM)
    Director, Global Education
  • Amy Quark (AQ)
    Associate Professor, Sociology and Chair, International Studies Advisory Committee (ISAC)

The International Studies Advisory Committee (ISAC) is an advisory committee to the Dean and the Faculty Affairs Committee, mandated to provide support and guidance to A&S faculty initiatives in international studies.


Q: Amy, how did you come to William & Mary?

AQ: I came here in 2009. It was a very exciting place to get a job right out of graduate school.

Q: What’s your focus area in sociology?

AQ: I focus largely on the harmonization of trade regulations at the global level and from a sociological perspective. I’m really interested in inequality and power. I think about how the renegotiation of trade rules and the creation of new rules and regulations reproduce global inequalities in new ways. I’m part of the international relations program as well; I was hired to contribute to both.

Q: Did you study abroad when you were an undergraduate or at any time?

AQ: I didn’t do a formal study abroad program through my university, but I did take various trips abroad. I spent a semester in Costa Rica doing community-based development work. And I spent a semester in Switzerland doing an internship with the United Nations and the High Commission on Human Rights.

Q: Sylvia, how did you come to W&M?

SM: I was here as an undergraduate, class of 1996 and then I returned in August 2010 to direct the Global Education Office at Reves. I had served in a similar capacity at Georgetown University for many years. W&M was an institution that I really trusted, and I saw it was willing to innovate and do different and new things. The joint degree had just been agreed to, and that was significant; and the university had also decided on the vice provost [of international affairs] model and so it seemed there were a lot of positive developments happening with internationalization at W&M.

The structure and role of ISAC

Q: Is a faculty advisory committee like ISAC the standard model?

SM: I would say it’s standard for universities to have some kind of committee. At my previous institution, I was the chair of the committee that was comprised of the deans for the undergraduate students from across all the schools because we were doing a lot of policy setting, program evaluations and proposals. I think the model probably depends on the institutional culture more than anything. I really love the model here because faculty governance is so important at William & Mary. And so to have a faculty committee dedicated to international matters—both study abroad but also the broader vision and university strategy—to me is perfect because it aligns William & Mary’s institutional culture and values and strengths with study abroad.

Q: Do you have to have been a program director to be a member of ISAC?

AQ: It’s an elected position, so the nominations and elections committee finds candidates who want to run. Of course, you have to be willing to stand for the committee, and I think that in some cases that has resulted in people that have led study abroad programs before or have global research agendas. For instance, I haven’t led study abroad but I’ve conducted research in many countries, and that’s my whole focus of teaching and research. But I think everyone on campus has a stake in what we’re doing. It’s not just about study abroad. You may be in the STEM field and haven’t led study abroad, but you do have lots of interactions with researchers in other countries. The global reputation of William & Mary and its research is really important to you and to getting grants, so you have a real stake in our international activities. We get a really diverse group because people have different interests and different kinds of global engagements, and that makes for a dynamic committee with lots of different viewpoints.

Q: How often do you meet?

AQ: We meet every two weeks for an hour and a half.

Q: Now that surprises me…

AQ: It surprised me, too! When I joined the committee, I thought it would be a couple of times a semester, but it’s surprising how even so, it usually feels as if we still don’t have enough time to deal with everything.

ISAC is charged with a few different mandates. One piece, of course, is to oversee the study abroad programs, all the different dimensions of that, such as choosing program directors and approving new pilot programs. There’s a lot of oversight there -- you go through applications and give them a critical eye. That takes a lot of time and in the last few years that is what ISAC has really focused on and tried to do very well, and I think it has.

But as Sylvia alluded to, part of our mandate is also to provide faculty governance. We advise FAC [Faculty Affairs Committee] and the Dean of Arts and Sciences on international priorities and a strategic vision for international issues. That’s the piece that we’ve been focusing on more this year. We’ve been participating in the strategic planning process; in the search for the new dean of arts and sciences; and in ongoing conversations about the COLL 300. We’ve also been trying to think very strategically about what our vision should be. We’ve been collecting input from faculty about how the “global” fits into William & Mary’s Vision and Mission.

I think most everyone shares the commitment to be a global institution, that we should have global engagement, but that can look very different, depending on whether you’re in the STEM fields, the humanities, or the social sciences. It’s been very interesting working with a committee that represents all those different areas and hearing their perspectives and trying to bring those perspectives together in a coherent way that keeps everyone happy and engaged and excited to be part of global and international engagement. We want faculty to know that we’re a forum for discussion about more than study abroad, and that we’re a safe space for sharing diverse faculty views.

SM:I’m thrilled with the work ISAC is doing this year. It’s so easy for study abroad to be seen as its own distinct activity – “Oh, and then off they go!” -- and not connected to the larger vision and mission. Working together with ISAC allows us to inform our decisions about what we do in study abroad. So by ISAC saying STEM was really important, it allowed us to reinforce it in other ways, too. We could say, “Look it isn’t just us saying this is important.”

In tandem with GEO’s Diversity and Inclusion plan, we did some diversity and inclusion work a few years ago where ISAC started infusing diversity and inclusion into our calls for program directors. Expanding departmental initiatives by connecting to a broader faculty committee, allows us to better meet the institution’s needs, our students needs and develop the kinds of projects to be connected and intentional.

I’ve seen ISAC under different names and different formats. At first it was focused just on study abroad, and then it became the vision and study abroad, but with two separate subcommittees. I think we’ve hit a really great spot now, bringing both together.

AQ: I think another thing about this kind of partnership that ISAC and the GEO have that’s really important is the cross-fertilization between study abroad and the internationalization of the on-campus curriculum. One of the things that we’ve been talking about with COLL 300 is how students meet the criteria by doing study abroad, study away and embedded programs or through the on-campus COLL 300. And we’re asking, how do we cross-fertilize ideas from across these different programs to make them all stronger? How do we deepen engagement with people outside of the U.S. and with non-Western intellectual traditions? How do we pull people out of their comfort zones, even if they’re staying on campus? And also, how can we strengthen the study abroad experience? On-campus, we have a lot of fantastic community-engaged research. How can we deepen students’ interactions with the local community when they’re studying abroad to engage more deeply with different people and cultures?

SM: ISAC is in many ways one of the nexus points and how these varied initiatives come together. ISAC has spent considerable time thinking about the learning outcomes and recognizing that there are differences between different kinds of programs and that even within the faculty-led space that there can be really different learning goals which we should not try to measure on one kind of rubric.

Creating Study Abroad Programs with the Global Education Office

Q: What is the process in creating a study abroad program?

SM: I would say most of the time there’s a faculty-driven piece to this, Often what happens is that an individual or a group of faculty will get an idea, will reach out to me, and we’ll have a preliminary meeting. I then will let ISAC know about the ideas that are percolating. It depends on the proposals, but we try to give faculty many different choices for how to get involved.

A few years ago, GEO created an avenue for pilot programs where individual faculty members can say “I want to propose this for one time or to test the idea,” and then there are proposals for what we want to develop forevermore or at least for the next decade with an institutional program. And so that’s where ISAC would also be looking at the proposal and asking questions about impact and sustainability: How does this enhance opportunities for students? Does this meet students curricular needs and interests? Do we have enough departments and faculty involved to sustain a program for many years? Do we have good onsite partnerships in order to develop the program?

There are definitely a number of conversations that happen before a formal proposal comes through. And then that proposal goes to ISAC. We do a preliminary review, and that’s a very thorough examination. Sometimes it leads to repeat meetings, going back to the faculty or inviting them in to discuss it further or to get more commitments from more stakeholders. Then ISAC makes a recommendation on whether to move forward and request a preliminary site development trip. If GEO is able to support moving forward with the proposal, ISAC chooses the person who participates on the faculty side. Along with someone from GEO, it’s a two-person team. After the site visit, they write a report that goes to ISAC for final approval.

The new St Andrews summer program is an example of a program that was developed based on GEO and ISAC identifying a need and an opportunity, not just a pilot but intended for the long term. It came out of joint conversations with ISAC around evaluations of some of our other programs, asking where we see student demand. Over the course of two years ISAC did informal surveying of various opportunities with a special interest in STEM. We looked at a number of different sites, and in the end, we decided on a summer program in St Andrews given our longstanding excellent and multidimensional partnership.

That was an example of how there was plenty of faculty interest, we knew that—and we certainly saw that with the call for program directors—but the program was also the result of ISAC’s really intentionally asking, “How do we think about strategy? How do we meet student needs? How do we think about what we want these programs to be?”

AQ: That’s one of the things that we’ve been talking a lot about this year and last year -- about being intentional around a few different axes. Last year Seth Aubin was chair. He’s a physics professor, and he was very interested in helping to encourage more STEM participation. STEM students have lower participation than other students, and part of encouraging them to do study abroad was also encouraging STEM faculty to lead study abroad and encourage their students. Seth did some great outreach across the STEM disciplines, and we had a lot of success last year in getting STEM faculty to be program directors for summer study abroad and to be program reviewers for some of the study abroad programs under review. It was very successful.

GEO also did outreach with underrepresented students to ensure their access to study abroad and their understanding of what opportunities and financial support are available, which is really important. We’ve also been thinking very carefully about geographical diversity and trying to open up more study abroad opportunities outside of Western Europe.

SM: Most of the program development—St Andrews aside, and that was really a kind of reconfiguration thinking about Cambridge and its interests in general—has been in locations that one would qualify as non-traditional destinations for study abroad.

We’re super excited about the relatively new Rio de Janeiro program of course. Last year we ran a Mauritius program with a health law emphasis, which was really competitive, and we’ve been supporting Botswana and Ghana and lots of other opportunities as well. Oman ran again this winter, and we also had a winter program in Geneva, and that was on the Public Health axis (visiting the World Health Organization), so that was speaking to the STEM perspective.

AQ: We’re sending out surveys to gauge faculty and student interest on new and different programs: Who might like to do this? Where in the world might they like to go?

Q: It’s a lot of work to be a program director. Is recruitment a challenge?

AQ: I do think it is becoming more competitive. Faculty are becoming more and more interested in leading study abroad, which actually makes our job harder. Now we have to choose among their proposals

SM: They’re all amazing.

AQ: And that is a really hard part of the job. Because we get so many really interesting proposals from faculty. And we say, “I want to go on all of these programs!” It’s very difficult to pick one.

Q: Do you find that there is an advantage to a W&M faculty developed and faculty led program as opposed to a third-party program?

AQ: I think [a W&M faculty-led program] is a really exciting opportunity for faculty and students to engage with one another in a different setting. Students probably have a degree of comfort, particularly if they’re going to a place that’s very different. They feel like they can count on the professor that they know and have taken courses from and feel confident in that experience.

The summer programs are great in that way and I think that the faculty also find that their relationships with the students deepen and that engagement is just very valuable. So I think both sides feel it. I still love it when the students do the full semester study abroad, when they go by themselves for a longer period of time. I still feel like that’s the best experience, but I think students do really benefit tremendously from the faculty-led programs.

SM: And it turns out we don’t see summer and longer-term programs as mutually exclusive.

In fact, we’re seeing a connection between the summer W&M programs and participation in longer programs. We have very high semester- and year-long numbers—we’re ranked nationally for year-long program participation compared to much larger universities—and I think we’ve been able to maintain that success, going against the trends in our field, because one of the things we see at William & Mary is a good number of repeat students. A student will go on a summer faculty-led program, and then say, “Okay, now I feel I can commit for a semester.”

These faculty-led programs also allow us to tailor the experience to the W&M values of close faculty connections and research. So many of the faculty say these students [they’ve led on study abroad programs] are the students who later ask them for recommendations. Also, we know at W&M we value undergraduate research. Well, a number of our programs have research components. For instance, if you go to Cadiz, you’re doing your own research project, you’re working with the faculty before you go, and then you conduct the project there. Projects could be across a whole range of fields, be mentored by a faculty with whom you might continue to study when you return to campus, and later connect perhaps with a senior project. That wouldn’t be the same experience with a third-party program, which offer a number of other exciting and valuable opportunities.

Q: Sylvia, you attend the ISAC meetings, but what is your role?

SM: My position is as a permanent member of ISAC but on an ex-officio basis.
AQ: ISAC would kind of fall apart if Sylvia wasn’t there! No, not kind of. It would fall apart if Sylvia wasn’t there. The faculty committee members have three-year terms, so there’s always turnover, which is great because you get a lot of different input from people across campus and across different disciplines, but the Global Education Office provides the continuity and institutional history. You know what we’re supposed to be doing on a month to month basis.

SM: And I think just having that sounding board of the committee and also just making sure as many people are as engaged is really important. One thing we haven’t talked about is there’s student representation on ISAC as well.

AQ: Yes. They apply through the Dean’s office. It’s really useful that students participate. They often offer interesting perspectives that make us think about things differently.

SM: It is a really well-functioning committee and relationship with GEO. There’s a great deal of trust.

AQ: Also, for ISAC, everybody knows that with regard to study abroad decisions, Sylvia and GEO are involved in the practical implementation of the programs and so we deeply value her opinion.

We’re thinking about the academic side and our intellectual concerns and pedagogy, but Sylvia is the one that has to think about the finances and our liability and students’ safety. We have to think about those things, too, but those aren’t our everyday lenses. We really count on her and trust her to bring those dimensions in for us.

As I said, ISAC would fall apart without Sylvia.


2019 – 2020 ISAC MEMBERS

Deborah Bebout (Chemistry)
David Feldman (Economics)
Xin Conan-Wu (Art History)
Thomas Payne (Music)
Amy Quark (Sociology)
Gang Zhou (Computer Science)
Grace Gormley ’20
Clarissa Bielema ’21
John Donahue, Professor and Dean for Educational Policy - ex officio
Teresa Longo, Dean for Interdisciplinary Studies, Director of the Charles Center, Professor of Hispanic Studies - ex officio
Sylvia Mitterndorfer, Director, GEO - ex officio