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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Study abroad office down to staff of one

Students in the SJU Summer Program in Greece in 2019 on the Acropolis of Athens. PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSAN CLAMPET-LUNDQUIST, Ph.D.

St. Joe’s Center for International Programs (CIP), which supports study abroad programs for students, and faculty and staff leaders, is down to just one staff member.

Tom Kesaris, director of the CIP since August 2001, is the sole staff member running operations after Sara Colón, assistant director for study abroad and health & safety, resigned in December 2023. Colón had worked in the CIP since September 2017. She is still listed as the point of contact on the health and safety portion of the CIP’s website.

Colón declined to comment but referred The Hawk to Kesaris, who responded that it was a “hectic time” as “the only staff member currently in CIP.”

Ann Green, Ph.D., professor of English, facilitates an annual study tour to Northern Ireland, which last ran in 2019. Green’s 2021 tour was canceled shortly before the trip was set to begin because of the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. Green also facilitated the China summer program in 2008, which hasn’t run since 2015.

“If there’s only one person in the study abroad office, it doesn’t seem like study abroad is a priority for St. Joe’s,” Green said.

The CIP office has struggled with resignations and layoffs since at least the 2015-16 academic year when the CIP went from seven staff members to four after three staff members left the office for unspecified reasons, according to a Feb. 24, 2016 article in The Hawk.

When asked if this is the first time the CIP has been a staff of one since Kesaris became director in 2001, Ross Radish, J.D., vice president of student life and dean of students, wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk, “The size of the Center for International Programs has varied over the years and [is] evaluated to meet the needs of the student experience along with available resources. We are committed to helping our students learn and grow by exploring new cultures around the world.”

Radish said the university is recruiting for an assistant director position. A job posting for the full-time, 12-month position is listed on St. Joe’s Office of Human Resources website.

In spring 2024, St. Joe’s is offering 31 semester and year-long programs for undergraduates in 20 plus countries, three summer programs in Italy, Greece and South Africa, three study tours for undergraduates in Costa Rica and Cuba, one study tour for graduate students in Peru and two international residency programs for graduate students in the Netherlands and Italy, according to the CIP’s website, which may not reflect updates.

Participation in study abroad at St. Joe’s has been up and down since the covid-19 pandemic, which canceled programs from summer 2020 to summer 2021.

From fall 2021 to summer 2022, a total of 178 students studied abroad; from fall 2022 to summer 2023, there were 158; and from fall 2023 to summer 2024, there is a projected total of 181 students, pending summer program acceptance, according to data provided to The Hawk by Radish.

The Hawk was unable to determine how the current numbers compare to pre-covid years. Radish did not provide numbers of study abroad participants during 2017, 2018 and 2019, as requested.

But, according to data in a Jan. 30, 2018 article in The Hawk provided by Cary Anderson, Ed.D., who was vice president of student life and associate provost at the time, an estimated 345 students participated in study abroad programs during the 2017-18 academic year.

St. Joe’s study tours and summer programs are proposed, created and run by faculty members. Study tours are between 10 to 14 days and are connected to a semester-long course. Summer programs typically have one to three faculty facilitators who teach courses during the program, and a faculty coordinator who manages program logistics leading up to and during the trip.

During the organizing and planning process in the months prior to the trip, CIP staff plan the travel arrangements, help to organize information sessions, book tours and tickets to attractions, make sure every participating student has GeoBlue international health insurance, and mandate a health and safety training for every faculty member and student going.

While students are abroad, someone from the CIP is on-call 24/7 in case of an emergency or necessary disciplinary action. Kesaris currently bears the responsibility of all these tasks.

According to several faculty who facilitate and coordinate study tours and summer programs, success for all the programs simultaneously is logistically impossible if Kesaris is still the only one in the office come May when the programs depart from the U.S. Even with Colón, the CIP seemed stretched, they said.

Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Ph.D., professor of sociology, has served as a summer program facilitator three times since 2017 and will do so again this summer in Greece. She said in order for students to have a safety net while abroad, there needs to be a substantial office to be able to provide it.

“Situations arise before you leave, when you leave. To have the CIP as an infrastructure that we can count on when we’re out of the country is super important,” Clampet-Lundquist said.

Joseph Corabi, Ph.D., chair and professor of philosophy, is the coordinator for the Greece summer program this year, his fourth time facilitating since 2017. Corabi said he can “definitely tell” the staff has been reduced, and believes the university should prioritize staffing in the study abroad office.

“Things that used to happen earlier in the process are now happening later in the process, like a lot of this logistical planning and so forth,” Corabi said. “I want to say I think they’re doing the best they can. It’s just a difficult situation.”

April Lindner, Ph.D., professor of English, is one of the faculty facilitators for the 2024 Rome summer program. Lindner said in the last 10 years, she has been a facilitator for the Greece program twice and this year will mark her fourth time being a facilitator for the Rome program. She agreed that running the CIP is a lot for just one person.

“I think that it’s pretty clear that the work of CIP calls for more than one person on staff. It’s a pretty big job,” Lindner said. “And I imagine it’s a 24-hour job. Again, if Rome is six hours ahead and something goes wrong over there, CIP has to kind of contend with all of that.”

Some undergraduate programs require an experiential learning experience to graduate, with one of those options being study abroad. More advertisement from the CIP about these programs would give more students the option to fulfill the experiential learning requirement through study abroad, Clampet-Lundquist said.

“We have to put our money where our mouth is,” Clampet-Lundquist said. “Do we want students to have these experiences or do we want to buy another piece of property?”

While Clampet-Lundquist said she knows this is a hard position for Kesaris to be in, the university needs to prioritize staffing to better serve students.

“To have that office down to one person right now, I don’t even see how the university can think that’s ok,” Clampet-Lundquist said.

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